*A little delayed, I know. But that’s parenting twins for you.
It may seem weird to talk about breastfeeding in a post about thanks giving—my thought exactly when it came to mind. But as I consider all the things I’m grateful for over the holidays, I realized that nursing is at the top of the list, in part because of the hardship it presented in the beginning. Of course I’m grateful my babies are healthy. I’m grateful that I have a job that I enjoy while so many people are being let go in this employment market. I’m grateful for friends and family and the ability to share this holiday season and good food with them. But breastfeeding was the first thing that popped into my mind, because getting the hang of it was the most difficult thing I’ve endured in a long time.
With breastfeeding, ‘hooray for boobies’ just doesn’t cut it. It isn’t so much about the boobies but about the mother’s perseverance through pain, the alien changes to her body, preexisting exhaustion furthered by giving all of one’s nutrients to her baby, and the fears of judgment, inadequacy, and failure. This is the part all the proponents of breastfeeding don’t tell you. Pregnancy and labor are often considered the test of a woman’s strength, the limits to which she sees her body can go. But for me, the first few weeks of breastfeeding made me second guess everything—my womanhood, my abilities as a mother, and my sanity.
Everyone kept telling me, ‘you have twins. You don’t have to be supermom. You can feed them formula’ (I’m sure mothers of singletons have heard the same thing), just like everyone told me I didn’t need to prove anything by having a natural birth. They said these things out of love, I’m sure, and I certainly was not trying to get supermom of the year award; I was doing what was best for me and my girls. And breastfeeding is one of the most fulfilling decisions I’ve ever made.
There’s a deep, almost primitive enjoyment to be had in being able to feed your child your living tissue. That sounds Walking Deadish, but it’s a fitting phrase for the inexplicable connection nursing fosters between you and your child. Breast milk contains living tissue that adapts to the nursing baby’s specific needs, and so too does a woman and her newborn adapt to the demands of the new experience, but it doesn’t seem that way at first. Because breastfeeding is a natural way for mothers to provide nourishment for their babies, many women, including myself, expect it to be simple. But that’s not always the case. At first, it can be torture on your emotional state, while already being torture on your battle-worn body. This is probably a major source of postpartum depression for some women, whether one is unable to breastfeed at all or is trying and it seems impossible to continue. The latter was my situation.
It seemed I was doomed to fail at the outset. In the hospital, I had trouble expressing my colostrum and it seemed that the girls weren’t latching properly. The lactation consultant took forever to arrive and when she finally did, my girls were sleeping and I was exhausted. So I couldn’t get her advice on the latch. Before we were discharged, staff recommended that we supplement with formula because of how much weight the girls lost in one day. I would have liked a little longer to try solely breastfeeding, but I didn’t know then that breastfed babies lose that initial weight faster, and that newborns are equipped with enough fat to sustain them until mother’s milk comes in. I gave in because of my ignorance. Not only that, but my husband wondered if they were getting enough, and with good reason. He saw how little colostrum I was producing, and there were two babies sharing it. So there was an element of pressure but also the very real uncertainty as to whether breastfeeding would be enough for my twins. So we began supplementing with formula. Despite this setback, I was determined to breastfeed as often as I could.
When we got home, the difficulties increased without the help of nurses round the clock. With my husband working at the time (he’s stay at home dad now), I never felt like I had the chance, waking hours, or mental fortitude to go see a lactation consultant. I called the hospital consultant for help and never received a call back. I tried to reach another lactation consultant over the phone and she just told me that it sounded like the girls were tongue-tied and needed to be clipped under their tongues. After that, I stopped seeking help.
Those first couple weeks, the most trying time of breastfeeding my daughters, was a blur of sleep deprivation. But I remember the pain of cracking, raw nipples, teeth grinding every time they latched and because of improper latch, continued pain even after I began developing callous. I remember the severe neck and back pain, not fully recovered from the labor and without enough sleep to rest my weary muscles. I remember feeling the lowest I have ever felt in my life, that I was failing my girls even as they suckled from me, oblivious to my tears falling on them. Not in spite of that horrific time and struggle, but because of it, the moments I am able to look down at my nursing babies in contentment as they lay their tiny hands on my chest are all the sweeter. Not only did I overcome the hardships of breastfeeding, but I overcame myself at my lowest.
I share my story because breastfeeding is a trial of the self in so many ways. As I explained when I began this mom of multiples journal, I want to help the other women out there who wonder if they’re alone in this struggle, who wonder if their feelings are normal. The thing is, this natural way to provide for our baby is a brand new experience for a new mother and her baby, and, assuming it’s even possible in the first place, it takes grit, perseverance, practice and the understanding that the difficulty is well worth the reward.
As a mother, as a writer, as a human, it is that which we have to work the hardest for, the things we have to stumble on or straight up fail at that, in the end, have the highest payoff and mean the most to us. I am so grateful, every day, to have learned the extent of my strength in overcoming limitations from this awesome experience.
As a final note, if any women are out there struggling with this beautiful but sometimes excruciating, exhausting experience, please, please ask for help. Turn to a fellow mom, a lactation consultant, or feel free to Email me if you want to talk about it.