“And as ridiculous as it may sound, sometimes all any of us needs in life is for someone to hold our hand and walk next to us.” James Frey
I’ve always been a fiercely independent person. My mom jokes that my first sentence was, “I can do it myself!” There is no turning back once I make my mind up about something. That’s exactly why when I got pregnant I knew I was going to breastfeed; there was no other option.
I’m happy to say that I am successfully breastfeeding. But I wasn’t a success story over night. In fact it took a lot of nights and a lot of support.
A few months back I read an article online that said the number one reason women stop breastfeeding (besides physical issues of course!) is lack of support from others. It wasn’t until I read the article that I really thought about and acknowledged how essential feeling supported was to me as a new mother.
I had a lot of outside guidance from the women in my family. My sister-in-law Ginger mailed me books as resources and offered her advice. My sister Colleen gave me a whole ‘Breastfeeding Must Haves’ kit, including notes she printed out with her tips and tricks. I am so grateful for the information they enlightened me with. And then of course the quiet optimism from my mother was on my side. She had breastfed both my sister and I, and knew I was capable.
I was armed with breastfeeding knowledge. I dragged my husband to a breastfeeding class. I intentionally chose the hospital I gave birth at because they were extremely pro-breastfeeding. They encouraged rooming in, putting baby on mama’s chest right after birth was crucial, and they even implemented the policy of not giving baby a full bath until after 24 hours so that baby could recognize the smell when being held by mama. Probably 30 minutes after Gigi was born I had a nurse helping her latch on.
I also chose that hospital because I knew I would have the support of a lactation consultant (LC) during my stay. Unfortunately or fortunately, the LC didn’t need to visit us until we were getting ready to leave. Gigi was doing relatively well at feeding and didn’t loose as much weight as the other babies, which meant we weren’t a top priority for the LC to see. I remember asking the nurse multiple times when the LC would be coming. Even though we were doing well, I had questions and wanted reassurance. When the LC finally came it was a whirlwind. She introduced herself, threw my bra off, unwrapped Gigi, dimmed the lights, showed me how to hold Gigi properly, supported me with pillows and talked a mile a minute on what I should be doing.
The visit was definitely less than half an hour. Like most of the people who came in and out of my hospital room, I can’t for the life of me remember what she said, or even what her name was. But luckily I had Scott. He stood right next to her, watching what she was doing. I even think he asked her a question or two.
Breastfeeding went pretty smoothly at the hospital. Once we were home, things changed. Exhaustion is no joke. I’d heard how tiring being parent to a newborn is, but never understood until I fully experienced it myself. On top of no sleep, my body ached. It doesn’t matter if you have a vaginal delivery or a C-section, you will be uncomfortable one way or another. I promise.
Physical issues aside, the hardest part for me was the round the clock pressure. No one really talks about the shift you have to make in your mind when you are breastfeeding. You are literally the only person who can feed your child, and you need to accept that. People can come over to give you food and do your laundry. Your partner can change diapers and clean the house. But when it comes down to it, your baby is crying (more often than not) because your baby wants to eat. And you are the only one who can fix that. If you’re not careful you can start to feel very alone, no matter how many people you’re surrounded by.
Looking back I don’t think I let myself admit how hard it all was. How overwhelmed I was to be the only person who could really care for Gigi in those first weeks. I was so incredibly happy and didn’t want anything to overshadow that feeling. But somehow my husband instinctively knew how exhausted I was. He got up with me every time Gigi needed to eat, even though I never asked him too. He would prop me up with pillows like the LC taught us. And tried his best to relay all the information I forgot when I was struggling. He would put her back to bed after I fed her, then come back and literally lift me out of the chair if I couldn’t stand up by myself.
One night in particular sticks out in my mind. It was the fourth night of Gigi’s life and I was sitting in the rocking chair trying my best to feed her. It felt like she was eating almost every hour that day and I was in the height of my exhaustion. I’m not even sure what was going wrong, but it was not working. Mastering a new skill, specifically a new skill that a human being’s life depends on, is not easy. It isn’t made any easier by being sleep deprived either.
I looked up to God, the angels, the Universe, the ceiling, I’m not really sure. But I looked up with tears in my eyes and thought, “I have no idea what I am doing.” Then I heard, “You’re amazing.” It was Scott. The image is frozen in my mind. He’s hunched over, leaning against Gigi’s crib. The glow from the closet light silhouetting his body. His hand was on his face, almost holding his head up. Just standing there, letting me know I wasn’t alone. “You’re so patient, she is so lucky you’re her mother.”
I felt like I got the wind knocked out of me in the best way possible. Like I had to be completely empty so his words could fill me up. In that moment, he saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself. His words and his presence reminded me of all I had accomplished in a few short days. And the strength that seemed to be slipping away before came back in full force.
One time I even breastfed while walking.
As easy and natural as breastfeeding feels now, I make a point to remind myself of the struggle. And to remind myself of all the help I had. I hope as I grow older, and more people in my life start having babies, I can be a source of support and comfort too.
This lesson isn’t specific to breastfeeding exclusively. We can apply this to all areas of our lives. Try looking for the small ways people are encouraging you. Then look for small ways you can encourage others. If you have the chance to remind someone of his or her strength, take it. If you feel like your support system is lacking, try reaching out. Someone will answer.
Don’t ever forget, you’re not alone. We are all in this together. xo