When Little Man was conceived inside of me, I would sit in my rocking chair, dreaming of the day when I finally get to hold him and breastfeed. I had a picture perfect image of the beautiful breastfeeding bond that I would share with my baby boy. As soon as he was born, the nurse swaddled him and laid him on my bare chest. He gradually rooted for my breasts, his tiny eyes half closed, his tummy pressed against my squishy belly, he opened his mouth and began to suck. He was intoxicated with the thick colostrum and peacefully drifted off to sleep right in my arms. I felt elated and so proud of my body’s ability to grow and nourish a human being. ‘You both are natural. You both should be the cover photo for a breast feeding magazine’. These words from the Lactation consultant only made me sit at the pinnacle of glory. Those words kept resonating in my ears and with every linger, it built a sense of achievement and fulfillment inside of me. I felt like I have satisfied my calling as a mother. Funny and equally ignorant, how I thought breastfeeding was a trophy to being a good mother. Well, little did I know what motherhood was all about then.
“I don’t want to nurse him every hour” I yelled at my husband, tears running down my cheeks. He sat perplexed, not knowing who to console – a frustrated wife or a sobbing child. At 10 month mark, our breastfeeding journey started to witness some set backs. Little Man would come nudge me for his midnight snack and reassurance to fall back to sleep. Sucking my breasts was his favourite part of his bed-time routine that soothes, settles and sends him off to dreamland. I have always enjoyed nursing him to sleep, until recently, the very thought of breastfeeding triggered an unpleasant range of feelings in me. How can something that I always dreamt of doing give me the chills? I would cringe to lift my shirt to let him near me. He could see the hostility in my eyes and I could sense the confusion in his. He couldn’t comprehend why Mommy was getting mad at him for doing something that he has been doing since the day he was born. I would try to unlatch him as soon as I can only to awaken him and unveil a series of tears. He kept coming back to me, I was his console, comfort, and everything. The strong head, illusionary breastfeeding saga, that I thought I was, didn’t even for a second realize that my body was struggling to nourish my son while growing his baby sister inside of me. In my defense, I didn’t even pick up any of the bodily changes that pregnancy hormones were throwing at me. He wasn’t ready to let go of me without a fight. With sheer frustration, he would try and try, cry without any comfort, and with one last try he finally gave up. My body failed him. I failed him. As I sit here and write this, so many rhetorical questions fill my mind. Had I known about the pregnancy I would have done everything under the earth to increase my supply. Teas, fenugreek, lactation cookies, you name it, I would have gobbled. I would not have given up on nursing him. A part of me still aches to have ended our breastfeeding relationship on a bitter note.
As a second time mother, I was very confident of breastfeeding. I was a seasoned nurser, after all. Wide mouth, nose & chin up, tummy against tummy – I mastered it all. I was ready for the challenges of breastfeeding – sleepless nights, hazy days and sibling rivalry. But Little Miss made me realize what ‘struggle to breastfeed’ feels like. She was nothing like her brother. She struggled to latch. She would clasp on to my nipple and suck it hard. Even after relentless latching and unlatching she would refuse to open her mouth wide. We tried different positions – from cradle to cross over, football to laid back. Nothing seemed to work. She was infuriated with my constant meddling. She would twist and turn, pull my shirt and kick my chest. Her exasperating wail hammered the imperative question on my mind that every second mother is faced with. ‘Don’t I love her enough? These words of self-doubt brought immense despair to my cracked and bleeding chest. The weight of these words was heavier than my engorged breasts. As tears dwindle down my cheeks, a sense of unworthiness ripped my heart apart. I was so close to giving up on breastfeeding. With a great support system to back me up, after numerous consultation with a public nurse, I was able to take one nursing season at a time. Within few weeks my cracked nipples healed and within a few months, Little Miss finally learned to latch. Little Miss is 8 months now and we are still successfully breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding can be a lot of things – glorious, ecstatic, painful to downright frustrating. But it’s not a scale to measure how successful of a mother you are. It is definitely not a touchstone to test the purity of your love for your children. So, Breastfeed without keeping score.