When I was in the seventh grade, I came back from Christmas break and everyone was discussing what they had received as presents that year. I don’t remember what it was that I was given, but I soon heard the whispers around me with people assuming what I had been gifted-“boobs in a box”.
I literally left for Christmas break flat as a board and came back sporting a new, mature body. At 13, I wasn’t prepared for the attention I was given and quickly grew resentment for the things on my chest that prevented me from feeling confident, being able to wear clothing similar to my peers and provided a reputation that I didn’t deserve.
By the time I was 16 I knew that at some point, I would have a breast reduction. Even as a teen though, with being a mother the furthest from my mind, I knew I would wait to have one until after I was finished nursing my future children. (I know that many, many women go on to successfully breastfeed after reduction. I have never had the desire to risk it, nor did I want to have any growth after I already took drastic steps to reduce.)
My husband likes to tease me about how much research I do on a subject that holds my interest and breastfeeding was no different. During my pregnancy I read how hard it could be, the issues that could arise and what a commitment it really was. I was prepared for a fight, expected the worst and hoped for the best.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding, similar to parenting, you can do the research and be somewhat prepared, but you never realize how difficult it is until you are in the middle of it. Additionally, while I anticipated all of the physical difficulties that came with nursing, I never expected the extreme emotional toil it would take on me.
Very long-story-short, with the exception of a supply issue, from day one, I experienced every single issue a nursing mother could have. Double mastitis. Thrush the entire 17 months I nursed my daughter. A nipple so shredded that my OB thought she was going to have to sew back together. You name it; I experienced it.
Despite all of the issues, I never quit. I look back and equally feel proud that I stuck with it and shake my head at myself for being so stupid and not giving in. If it only physically hurt me, I would have said it was worth it, no questions asked. It didn’t just cause harm to my body though, mentally I was broken because I was in pain around the clock and no matter how much research I did, how many doctors I visited, lactation consultants I consulted, breastfeeding never once became easy for me.
Emotionally, I retreated inwards, unable to talk to anyone about how I was feeling. I didn’t want to complain about the pain for fear of someone suggesting I stopped nursing. It also took months for me to finally feel the deep mother/daughter bond everyone talked about, in my gut I knew it was because this beautiful little creature I was now caring for was causing me all this pain. I loved her but resented her for what she was doing to me.
Looking back now, I would tell myself I didn’t need to do that. I didn’t need to be a breastfeeding martyr. I don’t know why I did it to myself. Was it to prove to myself I could stick with it? Was it because I believe that human babies need human milk? I could have just pumped full time but that never occurred to me at the time. Maybe it was because I had internal resentment towards my breasts from when I was a teenager I felt they needed to fulfill their purpose. Was it because even though physically it hurt me, I knew I was still so incredibly blessed to be able to provide exclusive breastmilk for daughter?
Regardless of the reasons why, along with many other things I have learned on my first, I will do things differently. Will I still do whatever I can do to make sure my baby gets breastmilk? Absolutely I will, but it will not be at the risk of my mental health this time. While I was lucky to get into a healthy headspace six to seven months in, that was just luck and I don’t know that will happen again organically.
When our nursing relationship was obvious it was coming to an end, I started to memorize everything I could about the experience. The good parts, the smell of her sweaty head, the weight of her body against mine, the way she would play with my fingernails. I was finally able to savor what I had worked so hard for, knowing it would soon be over. The last time I nursed my daughter, she kissed my breast and looked up at me and said, “All done!” and that was that.