Oh gawd. Here I go again. Motherhood has turned me into an over-sharer. Strike that. I was totally an over-sharer before. Now it's just all over-sharing about lady-issues.
Proceed with caution, will ya? Actually, it's not that bad. But still...some boob-related stuff ahead, okay?
The pressure to breastfeed is crazy, yo.
It starts with the baby classes and baby books. The time and page space dedicated to breastfeeding is immoderate, to say the least. The possible challenges of it are woefully minimized. Authors and educators say things like "It can be difficult, but just keep at it! You'll get it!"
|This unfortunately-named product actually exists.|
The pressure to breastfeed is reinforced (rightly, of course) by health professionals at all stages of pregnancy/delivery/baby-raising. When nurses and other health professionals asked if I planned on breastfeeding, I always answered with--what I recognize now though didn't exactly see at the time--an air of smugness. Of course I was going to breastfeed her.
|Now I can pump and work! |
Or, you know, itch my nose and reach the remote.
Breastfeeding becomes one of those de jure topics of conversation between women who have had biological children. You just start talking about it (or people just start talking to you about it) whether or not you really want to. I shit you not, on my first day back to work, this woman that I barely know (like I didn't even know her name, and I'm actually not certain I'd ever spoken to her before) walked into my office, welcomed me back to work, and asked if I was breastfeeding my baby.
Here's the thing:
I'm a sharer. I don't really give a shit...I'll talk to you about pretty much anything. In person. On Facebook. Here in the blog. Whatever. I don't care. And it's not about attention-seeking or the need for validation (I swear). It's just because I don't mind talking about personal things.
But the breastfeeding thing.
"Are you breastfeeding your baby?"
"Well, I can't actually breastfeed her because she has a physical condition that doesn't allow her to create suction. So she can't latch. But I pump and feed her that way."
"... Oh. ... ... Well that's good. ... At least she's getting your milk. ..."
The topic of breastfeeding has been a stressor since Day 1...or was it Day 3...of The Bean's young life when I looked down and saw a veritable octopus (literally 8 hands) on/near my chest trying to get my kid to latch. My poor, screaming, red, rage-monster of a child. And even with all that "help" we had no luck. So we had to come up with alternative feeding techniques. My milk...but other vessels.
|Could not, would not|
It wasn't until I did a last-ditch-attempt lactation consultation with our pediatrician (some 3 weeks later) that the tiny hole in the back of her mouth was discovered and the reason for the feeding challenge was exposed. Armed with this new knowledge, I dedicated myself just as ardently to pumping as I had intended to be to breastfeeding. "It is recommended that you breastfeed for 12 months...that's a lot of time pumping," our pediatrician said. "I don't care. I'm completely committed," I assured her.
How the times do change.
|Give a dog a bone?|
What was once an easy, stress-less event is now an act of psychological torture.
It's like failing...6-8 times a day.
It's not like I'm not trying to improve the situation. I am.
I'm eating Fenugreek capsules like they're Halloween candy and consuming lactation cookies by the dozen. I'm mixing brewer's yeast into my oatmeal. I rented the industrial-strength boob-juicer from the hospital, hoping it would do a better job than the Cadillac model of in-home pumps I already own. I haul it back and forth to work every day. And my arms are sore (though perhaps more toned?) from all the hand-expressing I do while pumping. I went from pumping 4-5 times a day to pumping 6-8 times a day. One of those 6-8 times is at 3:00 in the morning. I set an alarm so I can get up and pump...even though my kid often sleeps through the night. In between those 6-8 full pumping sessions (15-25 minutes each), every now and then I "micro-pump"...just a quick 5-minute hook-up. You know...to keep things moving.
I haven't had a drop of alcohol since my pregnancy ended... because the idea of "dumping" makes me nauseous. Actually, I haven't had a drop of alcohol in almost a year. AND GOD COULD I USE ONE.
Is it working?
Yesterday, while gazing at a picture of The Bean, I realized that I spend way more time thinking about my pumping output than I do about the actual kid that all this stupid milk is for. If you do the math, some days I spend more hours strapped to the breast-pump than I do holding my child. How freaking effed up is that?
I've been "given permission" to stop pumping...by multiple moms and medical professionals alike.
I understand that in the pendulum-esque way that time works, we've swung to the complete opposite side of the breast milk vs. formula debate. As adamant and hysteric as people were about formula use in the mid-20th century...that's where we are now...but about breastfeeding. I get the data and the studies. I understand the proven benefits of breastfeeding. I do.
But I'm sorta maxed out on all this pressure.
Intellectually, I know that I've sustained my kid (with my milk) through some of the most critical months of her life. I know that so many babies grow up on formula for all sorts of reasons. And they're fine. They're better than fine. They're healthy, thriving kids. Just like my kid is.
And yet...I can't quite quit. I can't give myself permission to stop.
Enough...surprisingly...is not yet enough.
Regardless of the topic/initiative/goal, I sometimes feel like we exist in this socio-cultural vortex (too dramatic?) where there is some seriously romanticized pressure to "never give up". We're supposed to persevere to the very end. We're supposed to confront every obstacle and exhaust every option until we beat whatever it is we're up against. The successful people do that. The people who aren't successful? They didn't try hard enough.
But when is enough enough? When are square pegs and round holes just flat-out incompatible? When is something just not meant to be? When is the universe trying, with all its might, to tell us to take a different path?
What do we lose or give up by failing to recognize that perhaps things aren't working out for a reason? And the reason to stop--whatever is it--might be just as significant in a given situation as perseverance would be in another?
In recent months, I've had conversations with a few friends about not giving up. A friend confronting vocational change. A couple friends trying to start families. Friends dealing with long-standing irreparable relationships. A friend slogging through med school.
It's all the same.
When is it okay to stop and try something else? And what is waiting for us on the other side of the decision?
When is enough enough?
I have no idea.