16 February 2012

A Letter to Myself 2 Weeks Ago, Regarding Breastfeeding

Dear Me,

Breastfeeding is tougher than you ever imagined it would be, isn't it?

You knew ahead of time that it was going to be so much harder than it looked. You knew even before you had a chance to try it that these moments were going to come where you were crying even more than your hungry newborn. You even realized ahead of time that a moment would come when it was tempting to give it all up.

Remember that night you were so terribly pregnant still waiting for her, lying on the couch, and reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and you asked James to read it, too? You asked him to read it so he could remind you later of all the good reasons why you're doing this when you were in the thick of your frustration and tears. You asked him to read it so he could remind you why this matters so much to you.



You knew it was going to be tough, but knowing ahead of time that something is going to be hard and living in the reality that it not only feels hard, but downright impossible are two very, very different things. If only it were as simple as those idyllic and glowing pictures of nursing mothers made it look. I mean, what could be so terribly difficult about getting a baby to the breast and getting her to eat? It's not exactly rocket science, right?

I know it feels like a colossal joke when people tell you that it gets easier, that you can, in fact, do this. How could it possibly? So far, there's no sign that it will get any better. There are moments when you feel like you've got it -- something has clicked -- and then before you know it, it seems like you and your baby are fighting each other. She's furiously shaking her head, mouth open wide in a scream around your nipple, and you can't do anything to calm her or to get her mouth to close around it -- and forget encouraging her to latch correctly. She's clawing at your breasts, pushing herself away, and red-faced from screaming at you.

In these moments, you feel as though you've failed. I can't even feed my baby, you cry. You're exhausted and hormonal, and you can't believe that anyone actually let you be responsible for her. You wonder if she's getting enough and if she ever will. You wonder if you will ever have the slightest shred of confidence in your ability to provide her with what she needs. The thought makes you cry. I should be able to do this, you think. And then you cry some more, so sure you cannot.

I know you don't believe me right now, but you can. I know you're beyond exhausted, and I know your body has been through so much already -- forty weeks of pregnancy, not to mention having so recently accomplished the momentous task of birthing a baby. And now, nature asks this of you.

Yeah, right.

But I'll ask you to remember this: you're new at this, and so is she. There's a huge learning curve for both of you. She's experiencing hunger for the first time. She's been introduced to an entirely new universe, to gravity, and to surroundings that are entirely foreign to her, and probably frightening. The combination of postpartum hormones combined with an ungodly amount of sleep deprivation makes it hard to understand that her cries, as much as they may rattle your nerves, are one of her ways of communicating with you.

She's not trying to mess with you or play games when she's hungry and refuses to take the breast. She isn't trying to test your patience when she shakes her head frantically and won't latch on. Like anything brand new, there are going to be fits and starts, good moments and ones where you feel the frustration so keenly you will want to bang your head against something hard -- repeatedly.

Remember, mama: you will get the hang of this. She is not going to starve. And just like you had faith in your body to sustain and to grow her, just like you had faith in your body to bring her to the world outside, so have faith in your body now to feed her.

I know you don't believe me. I know you're probably scoffing as you read this, thinking I couldn't possibly have the slightest clue what I'm talking about. But I know how important this is to you, so I'm asking you to give it time, and keep at it.

I guarantee you won't regret it.