To the Mother on the Cover:
Man, did I hate you.
A few weeks ago, I couldn’t even stand to look at you, and kept the book turned face-down at all times. I loathed everything about you; your perfectly coifed hair, fresh face, relaxed posture. You look so at ease with your little baby, gently holding him in cradle position without need of a Boppy. From what I can tell, you’re either gazing down at baby with a very pleased expression, or even WORSE, you’re sleeping, because apparently you’re not only lucky enough to feed your baby easily, you also get to sleep. You’re even wearing real clothes, which upon further inspection, are pressed and… wait, are those some sort of skinny jeans? Effffff yoooouuuu.
You see, you represented breastfeeding success in my eyes, and my experience was anything but successful- my baby had trouble even latching onto a bottle. And despite finally getting a proper breast latch at Day 3 with the help of our lactation counselor, my baby was too exhausted from hunger to try to eat most attempts. Her bilirubin levels were fast approaching “high-risk status”according to the hospital staff and our pediatrician, which meant that we didn’t have the luxury of time for experimenting with positions and techniques- she needed to eat in order to poop out that bilirubin and no longer be neon orange. Finger feeding colostrum and using a syringe were all well and good, but they took too long, and we needed to get as much food into her as possible in our tiny window of time before she passed out again to conserve her energy. We tried everything we had, even basically force feeding her colostrum with a syringe while she was sleeping… the thought of doing this makes my stomach churn even now, weeks later. It seemed like my milk was never going to come in.
We gave her three ounces of Similac in the early morning hours of Day 4. It was the right thing to do, period, and I don’t care who says otherwise- our baby was EATING. The incessant cries of hunger ended. My husband and I breathed shaky sighs of momentary relief, and I collapsed into happy tears. That afternoon, my milk arrived. I thought things would be so much easier once that happened… but things only got more challenging.
Mother on the Cover, there are a thousand comparisons I could draw between our early breastfeeding experience and the one I’ve created for you in my mind. The biggest could be the difference in how I felt during a feeding, and how I imagine you felt while being photographed… you appear content, peaceful, rested. I felt miserable. I dreaded every feeding. I cried, a lot. I freaked my husband out by being dismissive and angry towards the baby when she needed to cluster feed and my nipples couldn’t take anymore. “I can’t do this.” “She hates me.” “I don’t want this.” “Bad mommy.”
All latches hurt. My nipples cracked and bled. I suffered through every feeding for fear that if I broke a latch, she’d never latch again. Every feeding, every latch, was precious. And painful. But we kept trying, and trying, and trying. Some days were easier, some more difficult. All were challenging, either physically or emotionally or both. If not for my husband being home with me, I would have starved and my milk production would have plummeted- he kept me fed and hydrated as I dealt solely with feeding our little one. A good friend told me that it takes one month to start to figure things out, but with each day dragging, one month seemed an eternity away. I pleaded with my daughter to latch, please, even one that hurt. “Please eat, baby. Mama wants to feed you, but she doesn’t know how, I guess.” Oh, how I hated myself, hated breastfeeding, hated how much I craved, needed to breastfeed to soothe my pain and fill the emptiness from the nonexistent relationship with my own mother.
And then, time slowly shifted from burden to blessing. A month passed, and I was healing from birth and eating more, taking better care of myself. Jaundice was no longer an issue and sometimes baby let me try different positions. Sometimes cradle or cross cradle worked, and sometimes laid back breastfeeding, and sometimes even side-lying (we still haven’t been able to make football hold work). We had more tiny victories than I ever thought possible, and though breastfeeding wasn’t “easy” still, it was doable. Some latches hurt, and others were just”okay”, but when I gently unlatched my daughter, I trusted that eventually we’d have a more comfortable (even if not “perfect”) latch. I trusted myself more, I gained patience. And Mother on the Cover, I loathed you less and less.
Today, I realized that instead of hating you for your success, I needed to realize my own. All mothers who feed their babies in any way are successful, even if their methods vary from what they originally intended. You are nourishing your baby, period- how can I hate you for that? And who is to say you never struggled with breastfeeding, or pregnancy, or labor, or motherhood? No one can be sure of what your breastfeeding experience looked like in the days and weeks before your cover photo was taken. Maybe you had long days and even longer nights. Maybe you cried, or felt helpless, or hopeless. Maybe you would have to put the baby down and walk away, give yourself a few minutes to compose yourself. Maybe your postpartum didn’t wind up looking how you always thought it would. Though on the cover you make motherhood look easy, it is only a moment in time, and no one knows your personal journey.
I originally thought that you were the goal, that breastfeeding success would look controlled, and postured, and clean and neat. But so far, for us, it looks more like this:
and (deep breath)… this:
…completely exhausted, with a body I no longer recognize that’s 30 pounds heavier than I’m used to, with more joy, pride, and peace than I’ve ever known. And of course, frustration. Baby girl and I are only human, after all.
To the Mother on the Cover: You’re doing the best you can, and I support you.
This New Mom
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