Saturday, March 24, 2012

Motherhood Real-Life: I Hated Breastfeeding

(Gratuitous cute pic of my son I mention in this post. Because I hate posting without a pic. 
Plus, pretty sure I had just been nursing here - note Boppy pillow and scrunched up shirt.)

Yes, I am ready for the social backlash for that comment. I will preface this post by saying that I'm in no way trying to argue the fact that breastfeeding is a wonderful thing, the best thing for a baby. I'm not trying to negate the fact that it was the most precious time you had with your baby. I'm not trying to rub salt in the wound that you desperately wanted to nurse and couldn't.

I'm just saying. I hated it. This is tantamount, I think, in today's mommyland, to my saying that I don't make my kids eat what I made for dinner. Inconceivable! But I don't think it does new mothers any favors to pretend that everything is sunshine and rainbows. Not everybody loves to breastfeed. Not everyone even likes it. Nursing caused me to feel overwhelming anxiety and resentment toward my baby. And I'll be honest, I'm selfish and a control-freak, which further complicated the situation.

Here's the thing. I tried to love it. Everyone loves it. And even if you don't love it, you at least stick with it for the good of your child and their health. That's what good moms do. Right?

But then here's what happened. I did a decent job with my first. Nursed until she was almost six months. Respectable enough (but never did like it). Then I had my second when my oldest was 18 months. Still a baby herself, really. And oddly enough, she did not GET why I had to make myself completely unavailable to her for eternal (to her) lengths of time every few hours. Having kids close in age is a lot of work. Having a husband who is rarely home is a lot of work. Breastfeeding is also a lot of work, especially if you happen to have breasts that dispense milk in super-slo-mo. And I found myself resenting it. Baby #2 would cry, my husband would hand him to me and ask, "Do you want to nurse him?" and I would snarl something like, "Do I want to nurse him? Not really. But I want him to live and all, so someone's gotta feed him." Tender, right?

So I sat down and thought about it. Why was I nursing? It was the best thing for my baby. But... that wasn't really why I was nursing. I was nursing because I was scared to say I had stopped. Especially because I had stopped for no good reason. Just because I didn't like it. "Well, see, I was getting really sick of being the only member of my family who was constantly having their dinner interrupted to go breastfeed, so... you know..." Nope. Couldn't do it.

I once had a well-meaning friend, right after I stopped breastfeeding, innocently ask me, "You know breastfeeding is the best thing for your baby, right?" As my brain thought, Really? I have NEVER heard that before! Fascinating! my mouth said, "Just because breast milk is the best thing for your baby doesn't mean that breastfeeding is the best thing for your family." And that's what it came down to.

I wanted to look back on my son's infancy and treasure those memories. I did not want them to be clouded by resentment and irritation toward him simply for needing to eat. My husband was dealing with a crazy, snarly meanie (me, obviously). My daughter was spending vast amounts of time wandering around the house unattended at the tender age of 1. I was up all night feeding my son, and then got to handle the joys of parenting 2 babies while my husband was gone 14-16 hours a day. It was not working.

I was wracked with guilt. What would people say? What would I say when they asked why I wasn't nursing? I had never, ever heard another mother say they had stopped breastfeeding because they simply didn't like it. I imagined the stony-eyed silence at Playgroup.

But I did it anyway. I wanted to enjoy my little guy. And whatever the personal demons that were causing me to feel this way, I didn't really care. So I stopped. Pumped for a while, then switched him over to formula.

The weird thing was that after that I LOVED feeding him. It was like when I was a kid, the difference between cleaning my room when it was my own idea versus cleaning it because my mom made me. I loved to snuggle him and coo to him and stroke his face while he ate. And as my joy in mothering him returned, my guilt quickly disappeared.

And oddly enough, no one cared. If people asked, I just said, "It wasn't working out for us." And that was that.

I read someone on the internet once say that her doctor gave her some sort of depression-related diagnosis having to do with this anxiety and resentment over breastfeeding. I'm not going to say that I'm 100% positive that it didn't partially have to do with post-partum depression on the chance that it does. I'm not going to chalk it up to that on the chance that it doesn't, and I'm just a really selfish mom. The truth is that I don't know what caused these feelings. I just know that they were real to me.

I guess the point here is that we need to be real with each other. Be honest about the difficulties of new motherhood and the options we have. And when someone chooses something different from us, to be gentle with each other. Motherhood is tough enough as it is.

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Emily Robison said...

Wow, I can't even say how much I appreciate this post! This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. It's really reassuring to know that I'm not the only one feeling this way. Even though I am still breastfeeding (we can't really afford formula) I don't really enjoy it. It always seems like he wants to eat at the worst times and for upwards of an hour.
When my husband comes home from work he asks what I did today and I think, well nothing! Oh wait, I was basically feeding the baby all day and in between I had to feed myself! And when I finally get to have some social interaction (church) we end up in the empty mother's room for half the time.
Even though I am trying to stick it out, it's really, really nice to hear someone say what I have been thinking!
Thanks for the post Katie!

Emily Robison said...

oh wait, that kind of sounded angry and bitter. I'm not but it's just nice to get that off my chest :) I love my baby!

Beth said...

Wow- can I just say I want to say AMEN to everything you said :) -

I'm Emily's older sister and she sent me the link to your blog post. I was so glad to read it as we are getting ready to have baby #4 and I've made the decision to not even try to breastfeed at all because I know it's not what I want to do or what's right for me or our family. So glad to find someone with similar views because it seems like there are way too many people out there that chastise you for not doing it and those who don't nurse don't necessarily speak up as much. Our situations seem very similar- my first two are 16 months apart so I can completely relate as I was also able to when I had my 3rd and my older two were 3 and 4 years old- I felt like I had to ignore them and focus solely on feeding the new baby. Anyway, thanks!!

mommyloohoo said...

Thank you for this. There were a million reasons breastfeeding didn't work for us (we made it 5 weeks), but they all came down to the fact that I didn't like it. That feeling of the weight coming off my shoulders when we switched was a turning point for me in my depression. Glad to know I'm not alone!