by Kasey Stacey
(Photo credit for featured image: Siné Stabosz)
It seems to me that the bulk of my writing about breastfeeding centers on my experience with my son. As my journey with Vincent has been my first breastfeeding experience, it’s provided me with the most opportunities to learn and grow. Considering that this first journey is ongoing, I suppose I still have a lot to say about it.
But I have another child, a second breastfeeding journey, and it deserves the same recognition and reflection as the first (although tandem nursing makes me wonder if it is more appropriate to call it one long, blended experience rather than two separate nursing relationships). Most of the time, though, breastfeeding Brigid just seems so… unremarkable.
It isn’t that I don’t love nursing her; I do. In fact, I enjoy nursing Brigid a lot more than I enjoy nursing Vinny these days. I just don’t think about it a whole lot. With a toddler and an infant and a husband who works two jobs and goes to law school at night, my life is busy. I’m no longer afforded many opportunities each day to get lost in my own thoughts, to contemplate the role that breastfeeding has played in my perception of myself as a mother.
Breastfeeding Brigid has become sort of rote. Each nursing session just happens, without much forethought or planning. If I’m out and about, she nurses while I wear her. If we’re home, she often nurses while I take care of a million other things. When she nurses overnight, I’m more or less asleep through the whole thing. If she’s upset, I nurse her. Hurt, the same. Tired, the same. Hungry, obviously the same. This is how I mother my infants–what is there to say about it?
I think part of this comes from having the experience of nursing a first baby. The learning curve wasn’t nearly as steep this time around. Part of it also comes from working for a lactation consultant. What breastfeeding difficulty haven’t I encountered through proofreading Katie’s blogs or posting the stories of so many other mamas? I’d like to think I have a pretty good sense of how to spot a potential problem in my nursling and troubleshoot before it turns into a disaster.
At the same time, I’ve seen more than one mama come to Katie’s support group with baby number five, absolutely flummoxed that breastfeeding has presented challenges that they don’t have the experience to overcome on their own. So I think that perhaps I’ve just been blessed with an easy nursing relationship this time around. I didn’t have to fight very hard to establish breastfeeding with Brigid and I am grateful to have one less ball that I need to juggle right now.
And then I’m reminded of other moms I’ve met along the way who have had an easy time with breastfeeding with baby number one. When Vinny was a newborn, I’d invite them to support group, saying how nice it was to be surrounded by other moms who shared the breastfeeding experience. Many times, they’d say, “Well, I’m not having any problems. I don’t really need help figuring things out and I feel out of place.”
I didn’t try to persuade them. I remember feeling that way after my first group. Vinny was two weeks old and after some initial struggles, breastfeeding seemed to be getting easier. (By week three or four, that had all changed.) There were all these other women, bawling their eyes out and struggling to find a way to answer Katie’s weekly question: “What’s good about breastfeeding?” I felt so awkward. My birth had gone more or less exactly as I had hoped it would and breastfeeding had become, well, unremarkable. I didn’t have a horror story and couldn’t appreciate the difficulties that these other mothers were experiencing. It felt almost as if my breastfeeding journey to that point wasn’t authentic enough to warrant my presence at group.
Although my story quickly did become somewhat horrific, and I definitely have earned my breastfeeding merit badges, I often think about women whose breastfeeding journeys seem unremarkable. Their births went just fine, their babies latched without issue during the golden hour, their breasts made the appropriate amounts of milk, and any slight hiccups were resolved after spending ten minutes on Google. They maintained their supplies when they returned to work, they fed their babies solid foods, they weaned when they were ready. Sure, there were tears in the beginning, maybe a bit of fleeting nipple soreness, and some long, sleepless nights, but that’s to be expected when you have a baby. No big deal, right?
I think about these mamas and I wonder about their need for support, too. Something I came to learn over the course of my early months of nursing is that even when breastfeeding is going really well, it is hard. It is physically and emotionally demanding. It requires a level of self-sacrifice that most women don’t experience prior to having children.
I want to tell mothers who have had relatively easy nursing relationships, whose stories you won’t likely see appear on the pages of this blog, that their experiences count. Their sacrifices were worth it and their journeys into motherhood are a big deal. They, too, gave their babies the best they could and they did it with grace. They are, in a word, remarkable.