I wasn’t worried about breastfeeding one bit. Not even a scrap. I had a number of friends who had children at this point and were nursing moms and though one or two had struggled a bit, more or less all systems a go and experience a positive. And…I’m a dairy farmer! I grew up familiar with lactation. There was no mystery for me. It was Nature’s way and that was that.
I knew about mastitis. I knew about milk fever. I knew about chapped and cracked teats and calves that won’t suckle. Now ladies, I am not trying to put us on the same level as dairy cows certainly, but simultaneously, the comparisons stand. I had even had a conversation with one friend who when asked, “what was the one thing you wish someone had told you before you gave birth?” replied that she wished someone had been honest about how difficult breastfeeding can be. Nothing gave me pause and I suppose that in and of itself ought to have. I really figured I was ahead of the game because I knew so much about lactation.
Pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, let me tell you, have solidified for me the thought that in my life the Universe has a sense of humor. When she senses there’s something that a bit of perspective is necessary for my advancement to the next level of mental evolution she gleefully throws down a dose of it for me to swallow. Pregnancy? damn hard. Birth? Far worse than hard. Breastfeeding? Humbling on every level possible. I had been that woman who had judged others for not breastfeeding. For not birthing naturally. And while I still believe those options to be optimal; I will no longer judge a woman for her personal choices.
Breastfeeding is difficult. It is a commitment. It can be deeply painful. And it is also one of the most beautiful and selfless acts a mother can perform.
My birth story is not pretty. Or graceful. It is a post in and of itself. And breastfeeding followed suit. Bluntly put, I was high the first time I tried to nurse my son. I feel tears prickle just writing about it. I don’t clearly remember what he smelled like or looked like or of feeling any magic with my first child suckling at my breast. I remember not knowing where he was and knowing that I was terrified that the pain of birth was never going to end. And I remember Dave and my midwife begging me to allow them to administer pain medication in order to stitch me up…and then I was so high I didn’t really care anymore. I do remember them finally bringing him to me and him trying to nurse…and of trying to control my hands to help guide his head to my breast while holding it with my other. And I remember not having any ability to do so. I remember just falling back on the pillow and asking the nurses if they could hold him and my breast to facilitate it. I remember saying, “I can’t control my hands, I need you to do it for me.” And thank god for them. Thank you Universe for at least plunking me in a hospital where the nurses where of the highest caliber when it came to assisting a mother determined to breastfeed her child. They did not fail me. Eli wasn’t given a drop of formula until he was nine months old largely in part to the amazing nature of the staff at that hospital. Nursing in the hospital was a struggle; they were concerned about his weight and his intake, but they respected me.
After coming home it was still an hourly challenge and the day after, we returned to the hospital and saw a lactation consultant. She was helpful and encouraging and commended me. And boy did I need that! I am a determined girl if nothing else and though in my mind there were many other things I had failed at in pregnancy and birth I was NOT going to fail at this. Until they told me that absolutely 100% Eli was starving because he wasn’t getting enough food I was going to prevail. I was a damn dairy farmer for crying out loud! If I couldn’t do it, how the hell could I keep doing what I expect the cows too?
The first month was hell. My nipples were cracked and bleeding. I leaked. Every time my little one latched on I screamed. You think that after you give birth the pain will be over and for me, it wasn’t. I could hardly walk and nursing was excruciating. And thankfully, the Universe had brought me this incredible peaceful baby and when I do reflect now on those first few months…I don’t feel pain. Though reflection does bring me to truth; that it was really difficult that time in my life, when I was there I didn’t feel pain, I felt joy. I felt blessed. I felt as though everything in the world had finally been given to me and I felt complete. I was Mama and at the end of the day that was all that was there for me.
Nursing was never easy. I had mastitis with a delirious fever. I had clogged ducts. As I mentioned above, Eli did have a week when he was nine months old that he had about seven bottles of formula. I researched heavily and settled on this one. Every bottle of it he had was like a knife to my heart, but he was hungry and I wasn’t producing enough. My friend Emily, a fellow dairy farmer, shares a similar piece of her story here. Turns out? I am not the only dairy farmer who has had challenges with nursing!
We kept on keeping on in spite of it however and had a healthy beautiful nursing relationship when the day after Mother’s Day at about 22 months he nursed for the last time. I feel so much peace knowing that I prevailed. And honestly, I was ready to be done when he stopped. Farming is hard work and nursing is hard work and the two together were a bit more than my exhaustion level could maintain.
But here’s the thing. My experiences with pregnancy and birth have been humbling and I feel, served an incredible purpose. Not only did I triumph in having a healthy nursing relationship with my son, but I evolved to an entirely different plane in my work life. I have no ability anymore to look at a cow and NOT see a lactating mother. There is no way around cows being deeply frustrating creatures to deal with at times and my experience has opened me up to be compassionate towards them. They are nursing mothers. When they get mastitis I take extra time to gently rub Udder Comfort on that udder, if they have cracked teats or chapped teats there is no rushing, no coldness, no removal of myself from they as animal and I as human. I talk to them and commiserate with them. I know there are folks out there who disagree deeply with dairy farming, even organic dairy farming. But I am on a new plane of care here. Those cows, I feel for them, and it’s made me into a far better farmer than I could have been otherwise.
And I believe deeply, that while it is not my decision to make for any other woman, that breastfeeding is best. That natural childbirth is optimal. And I know in my heart that no matter the challenges I faced, were I to face them again I would handle it all the same. I hope any mother who is struggling with breastfeeding will be given the support to know that they are not alone. And that they are not a failure. To those of you out there “fighting the good fight” 😉 all my blessings to you!
I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!
You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.
(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)