My path to motherhood was not as smooth as we had hoped.
Breastfeeding, like parenting in general, isn’t always easy. I now have 23 months of combined breastfeeding experience beginning nearly three years ago, when I started nursing my older son, Theodore. I have been lucky to have lots of support and encouragement from family, friends, care providers, and total strangers. Without this support to reassure me as a new mom, I don’t know how I would have weathered the rough patches of both breastfeeding and motherhood.
My path to motherhood was not as smooth as we had hoped. The journey began four years ago when I learned I was pregnant with my first child. Near the end of my second month carrying him there was no longer a heartbeat on our ultrasound and shortly thereafter I had to undergo a medically managed miscarriage. In that moment, the grief of my pregnancy loss stole my innocence and my trust in my body. That same grief then lied to me every day for months on end, telling me my loss was my fault, my body was broken and incapable of creating life, while I wracked my brain for everything I had possibly done wrong.
My husband and I took some time for ourselves to process our grief, but it wasn’t long before we learned I was pregnant again. The feelings going into that pregnancy were so different to my first. In place of excited daydreams of “when our baby arrives,” there came hopeful ones of “if this baby makes it into our arms.” It might seem like a small difference but doubt clouded our joy, and the fear of losing that pregnancy hung in the backs of our minds. I found my support system in the people around me and online, we took Bradley Method classes hoping my husband could be my support person, and our pregnancy went relatively smoothly. Smoothly, that is, until at my 37-week check up we discovered I had developed HELLP Syndrome, which is a variation of preeclampsia, and we needed to induce labour. My labour was 43 hours long before Theodore came into this world via an unplanned c-section birth. The medical reason they gave us on the hospital paperwork was “failure to progress,” even as I lay on the operating table dilated to 9-1/2cm. That word, failure, partnered with the Bradley Method teachings, put the blame on me for not birthing our child vaginally. Blame that I took on with such guilt that it took over a year to be able to talk openly about my childbirth experience without crying and again ruminating on all the things I must have done wrong.
It was with these feelings of failure and guilt still in my heart, that I began nursing.
It had always been my hope to breastfeed and my husband was thoroughly supportive of the idea. At the hospital, he watched and listened studiously as the lactation consultant explained to us what a good latch should look and feel like before we went home. We tried our best to get things off to a good start but the induction and cesarean meant that at five days postpartum my milk had not come in, Theodore was rapidly losing weight, and showing signs of dehydration. Our midwife encouraged us to supplement with formula at the breast until the milk came in, but he didn’t tolerate the formula well and screamed most of that night. Thankfully my milk was in the by the middle of day six and Theodore and I could start properly learning how to work together and figure out this breastfeeding gig.
My husband spent the first three weeks making sure our son’s latch was as close to perfect as it possibly could be. We went on to have our triumphs and our struggles. When Theodore was teething, I remember being so tempted to stop but phoned our local lactation consultants and they helped me carry on. We were nervous when Theodore was five months old and we took our first short plane trip, but I nursed Theodore on the flight and we were congratulated on having such a sweet and quiet baby. At eight months, we traveled to Europe to visit family. I worried what the breastfeeding culture and laws may be there, but when nursing in a restaurant outside Versailles I had a lady approach me and tell me what a beautiful and amazing thing I was doing for my child.
Breastfeeding changed me – it changed my self-confidence, my self-worth and my view of motherhood.
It wasn’t until he weaned at 19 months that I realized how much nursing him, overcoming these challenges, and receiving so much positive support from family and even from strangers, had healed me. I learned to trust my body again, after a miscarriage, HELLP Syndrome, and an unplanned c section shattered that trust. This body, which felt so broken, gave me my beautiful son, fed him all he needed in his first six months and continued to nurse for over a year and a half. This same body has just given me a new baby boy, Gabriel, and so now my journey continues. Breastfeeding changed me – it changed my self-confidence, my self-worth and my view of motherhood. I want other women to know that even if their journey into motherhood isn’t what they planned, or if breastfeeding doesn’t work out, or for any reason, if they feel broken, there will be a way back.