When I found out I was pregnant I instantly started studying. I read everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy, parenting, and child-birth. I made snap decisions about what I would and would never do as a mother. It is a hard lesson when you realize you were in no way prepared to make your decisions when you made them. All the reading in the world still couldn’t make me ready for the greatest (and perhaps hardest) job on earth.
It was during my early pregnancy that I was introduced to the inner workings of The Mom Club. I had no idea it existed, but it does. It’s online, it’s hiding amongst your friends, even your own mom is a member. Everywhere you look you’ll find them and there’s quite a lot of pressure to fit in. Especially for an introverted twenty-something Pennsylvania mom.
The Mom Club is a hard place to find encouraging words, both in person and worse yet online. Even early in my second trimester I was feeling the pressure and by eight and a half months I ready to deck the next person who lent me their advice beginning with the statement “You just wait until…”
Right. Peeing my pants, limited mobility, and voracious hunger/heartburn just wasn’t enough. Soon I’d be up to my elbows in poppy diapers. I’d be crazed from lack of sleep. Oh, and don’t forget about the insane labor and delivery stories. Evidently there was even a hazing involved in The Mom Club.
I got in.
After my son’s birth the club split into many tiny divisions. The attachment parenters and the cry-it-outers, the spankers and the time-outers, the old school and the crunchy moms, the list goes on… Perhaps the deepest divide falls between the breastfeeders and the formula feeders. It was not was an easy club to assimilate into. Where was my niche?
I had my heart set on breastfeeding. Surely that was where I belonged. I went through my whole pregnancy planing on it. I spent time learning how I should eat, what I would need, and trying to memorize numerous different positions for nursing. Then my son came and I gave it everything I had but it was destroying me. I could feel myself slipping. The pumping(exclusively for a time), the exhaustion, and the constant anxiety about our bad latch and low supply was killing me. One day my fully confused husband looked at me and said “It’s ok if we switch to formula, you know.” Of course, he was right. Everything was and is very much okay. But my son was seven weeks old at the time and it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make.
It took me months to recover from the blow. The pain, the feeling of failure, and the idea that I wasn’t measuring up to my mommy peers was nearly incapacitating. I felt so judged in public by anyone who looked in our direction during a feeding. Even when we were combo-feeding and he took his breast milk from a bottle I felt like there was a flashing neon over my head that said !Not Breastfeeding! Looking back now I can see that I made the right choice for us, as a family, and for me as a women. My well-being was pivotal in my son’s life (perhaps more important for him than breast milk) but I was bruised about it for so long, friends…on the inside. I was unable to look past what I had planed to do and see what was best. Staring inadequacy in the face is quite intimidating. Especially with the eyes of a first time mom.
The switch was right for us (and I gained a deep admiration the women who successfully breastfeed) but it took a lot of soul-searching to get to that place of acceptance. That place in my heart where I knew that I had made the right choice and where I could put to rest my feelings of loss and jealousy. More than anything I was searching within The Club for other mothers like me.
I met Lady X in my travels while moving to a new place months ago. Just a stranger in passing, she cooed at my son (he’s irresistible, quite the ladies’ man) and soon we were chatting. She had done the camper life some thirty years ago with her husband and their newborn son. Her story was very much like ours except they went on the road to follow the lumber industry instead of the pipeline. So we connected on some level immediately.
We had the obligatory “we’re both moms” conversation and before long she asked me if I breastfed.
I wasn’t offended at the time. After all, my son was six months old by then and I had gotten used to the idea having to discuss my innermost failures with total strangers. Sure, it was an extremely personal question but I no longer felt as though simply being asked it was going to be a trigger for an onslaught of self-doubt and disappointment. My skin was thickening and so, I gave her my best very generic response which I repeated in the most casual way I was able. I explained to her that I tried my best…flat nipples, hard work, not being nearly as prepared as I thought I was. The whole spiel. I knew I was never going to see her again so I was ready for anything.
She reveled to me that she formula feed as well…a long time ago. And because of physical limitations, just like me. She told me I wouldn’t believe how rude people were to her (I assured her that I whole-heartedly believed her) and we swapped our experiences with one another. We didn’t spend long together on that sunny afternoon but we did share some very personal moments. I’ll never forget the obvious look of guilt in her eyes when she told me her daughter still brings up the fact that she didn’t breastfeed her and how she can’t believe it. “Even after all this time.” My heart broke for her. I had tortured my self internally in a very similar way.
It was that heart to heart with a perfect stranger that changed everything. We connected for a moment, however fleeting, and the camaraderie healed some wound inside of me. Finally I felt right with the biggest decision of my life. I had done what I could within reason for my child (and for myself) and we were both better for it. I hope with all my might that Lady X felt a similar relief from sharing with me. The idea that there was a corner of the mommy club for women like us gave me such peace.
So in light of World Breastfeeding Week (and maybe…just maybe, because I have shared my struggle) lets take a moment to tip our hats to all the mammas out their feeding their children in the best way they are able. Motherhood is full of doubt and second guessing so let us reach out our hands so that we can all mother with pride. So we can know in our hearts that we have the Club standing behind us and however we’ve chosen to nourish our children. We must remember that statements like “breast is best” can be spiked with insensitivity. Any way. Any time. Any place. No mother should ever feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Feed them, loud and proud. Do it like it’s your job. Because, fellow mommies, it is.
It’s nourishment with love. That’s the whole recipe.
Sarah is a chef turned stay-at-home-mom from Pennsylvania. She lives on the road with her pipeline husband and (almost) nine month old son. She spends her free moments blogging at www.pipelinemommy.com.