This week marked 13 months since our beautiful, long, hard, triumphant breastfeeding journey began. I say “our”, because Lord knows it was a team effort. Quinn was a champ despite my constant cluelessness and fumbling around trying to figure it all out. Then there is Ryan. He is a saint. Postpartum baby brain and hormones are NO JOKE. God bless that man.
Beauty and the Boobs
This time last year, had you asked me if I thought breastfeeding was a beautiful thing, I would have laughed (and perhaps even cried) in your face. Leaky, unpredictable boobs that no longer felt like my own consumed my thoughts and my schedule. All I did was nurse on demand and worse yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about said boobs. How long has it been since her last feeding? How full am I? Is this lump normal? Should I pump in between feedings? What if she wakes up while I’m pumping? Don’t get me wrong, I am SO thankful that I had the opportunity to do so, but I was NOT prepared for the mental, physical and emotional tole that it would take on me. I was anxious and exhausted, as I know is the case with most Mamas, whether nursing or not.
The lactation specialists at Riverside Methodist Hospital are heroes (I don’t use that term lightly). Had it not been for them, I would have thrown in the towel early on. Every Thursday, I lugged Quinn and my tired, typically un-showered self to Riverside’s lactation support group. I longed to be surrounded by other women who were stumbling through trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. I knew I wasn’t the first Mom to ever grace this world, nor was I the first to breastfeed, so why wasn’t this easier?!
I will never forget going to a baby shower at a gorgeous local country club with Quinn and some of my best girlfriends a few weeks after baby girl was born. It was the first time I had taken time to shower, do my make-up and hair since Quinn was born. I was rocking a maternity dress because that’s all that fit. Dripping sweat, I toted Quinn back and forth to the locker room in attempts to get her to nurse. I was a hot mess. At the time I was using a nipple shield which helped Quinn latch initially, but this just meant more to carry, prep and adjust. At this point I wasn’t comfortable nursing openly in public. I hadn’t mastered the art of using the nursing cover (though eventually, when nursing became second nature, I just used swaddle blankets to cover while still allowing breathability for us both). The whole process was exhausting, time consuming and frustrating. One of my girlfriends graciously held the cover up for me as I attempted to wiggle out of my dress (as it turns out nursing bras, tanks and tops are in fact NOT a scam, but rather a brilliant invention). Long story short, I ripped the strap of my dress and was mortified. The icing on the cake. I left so thankful for friends that can help me see the humor and joy in such mayhem but exhausted and more convinced that breastfeeding was a lot like work!
Pumping in the limo ride in between my Grandpa’s funeral and burial ceremony is another one of those bittersweet memories. Quinn was only 6 weeks old and was with my Mother-in-Law for the morning, meaning I had to pump. As I hooked myself up to the pump, surrounded by teary-eyed family, on what was easily the hardest day of my life up to that point, we couldn’t help but laugh at the situation and the irony. I like to think perhaps my Grandpa was looking down and laughing with us too in that moment.
It was nearly impossible not to become fixated on whether or not I was producing enough. Early on it was evident that I wasn’t going to be one of those milk goddess mamas that could feed the whole neighborhood. In fact, I ended up having to supplement, which seemed like the end of the world at the time. I felt that somehow, I had failed Quinn and was less of a Mama because of it. It didn’t help that Quinn wasn’t gaining weight, meaning we had a date with our pediatrician weekly for the first 2 months of Quinn’s life. However, I’m thankful for a pediatrician that believed in me and reassured me that Quinn was happy, healthy and meeting her milestones. After all, that is what we had prayed for.
Despite Quinn’s petite little self, she ate like a grown man, even from a young age. I would have to pump 2-3 times in order to get enough milk for one feeding. Therefore, I never had a freezer supply of milk. Except for that one time I decided to freeze one bag. It had taken 2 pumps to get even close to enough to freeze, all so that I could say that I had frozen milk. Looking back I can laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. I can still picture Ryan and I SHOUTING and cheering in the middle of our kitchen.
I was fortunate enough to have several amazing women that donated frozen milk that we were able to use when we needed to “top her off” (what we lovingly called it when Quinn was still hungry after a feed, which happened often early on) or when Quinn and I weren’t together. This “stash” became increasingly more appreciated and needed when I returned to work after my maternity leave and I quickly realized that there was no way I would be able to keep up with Quinn’s demand.
It was one of the most humbling moments of my life (I wish I were exaggerating here) when we first went to pick up the donated milk. I thought perhaps she would load a small cooler. Instead, she opened her deep freezer to reveal several hundred bags of breastmilk (not just ounces, but bags). Tears flooded my eyes and I choked them back as she continued to fill the large box thanking me for putting it to use. She innocently went on to explain how she had more milk than freezer space. Ryan loaded the heavy box into the car as I climbed into the car with tears streaming down my face. Much to Ryan’s dismay, I was speechless (which if you know me, this is very telling). Despite the pain of this experience, I realized that it was an internal battle that had nothing to do with anyone else. After many tears and much reflection, I finally accepted that this was all OKAY. I had not failed nor had I done something wrong. Suddenly, a weight was lifted off of my shoulder. Quinn was getting the nutrition that she needed and I was still able to nurse when I was with her. This was a necessary and healthy balance for us that made it even easier when we had to transition to using formula to supplement several months later.
I was no stranger to mastitis and clogged ducts. I got mastitis twice within the first 8 months of nursing, one time even landed us in the E.R. despite my many home remedies (heat, soapy comb, hand expression, massage, etc.) Who knew that boobs were so complicated and finicky?!
At 10 months, I started to replace one feeding at a time with formula. The last two feedings to go were the morning and the bed-time feed. Right around Quinn’s birthday I took out the morning feed and replaced it with 1/2 formula and half whole milk, gradually moving to a bottle of only whole milk. The nighttime feeding was the last to go, perhaps because it was a comfort not just to Quinn, but to me. I felt that with the feeding, perhaps I could keep her little and pretend that time was not a thief. Alas, I could not. But instead I will be thankful for the time that we had and the bond that was formed.
Beauty in the Journey
This breastfeeding journey has been riddled with tears and frustration as well as full of precious, irreplaceable moments that I would’t trade for anything. Though part of me is relieved that I no longer have to pump or constantly worry about my boobs, I will undoubtedly miss this phase. Never would I have imagined that I would love nursing, let alone cry when this chapter came to an end. This has by far been the hardest thing I have ever done, but it has also been one of my greatest accomplishments. God brought me full circle and showed me the joy that is found in this journey. I am thankful that I got to witness firsthand how amazing the human body is. Women are strong, capable and beautifully designed to grow and sustain life. What a gift!
So to the Mama who is in the thick of it, you CAN do this. It get’s better. It gets easier. You are stronger than you will ever know. You are not alone. But know that no matter what you do, you are enough. Whether you attempt breastfeeding for two days or two years, you are an amazing Mama and you are EXACTLY what your baby needs right here, right now!
- La Leche League
- Central Ohio Breastfeeding Support
- 50 Best Breastfeeding Resources on the Web