Recently, I was speaking to a mother who had just had her second baby.
She was talking about how she had to wake up every three hours to feed her baby and how, because she’s nursing, was tired beyond belief.
Pregnant with my fourth child, I explained offhandedly how nursing had never worked for me. I should have kept my mouth shut.
“Really? You didn’t nurse at all?” She asked this with a hint of incredulity.
Ummmm. No. That’s NOT what I said.
“No. Biatch.” (Okay, that last word I only said in my head.) “I tried. I tried really hard for at least 8-12 weeks with each one.”
I started to tell my story. How each of my babies had a steady decline of weight even well into their second month. How, no matter what I did, I didn’t seem to produce enough to keep my baby fed.
“Oh, I don’t have to worry about that,” she said. And I can’t be certain she meant it in that way. But I couldn’t help but wonder if she was judging me.
So I wanted to go on. About how I pumped my body with all kinds of herbs and walked around smelling like a sugar shack in March. How I visited the lactation consultant day after day after day. How I hired my own private – and, as it turned out, very odd – lactation consultant who came to my house and spent 8 hours speaking to me in strange metaphors, handing me Lindt chocolates, telling me stories of nursing her only child until she was five years old, and giving advice to my poor husband, who was rushing around like a chicken with his head cut off to feed two hungry and cranky boys their dinner, advice which essentially amounted to a how-to in milking a cow.
I wanted to tell her about how my husband helped me rig a nursing trainer to my breast so that my babies could drink formula while nursing simultaneously. How this same man schlepped to Babies R Us one early weekend morning to ask some dopey teenaged salesperson where he could find “My Breast Friend.” How I nursed, then bottle fed, then pumped 8 times a day and barely slept and wouldn’t leave the house because I felt shame that I could not seem to do this thing that almost every other mother I knew was able to do.
I wanted to tell her that I did not take it lightly, that I’d made a valiant effort despite the disruption it was causing my young family. That I’d sacrificed the first two months of all three of my babies’ lives feeling miserable, ashamed and depressed.
But then I told myself to back the truck up. Why did I feel the need to explain myself to this woman I barely knew?
Probably because even though many fellow moms told me it was okay, there were still a lot of other mothers who blatantly judged me. I remember after my second child was born, after I went through hell to try and nurse and then finally made the decision to switch to powdered formula, I posted a question on my local Mother’s Club message board about what kind of water to use. The thread that followed turned into a heated debate about breast versus bottle (as if I didn’t know the facts) and the people I had counted on most to help me through a difficult time only made me feel worse.
And now here I am just weeks away from having my fourth child and still, I haven’t learned not to let other people’s judgments get to me.
And here I am just weeks away from having my fourth child, telling myself, once again, that it’ll be okay if breastfeeding doesn’t work out.
And it will be okay.
It has been. Every. Time. I have three happy, healthy children, who haven’t felt rejected or less loved or tried to kill me in my sleep because they were bottle fed for the majority of their infanthood.
This time around, in the thick of post-partum hormones and emotion, I am going to try and remind myself that there is so much more to motherhood than breastfeeding. I should know. I’ve been there three times already. Babyhood passes before your eyes and soon you’re onto finger foods and playgroups and preschool and suddenly you realize that those first months, though important, do not define you as a mother. Soon enough, too soon for most of us, when you’re sitting cross-legged on the floor playing Candyland or walking side-by-side to the park, you’ll wonder what you were so worked up about way back when.
And even though you don’t think it’ll ever happen, there will come a moment of clarity when you realize that feeding your baby the dreaded “F” word isn’t the end of the world, nor does it make you any less of a mother.
Sure, I’ll give breastfeeding a go again. But in a few weeks time, if you see me at the playground or at the beach feeding my baby a bottle and enjoying the company of (or yelling at) my three other kids, please. Unless you’ve come to tell me that I look too young to have four kids or that my baby is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, keep your comments to yourself.