I am a proud mother of two brilliant, amazing kids. My youngest is turning 4 this summer, but it was just January of last year that I finally stopped breastfeeding him. It was a huge struggle to wean, an experience that left me feeling physically touched-out and emotionally and mentally exhausted. There were lots of tears all around.
So when my husband and I found out that we are expecting baby No. 3, I privately scrutinized my feelings of nervousness and dread at having to go through the breastfeeding experience all over again, which only led to guilt, of course.
Some mothers would be mystified and indignant at the thought that there are some women like me who just do not find a natural groove with breastfeeding, especially when I’ve previously nursed a toddler. But the truth is, my baby isn’t even born yet and I am already exhausted by the thought of breastfeeding them.
When my oldest child was born, he spent his first weeks living in the NICU where he had to learn how to eat through a feeding tube. My husband and I refused to leave his side, and we insisted that the nurses use my breast milk during feeding times. We did hours of skin-to-skin contact and tried hundreds of times to encourage him to latch on. It hurt my heart so badly that breastfeeding was such an epic failure, but my child was thriving and we were so deeply and madly in love with him that I was able to put aside my feelings about breastfeeding and marvel at his strength.
When my youngest child came into the world, it was a completely different experience. He immediately latched on and refused to let go until he was nearly 3 years old. While breastfeeding is not my favorite thing, I can’t deny that it forged a deep connection between my child and me, and to this day, although we no longer nurse, I still feel that urge to scoop him up and soothe him in some primal way. These days, that means me holding him tight and stroking his hair until he falls asleep or whispering songs of love in his ear to calm him down.
But during our nearly three-year breastfeeding experience, I felt like my body was not mine. My arms, my lap, my breasts, they all belonged to someone else. Mothers are supposed to feel selfless and be willing to give over every morsel of their body and psyche to their children, but for me, I was tired and touched out and done with clogged ducts. I was exhausted by having to manipulate my schedule around my child’s craving to nurse for food or comfort. I felt awkward and uncomfortable when my husband wanted to touch me, and my breasts were off-limits because, for the time being, they seemed to belong to our kid.
I wanted to be done — so much so that I began to develop the skin crawls. Any mother nearing the end of the breastfeeding journey with her child will likely know this feeling. It is like an emotional or psychological signal that it is time to wean. And so, taking cues from my body, I began to try every avenue of gentle weaning I could. In the end and after months of struggling, I spoke with a lactation expert who helped me form a game plan to end the nursing relationship.
My child and I both cried; it was the end of a beautiful if not emotionally complicated time.
Now, let me be clear: While there were definite drawbacks for me, I loved my breastfeeding journey with my youngest child, and I credit that experience for the strong bond that we enjoy today.
But the struggles I endured privately and the pressures to be successful that I felt from family taxed my heart enough so that as I near the end of my final pregnancy, I find that I am becoming more and more nervous that breastfeeding my next child will be as difficult and wrought with complicated emotions as it was with my oldest child.
I worry that I will fail as I had the first time. I worry that I won’t enjoy the experience the way I am supposed to. My husband has been trying to soothe my fears by reminding me that we have two healthy and happy kids. He tells me that even if breastfeeding doesn’t work out, then so what? Our kid isn’t go to go without nourishment. He holds my hand and says that worry like this is a sign that my heart cares enough to do whatever is right for us, even if that means not nursing this time around.
Breastfeeding is not as simple as sticking a boob in a mouth. If only! It is a complex physiological and emotional experience for both mother and child. And when that experience is interrupted by problems or those problems lead to failure or early termination of nursing, the entire experience of breastfeeding can leave a painful scar on a mother’s heart.
I have experienced that pain first hand, and I still have the scar. So now, as I count the days until I get to meet my third sweet baby, I am also busy trying to calm my nerves and fears around breastfeeding again. I keep reminding myself that it will work, or it won’t, and that either way we are all going to be just fine.