ONE MAINE MOM COMES CLEAN ABOUT BREASTFEEDING: A PERSONAL CHOICE, JUDGED IN PUBLIC
_by Katy Sargent
I hate breastfeeding. I'm 38 weeks pregnant with my second child and what I dread most isn't the harrowing labor, the sleepless nights, or the piles of soiled diapers – it's breastfeeding. I had a heck of a time when my first daughter was born. She wouldn't latch on and then, when she did, I wished she hadn't. I suffered through a painful infection in my milk ducts and was so nauseous from nursing that I carried around a bucket. It got easier after three months, but I was left with the nuisance of my modesty. I was constantly sneaking away from parties, family gatherings, and delicious meals that were cold by the time I got back.
Before giving birth to my daughter, I'd thought I was prepared. I'd done extensive reading and packed my hospital bag. I had creams, diapers, and stacks of baby clothes at home. I'd washed the clothes with Dreft baby-clothes detergent and they were all folded perfectly. I was ready. But when I showed up to the hospital for delivery, my confidence was thrown within minutes.
"What's your breastfeeding plan?" a nurse asked. She was standing over me, filling out a form.
"I'm sorry, my what?"
"Your plan?" She repeated, incredulous.
"I don't have one. What do you mean by 'plan'?" I was annoyed by her assumptions – that I was breastfeeding at all and that I had constructed one of these plans.
"Well," she sighed, "some women," she paused to judge them, "only breastfeed for three months. Some do it for six and some for a full year." She raised her eyebrows to suggest that the last option was the only respectable one.
"Oh. I guess I'll wait and see."
She pursed her lips, cocked her head to the side, and marked something on her clipboard. I imagined she was making a note to call Child Protective Services, because I was the incompetent mother who hadn't shown up to the hospital with a typed list of intentions.
I realized then that formula-feeding my child had never been a part of the conversation. My doctors always stated breastfeeding as fact and when I attended a birthing and childcare class, there had been vast discussions on breastfeeding, but no mention of formula at all. Even my mom-friends assumed that I'd breastfeed. The question was never whether or not I'd do it, it was "double or single breast pump?" I'd always assumed myself that I would nurse my child, but now that I was actually confronted with it, I felt bullied.
I hate breastfeeding, but I believe in it. I believe it's the healthiest option for my children. If I didn't believe that, there's no way that I would have suffered through those months of discomfort. The issue for me is that women can be very evasive and misleading about lactation and everything it involves. No one ever told me how painful it might be; they only told me about the nutritional benefits. No one told me about the complications; they just said it was a wonderful bonding experience.
When, out of desperation, I met with a lactation consultant, I was told that breastfeeding was in no way painful and that I wasn't actually feeling pain. You could have fooled me. Nursing mothers are always pictured cradling their babies, serenely looking down at their little angels as they breastfeed. If someone had taken a picture of me, they would have seen a watery-eyed, cringing mother and a screaming, writhing child. I got the impression that the consultant didn't want to discuss my pain, because then I might have given up. Instead of encouraging me, she left me feeling confused, alienated, and overwhelmed.
So, do I think that breastfeeding is important? I do. But I don't think we should convince women through intimidation. There were plenty of times that I wanted to give up and send my husband out for formula and, honestly, the main reason I didn't do it was out of shame. The women around me had vilified it to the point where, in my hormone-crazed mind, it was a mere step away from poisoning my baby.
I'm sure that there are other mothers out there who feel similarly desperate and helpless in the face of breastfeeding and, in that desperation, reach for the easier option. If there were a stronger support system and an open, non-judgmental dialogue between mothers and doctors, I feel like more women would find the strength to tough it out. If women felt well informed in the first place, they might be scared, but they also might feel prepared enough to stick with it through the obstacles.
I'm proud that I continued nursing, because I certainly didn't want to. But when I see mothers give formula to their newborns, I don't look at them in judgment. I look at them with envy, because those women have the power to wear push-up bras, sleep in, and make their husbands do a little work. And, really, their babies will be fine.