I’ve hated my boobs since 5th grade, when they made a most unwelcome appearance. Backyard football with the boys became awkward. So did locker room changes. As they became a focal point of my high school figure, I despised them even more. My back hurt when I ran. Forget horsing around in a bathing suit. Rude and humiliating jokes from teenage boys.
So when I became pregnant and started to learn about breastfeeding, I dreaded the constant attention they would receive. Schedules would revolve around my boobies. Goody.
“Breast is best!” My family and health care providers would repeat. I knew it was true, but that didn’t change my feelings about it. And when Ben was born and the lactation consultant appeared by my hospital bed, I felt anxious.
There were discussions about his latch and my anatomy. Combined, they were a formula for failure. We tried gadgets and gizmos aplenty. Whoseits and whatsits galore. We spent $125 on a home visit from my third and final lactation consultant. Yet, at the end of of our efforts, my son had lost too much weight. It was time to consider other options.
I would have handled the whole thing fine but I was completely unprepared for the onslaught of shaming I received—from none other than fellow moms.
Some comments were passive enough: “Oh, no–you should call Mrs. Expensive Consultant! Don’t GIVE UP!”
Some were blatant. “Well, if you quit now your son is going to miss out on the most essential benefits. Doesn’t your baby deserve that?”
The judgement was clear: I was failing my son if I didn’t breastfeed.
So I became frenemies with a girl named Medela. At first, our dates were unbearable. Pumping every 2-3 hours, and feeding and pouring and storing. I grew weary. I had clogged ducts and mastitis. I bled and chaffed. I had fevers and was in constant pain but by God my son was being fed breast milk.
But for some mommies, even that wasn’t enough. Making bottles in public, I was frequently questioned.
“Oh…You stopped Breastfeeding?” Asked Deeply Sympathetic Wife of a Friend.
“I didn’t know you were already using formula,” remarked Granola Facebook Friend. (As if formula was equivalent to pickled dog turds.)
I would ramble off my explanation about flat anatomy and exclusive pumping and occasional supplementation. Sometimes I would use percentages–“He’s on 85% breast milk!”
Somehow, I hoped, that made me 85% okay as a mother.
These women were so sad for me. Because I missed that special bonding. Because they just loved breast feeding…and it wasn’t really that hard!
Well, you know what?
Good for them. I sincerely mean that. I am aware that breast is best. It’s impossible NOT to be aware with all of the blogs and nurse-ins and advice going around. I know about immunity and nutrients and the constantly adapting sustenance that our bodies create.
But awareness, for me, did not equal success. And I didn’t want pity. And I didn’t want advice. What I wanted–what I NEEDED more than anything–was support.
There are so many reasons that women can’t–or choose not to–breastfeed their children. I’ve spoken with friends who formula-fed because of health problems, prior surgeries, and even past sexual trauma.
Is that anybody else’s business?
If you actually require an answer: No.
And ladies…is it really so hard to remember the fragile state we were in as new mamas? Instead of asking “How’s breastfeeding”–why not “How are YOU?”
Instead of “Oh, you should try this” why not “Can I help you in any way?”
There is a time and a place for education. Lots of times and places, actually. But once that little baby arrives and your wide-eyed friend is fearfully discovering life as a parent—how about you show interest in the MOM. Not her milk.
Community is a wonderful thing. It provides awareness and education and support. But guilt and judgement doesn’t belong in this community, mamas.
Please. Don’t get me wrong. I am 100% supportive of the breastfeeding awareness movement. But unless you are asked, I believe there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed with new mothers.
And I draw that line at the boob.
Note: I had no success breastfeeding, but really wanted my son to have the benefit of breast milk. I discovered Exclusive Pumping–and it worked for 7 months with very little formula necessary. In that time, a friend and I compiled a list of pumping hacks and we are sharing those in a post you can find here.