I think there are some wonderful aspects of the breastfeeding movement. I love that we are normalizing feeding in public. I whole heartedly believe we need to take a page out of Europe’s book about how beautiful the body is. In my experience, Americans tend to equate nudity almost exclusively with sexuality. This is simply not true, and breastfeeding is one beautiful example.
I also love that this movement encourages women to be comfortable with their bodies. Promoting a healthy body image is something I am truly passionate about. We need to stick together as women and lift each other up, which is where I come into a little friction with some realizations of this movement. In an attempt to normalize breastfeeding, some supporters, often unintentionally, have become shameful of moms who use formula.
I am one of these formula moms, and let me tell you, I was devastated that breastfeeding didn’t work for me. I think that most of the tears I have cried as a mother of newborn babies have been over breastfeeding, not sleep deprivation. I had children before many of my friends did, so I knew nothing. I had no idea breastfeeding was difficult. I had no idea about latching, positioning, nipple shields, etc. And when I could not get my twins to latch, or I found out my breastmilk wasn’t caloric enough for my singleton, I declined all visitors and basically locked myself in my room. I was heartbroken.
I never knew how much of my identity as a mother would be wrapped up in my ability to breastfeed, and I feel that the breastfeeding movement can be exclusive of mothers who tried and failed. Because that’s how I feel about it, if I’m being honest; I often feel like a failure. And here I am, 2 years after the birth of my twins and 3 months after the birth of my singleton, and I still cry about it because I couldn’t even feed my own children.
So whenever I see these beautiful breastfeeding photos of mothers with their children, in truth, I am heartsick and oh so jealous. If someone took a photo of me breastfeeding, it would include a giant feeding pillow, a cloth to cover myself, a nipple shield, a bottle of water, a plate of food, a sweat soaked shirt from all of the pregnancy hormones, disheveled hair twisted up with a clip, and a tear stained face of someone who had tried everything to make this work and simply couldn’t. It would be a picture of defeat.
I am an overachiever by nature, and to not be able to successfully breastfeed overshadowed all of the things that were going well. It didn’t matter that my children were sleeping well or hitting all of their developmental milestones. It didn’t matter that my house was clean or that my laundry was done. It didn’t matter that I was cooking healthy meals because all I wanted was to feed my child.
My husband often has to remind me that breastfeeding is simply a breath, a moment, in the lifespan of my children. And boy am I thankful for him. He held me every time I cried about breastfeeding, often crying with me because there was nothing he could do but watch me suffer. He was powerless, and yet he continued to encourage and remind me of everything I was doing right and everything I had to be thankful for.
If you have not battled with breastfeeding, I’m sure you have endured other hardships as a mother, and there is no suffering quite like a mother’s struggle. Which brings me back to the breastfeeding movement. I love everything about its core values, especially its promotion of the bond between mother and child. I just wish that some supporters would remember how many moms wish they could take those beautiful breastfeeding photos, how many moms wish they could give their children nourishment, how many moms wish they could experience the breastfeeding bond.
I think it’s important to remember to support our differences as well as our similarities. Being a mom is hard, and we need to build each other up. I know I’m hard enough on myself, and I don’t need one more critic reiterating my inadequacies. I need a friend reiterating my strengths and holding me while I cry about my weaknesses.