As a new mom, I wasn’t sure why I was so intent on exclusively breastfeeding, especially when I swore not to worry about how I fed my baby. Best laid plans, am I right?!
I remember like it was yesterday: my firstborn was less than a week old and my in-laws were in town to see the new baby. The new normal was still so foreign to me and I was getting by one minute at a time.
Late one night, I was in the kitchen trying to figure out what to feed my house guests. My little bundle of joy was giving me all of her own hunger cues. Determined to hide my stress and exhaustion from everyone, I figured I should head off to my room so I could deal with the screaming infant in peace. That was when a family member decided to ask me the question that is burned in my memory so clearly today: “Why are you killing yourself over breastfeeding?”
Ugh. Ok, I know the comment was supposed to make me feel better. I like to imagine that this family member meant to say something more along the lines of, “Hey, if you’re feeling stressed, I can feed the baby!” It was supposed to be supportive. It felt like sabotage.
It took me years to wrap my head around why I found some people’s support of me as a mother to be in direct opposition to my desire to breastfeed my child. You see, the thing that my support system didn’t always understand was that telling me to take a break and not breastfeed felt like someone telling me I was a failure so I might as well just give up the fight.
I told myself I was hormonal. I told myself I was too emotional and crazy to turn down offers for help. What I realized later was that I was not alone in feeling so conflicted about my desire to breastfeed. Yes, it was insanely hard. And, yes, I still wanted to try. Very badly, in fact. Like, to the point that I was depressed over it.
A few years later, I finally figured out a way to explain why a person might end up depressed over a burning desire to feed their child with their own milk. It’s like you’re a little kid again, watching all the other kids in the neighborhood get bikes and finally it’s your turn to get one for your birthday. You cannot WAIT to have one of your own! You’ve acquired all the accessories–the helmet, the training wheels, the matching water bottle–all you need now is the bike!
You watch your friends with envy as they zoom down the street in packs, laughing as the wind cools their faces. You’re happy for them and you can’t wait to join them. You’ve heard about all of their adventures and can’t wait to have some of your own. If only your bike would hurry up and get here!
And then magically, the day arrives. You hop on that bike that you’ve wanted for the better part of a year… and, much to your dismay, you struggle to stay on it. Those other kids, they’re still zooming down the street, but you’re embarrassed to admit that it’s not as easy as you thought it would be. You’re sad and frustrated, but you’re somehow still hopeful.
Now, imagine if your parents came to you after you just started trying to ride a bike and said, “Hey, why are you killing yourself over this when you know you could just let us drive you everywhere? Haven’t you suffered enough?”
Sure, the intention behind their words is to relieve your suffering. But all you hear is judgment. You start to wonder if you’re crazy for trying so hard to do something that you’re clearly not very good at. You start to worry that your support system is tired of watching you try and fail. Your focus may even shift to doing what everyone else seems to want, just to keep them happy.
Here’s where the nuance comes in: not every kid will be able to ride a bike to school every day and, similarly, not every mom will be able to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. And just like it’s harmful to tell someone to quit before they have had a reasonable chance to meet their own goals, it can be equally harmful to make them feel guilty for not being able to physically perform some activity that others view as the norm.
Some kids will only be able to ride their bikes in their driveways with training wheels. Some moms will only be able to feed their babies their expressed milk in bottles. Not everyone is born with a body that is able to accommodate bike riding just like not all people assigned female at birth are able to make a full supply of milk.
That’s the beauty about humanity. We are a diverse people with different desires, needs, and abilities. We all deserve to make informed choices about how we live our lives. Our reasons for doing what we do are varied and valid.
My personal goal as a Breastfeeding Medicine Physician is to meet families where they are when it comes to feeding their babies with their own milk. It’s time to get rid of the guilt and shame. Parenthood is hard enough.
That’s why we created Lybbie: to give you the information you need to make the choice that is right for you, help you stay on track with your own personal goals, and support you if you ever change your mind.