Monday, July 24, 2006

'Owning' it (and a lot of rambling)

A while back one of the commenters asked me if I had been able to breastfeed Darth D. at all, and if so, for how long. The answer to that question is, I was able to breastfeed him for ten days. Ten glorious, hellish, frustrating days. Filled with hope that I would finally be able to breastfeed one of my children, my last child, my last chance.

It ultimately ended in devastation when, on the tenth day, Darth D. refused to breastfeed. It was like an off switch; he suddenly would not latch on to my breast, no matter how hard I tried or what I did. I stubbornly kept trying for the whole day. But after ten hours and no breastfeeding, no eating, my husband took matters into his own hands and offered Darth D. a bottle of breast milk. He drank it all.

So that was it. I started pumping, and we started bottle-feeding.

Some women out there might try to tell me that I should have hung on a little longer, that eventually the baby would have 'given in' and resumed breastfeeding. Some women will probably think of this as a classic 'nursing strike,' that eventually would have resolved itself. But looking back, I know that my husband did the right thing. Things deteriorated so quickly, I think I started going a little crazy. Darth D. went from being a happy latcher to a terrorizing anti-breast fiend, writhing his little body and screaming every time I tried to hold him to my breast. After ten hours, I think my husband realized that, for whatever reason Darth D. no longer wanted my breast, it had somehow turned into a test of wills. I would not be the one to give in and admit defeat. But you see, with all my determination and resolve not to give Darth D. anything but the breast, I was overlooking the fact that the baby still needed to eat. If my husband had not given Darth D. a bottle, I really think that the situation would have kept going, until Darth D. would have ended up in the hospital from lack of nourishment and dehydration. Really, I think I went crazy from the whole breastfeeding 'thing.' It wouldn't have been the first time.

I wanted to breastfeed my children so badly. Before I had my first child, Darth A., I even took a breastfeeding class. You know what? All it managed to do was convince me that if I didn't breastfeed my child, for whatever reason, then I was a shitty mother, beyond bad. Not just a slightly incompetent mother, or an ignorant mother, but the kind of mother who gives her kid bruises and feeds him rat poison. The kind that social services comes to take the baby away. That bad. The lactation consultant that gave the class didn't offer me any advice that actually helped me to breastfeed. In fact, she did the exact opposite. I really believe that, by following the advice given in the breastfeeding class, I was doing things wrong, not right. I was setting myself up for failure.

For instance, with the latching-on technique: the LC instructed the class how to latch on a baby to a 'normal' breast, with protruding nipples. The teacher basically said 'this is how you latch your baby.' But I have flat nipples, and the method that the LC taught doesn't work with flat nipples. So I kept trying to latch on my baby, and doing it the way she said to do it, and it never worked. I kept thinking that I must be doing something wrong, because Darth A. almost never latched, and when he did, it hurt, and the LC had said it shouldn't hurt at all. It never entered my mind that maybe it wasn't working because the very method I had been taught in the breastfeeding class was completely wrong for me. There were so many other examples like that, of things that I did because the LCs told me to do them, only instead of helping to get the breastfeeding going, they pushed me closer defeat.

When I finally had a breakdown and gave in and started giving Darth A. formula, I felt so bad. Take guilt, and increase it by a factor of oh, a billion, and then multiply it by infinity and add it to eternity, and that's how bad I felt. Then multiply that feeling by three, and that's what I've felt for my three kids.

You know, a lot of women go around saying 'if you decide not to breastfeed, fine! Just own your decision.' By 'owning' I guess they mean that we should accept it, face up to it, not try to explain it away or sugarcoat it somehow. But I have two problems with this. First of all, not all of us 'decided' not to breastfeed. Some of us really really wanted to breastfeed, and couldn't. You can go around thinking that breastfeeding is so natural, that women who really want to breastfeed can, and that if a mother doesn't breastfeed, it's because she didn't really want to that much. As if wanting it hard enough is all it takes. But all that is a bunch of bullshit. That are lots of things in life we can't have, that we will never have, no matter how much we want it or how hard we strive. You can try your hardest and still end up with nothing to show for it.

Second of all, it is kind of hard to 'own' my not breastfeeding when other people, and society in general, seem to expect an explanation as to why I'm not. It goes back to an inherent belief people have that if I'm not breastfeeding, it must be because I didn't want to, because I'm selfish, and I have to explain to people why that opinion is wrong, and what they assumed about me isn't true. When someone asks you, "Oh? You aren't breastfeeding?" The underlying tone is "you didn't want the BEST for your child and instead give your baby POISON because you are too lazy/career driven/self-centered/evil to do what comes naturally for women?" It hurts. It hurts a lot.

So yah, I 'own' the fact that I didn't breastfeed. I accept it for what it is. But it's not a statement of my character as a person, or as a mother. It means that unfortunately, things didn't go the way I wanted them to go. It happens a lot in life.


Blogger liz said...

Big hugs and a huge amen.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Epiphany Alone said...

You're an awesome mom, pumpmom.

I own it too, with my teeny firstborn who never latched, and my Lindsay who will very occasionally actually do it. I pumped for 6 weeks with Lauren, and am in week 9 with Lindsay. It is so damn hard sometimes.

7:57 PM  
Blogger jc_people said...

I couldn't nurse mine either, it sucked, I hated it and I felt like absolute shit over it.

My kid turned out fine, so will yours.


10:16 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I think you're doing a lot more work and a lot more committed to a mother who can breastfeed. I didn't have any issues nursing my kids, but I went back to work and I pump and pumping is a PAIN IN know what. You are woman! I think you're amazingly committed and a wonderful mother! Visit me!

7:07 PM  

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