Breastfeeding: an emotional roller coaster

Last March, two months before I got pregnant with my second baby, I was assigned an article about exclusive breast pumping for a pregnancy Web site.  I’d pitched the idea to my editor as a mama who had experience with this very thing.  I got the assignment and started looking for sources.  I had lots of information I’d gathered for personal reasons and lots of my own experiences, but I needed to find others to tell this story and share good information with moms-to-be.  Along the way, I also discovered I still had a lot of mixed emotions about my own experience.

Three times in my professional life I have gotten teary during interviews.  The first time was when I was pregnant with my daughter and interviewing a local high risk obstetrician.  He was telling me about experiences in the NICU.  It was a phone interview, and I shed a couple of quiet tears as I thought of my triplet nephews who were headed for the NICU as well.  (I’m happy to report they are strong, healthy, happy, active 3-year-old boys now!)  Another time was a tear glaze during an in-person interview at a nursing home when discussing a patient who no longer recognized his wife of 50-some years.  The third time was doing an interview for the exclusive pumping (EPing) article.  I was talking Stephanie Casemore over the phone.  She EPed for her first baby out of necessity, but was successful in nursing her second baby.  She maintains a Web site and has written a couple of books.  I had thought I was all good and had not only come to terms with but also found peace with the fact that my nursing plans didn’t work out the first time around.  I was proud of myself for EPing after my daughter’s issues made nursing nearly impossible.  (You can read more of my story here.)  Heck, I’d even given her breastmilk for just over a year when my goal going into it was six months of nursing. But, as I talked to Casemore and she shared her story and those of other women, I shed a few silent tears as I related to the heartache she was talking about.

All these feelings came bubbling up.  We weren’t even trying to get pregnant, yet, but I realized I had a deep sadness and often felt like a failure for not having been able to nurse my baby like I thought I would.  It’s silly, because I tried everything, but I even second-guessed whether I tried enough.  And, I also was never a woman who really wanted to nurse.  More than anything, I wanted my baby to have the benefits of breastmilk, not necessarily the nursing experience.  I resented breastfeeding Nazis who said I’d never bond with my baby as well if she wasn’t latched onto my breast or that EPing and maintaining a sufficient milk supply was impossible.  I knew I had done what was best for us because it would take a couple of months for my child to learn what to do with her tongue to effectively take a bottle.  We’d have never made it with nursing.  I went through all these sorts of emotions in my head.

Casemore said she’d send me her book.  I was anxious to get my hands on it, but wary as well.  I didn’t know what emotions it would stir or how I’d feel.  I had many discussions with my husband about breastfeeding when we began trying for baby number two.  His thought has been that I might end up EPing again just so I know how much the baby is getting (he lovingly points out that I can tend to be a control freak — and he’s right).  My thought has been that I really want nursing to work.  I know how hard EPing was and how many hours I logged attached to a pump, washing pump parts, washing bottles, organizing milk, freezing milk and thawing milk.  I know how much longer I’d have to stay up during night-time feedings to pump after the baby was back asleep.  And I can’t imagine dealing with all of that, a newborn AND a 3-year-old.

I got Stephanie Casemore's book after talking with her for an article. It helped me in my own journey to heal from having to exclusively pump breastmilk for my daughter and look forward to the chance to nurse again with my son when he's born soon.

Then I got my positive pregnancy test last May.  Our discussions continued here and there.  I knew a couple of months later that I was finally ready to read Casemore’s book “Breastfeeding, Take Two.” I pulled it off of the bookshelf and braced myself.  I knew the emotions would come hurtling.  And they did.  But, it was OK because I also realized I must deal with these emotions before my second baby was born.  I needed to have good information.  I needed to have a plan and backup plans.  I needed to have healing from the fact that plans changed the first time.  Though my husband, some family members and some friends have given me accolades for having EPed, I never quite felt all that myself.  I needed to pat myself on the back, recognize I did the best I could, acknowledge I was disappointed as well and learn to truly be proud of the tenacity, stubbornness and strength I’d found to make this work when the odds were against us.

The book helped me do that.  It also gave me some more good tips for breastfeeding.  Last time around, I thought it would just sort of happen.  After all, mothers have been breastfeeding their babies since the beginning of time.  It couldn’t be that hard, could it?  I figured it’d be hard and take some work, but I had no clue how insanely hard it would be.  I’m surprised that humanity managed to survive.  This time around, I’ll know the challenges presented.  I have more and better information to face them when they come.  That’s a good thing.  In the book, I also read stories of moms who had EPed for their first child and successfully been able to nurse subsequent children.  Those encouraged me.

However, even with all of that information and all of that healing work, I still have moments where I’m not sure.  I’m terrified to try again.  What if I fail again?  One of Casemore’s points has stuck out to me; being a good mother isn’t defined by your milk supply.  I remind myself of that.  I’ve gone back and forth in my head a bit.  I want to and will give nursing a try with this baby.  At the same time, there is a part of me that knows what to expect from pumping and thinks even though it’s hard, time consuming and often inconvenient, that maybe I should just EP again.  It’s what I know.  It’s not change.  I know how to build a milk supply.  I learned that pumping more often makes more milk.  I know that supply is established by around 12 weeks, so pumping every two hours until then is vital.  I know how to mimic a growth spurt thereafter to increase supply to meet the baby’s demands.  I know how to store, freeze, thaw and use breastmilk.  I know the sound my pump makes.  I know how to pump hands free (if you’re interested, you must check out this pumping bra that saved my sanity!).  I have all this information in my head.  It’s not new territory.

I don’t really know how to nurse a baby without revealing my “girls” to the entire world when we’re out in public.  With pumping, I sat in the car with my nursing cover, pumping bra and adapter to do what I needed to.  The pump never squirmed and moved around and threatened to out me to the people getting into the car next to me. I don’t really know how to tell if the baby is getting enough milk when nursing.  It was easier with a bottle of breastmilk because I knew exactly how much milk my daughter had at each feeding.

Nursing is new territory, which makes it scary.  However, I know I will regret it if I don’t try.  I know the sadness I still sometimes feel when I think about having to EP with my daughter.  I’m so thankful and blessed that EPing worked for us and that she is now a healthy, happy, thriving 3-year-old.  It’s a silly issue on which to dwell, perhaps, since everything worked out in the end.  I don’t dwell on it, but I’ve most definitely thought about it and worked through it as much as I can knowing that I’m heading into this afresh once again.

I’m not sure what the future will bring with this baby.  I do know that with his birth sometime in the next couple of weeks (give or take, because we all know babies have their own timing), I’ll start on this journey again.  Nursing still scares me a bit and EPing still sounds a bit better because it’s familiar territory.  But, I’ll also tell you the same stubbornness that led to me EPing successfully the first time to make sure my daughter got breastmilk is still with me.  I will fight for this again.  I will fight to do what is best for my baby.  We will do our best to nurse.  The good news is that this time I know how the backup plan works because I’ve done it and lived it.  I know that I can get breastmilk to my baby through a pump if I need to.  And, at the same time, I also know that in the event my bladder doesn’t cooperate and I have to go back on my medicine (which I can’t take and breastfeed) or something else happens, I can give my baby formula and he’ll be fine.  Like Casemore says, my success as a mother really is not defined by my milk supply.  I know my success comes from having a healthy, happy, loved, well-fed baby whether I’m able to nurse him at my breast, give him breastmilk through a bottle or feed him formula.

My journey is about to start again with nursing (and all sorts of other baby stuff with a 3-year-old as well!).  We’ll see where it leads this time.  I know no matter what happens, this journey won’t be exactly the same as the one before — just as my son won’t be exactly the same as my daughter.  That’s life.  And that’s parenthood.  And I’m going to make every effort to embrace its unpredictability!

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