Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Evolution of My BFing Experience

My personal view on breastfeeding my children has drastically changed in four years. In these four years, I have had three beautiful, healthy babies.  My experience with nursing each of them is very different.  I have gone from loathing it to [mostly] loving it. What caused this mind shift? I think I might have an idea...

Let's start in the beginning.  When Benjamin (now 4) was born, I was determined to try this whole breastfeeding business.  However, nobody set me up for what I was about to get into. I was the first of my friends to have a kid, I worked full-time as a teacher, and my mother formula fed the four us when we were babies. Do you see where this is heading?

I absolutely HATED nursing my baby.  I had some issues healing after the delivery (he was 8lb 12oz and they used the vacuum to get him out of my petite frame. Yeah - ouch!) so adding engorgement, nipple soreness, and just having little to no idea what the heck I was doing was down right frustrating! Once I got past the pain, I had different reasons for disliking it. I felt inconvenienced and annoyed that I was the only one who could feed him, and that I had to leave the room for 20-30 minutes every couple of hours to do it. Even if someone else gave him a bottle, I still had to take the time to pump and prepare it for them.  I had Ben at the end of October, so a lot of these 'inconveniences' fell around the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc).  I couldn't even enjoy an adult beverage without worrying how it would affect my baby. Then.... I had to go back to work....

 I mentioned earlier that I was a teacher. I taught middle school and the only breaks from my students were during my plan period and lunch. Unfortunately, that year my plan and lunch were back to back - not so ideal for a nursing mama since it only gave me one opportunity to pump each day. Oh heavens, you should have seen me scrambling to get my single electric (another uneducated mistake) pump to try to kick out at least 8 ounces - since that's what this three month old ate every 2.5 hours! It was not a pretty sight.  I started in my classroom, with my back turned toward the locked door (that every teacher in the building had keys to) and I'm sitting there massaging the life out of my poor boob trying to squeeze every last drop I could - all the while so paranoid someone would come barrelling through the door to borrow a stapler or drop something off (that did happen once... my TA busted in with some papers she had copied for me. oops.) After that, I moved to a closet in the school's library. I was not bringing home what he was consuming while I was away at work, not to mention I was missing valuable prep time for my lessons. I just didn't see how I could ever keep up.  I also hated that when I was home, I could only leave the house in two hour increments (without the baby) because I HAD to be home in time to feed him.  I called it "nursing prison." So, you can imagine all of these were a catalyst for my decision to stop nursing when Ben was just shy of four months old.

I was so ashamed that I stopped breastfeeding. There are thousands of working women that continue to nurse their babies. What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I make it work? I vividly remember visiting some distant relatives and I literally hid in another room to make his bottle of formula and brought it out as if I pumped it that morning.  I didn't want them to know I was no longer nursing.  Why the heck did I care so much what they thought?? You formula-feeding moms know exactly what I'm talking about. Although many breastfeeding advocates don't intend to, they come off as superior and make formula-feeding moms feel like they need a really good excuse as to why they chose not to nurse. [I can see you formula mommas nodding your head in agreement!].  I still see it all the time in Moms groups. When a mom asks a question regarding formula, 99% of the time it is prefaced with, "I had to stop nursing because...." or "I couldn't breastfeed because...". It makes me sad that these women feel like they need to justify themselves.  No justification needed, Mommas! You are your child's best mother, whether you breastfeed or not! [end rant].

When Ben was 22 months old, I had my baby girl - Gianna.  After my experience with Ben, it left a salty taste in my mouth when it came to breastfeeding, but I was still determined to give it another shot.  My goal this time was six months.

We had moved to Indiana just before she was born so I was jobless and, well, friendless. We went from two incomes down to one, yet added another precious family member so money was pretty tight. That left me at home with our two littles in an unfamiliar place.  This time around, nursing seemed less of an inconvenience.

Also, just after Gianna was born, my mom's cancer took a horrible turn for the worse.  We were driving back to Illinois every weekend to be with her.  Nursing my baby was the least of my worries at this point.  Maybe the fact that I was so distracted eased the resentment I had toward breastfeeding. When Gigi was just 10 weeks old, my mom passed.

When we were back in Indy, I didn't really have anywhere to be.  Although we lived there for almost six months, much of our time was spent back in IL so we didn't really have a chance to meet anyone.  By the time we really got settled, it was winter so we stayed inside mostly.

I also noticed that Gigi didn't eat as often as Ben did.  She took to 3-4 hour stretches pretty quickly, so I felt I had a little more freedom.

Another reason I think it was a bit 'easier' that time around was it was virtually FREE (minus the cost of nursing pads and milk storage bags) making it very easy on the budgeting side of things. Life in the nursing department was going fairly smoothly.  At around seven months, my husband invited me on a four-day work trip. I made a sad attempt at pumping enough before we left, but with her eating solids (heck, she was practically eating table food at this point) I was only kicking out an ounce or two at a time - at best.  So, the decision was made to transition her to formula.  I won't lie, I was a little excited to finally share the load when it came to feeding her.  It also meant I could be away from her for longer periods of time without worrying she'll starve.  After all, I exceeded my six month goal, right?

It was a rocky start. I tried three different brands of formula before finding one that didn't make her sick (ugh... I can still smell the banana-scented puke that covered her crib sheets). During that transition, I felt horrible! I felt selfish, frustrated, and second-guessed my decision to the moon and back.  By eight months she was completely weaned. We found a formula that worked, and I reminded myself that it would only be a few short months until her first birthday and all would be well with the world again.  I wasn't as hard on myself this time around, though I had always wondered what it would have been like to have nursed her the full twelve months.  I was surprised with myself that I was actually a little sad about it all.

Finally, my third (and last) baby was born just six months ago - Thad Matteo.  Oh Lordy, did we have a rough start.  This kid was like a piranha on the breast! A lamprey, I tell you.  He was a miniature sized bear trap clamping down at each feeding - you get the idea. I remember my toes curling in pain coupled with Lamaze breathing anytime he latched. Bloody and cracked nipples. Engorgement. I am wincing as I type this! On day 5, I was back in the hospital with tears streaming down my face begging to see the lactation consultant. Oy, it was a long two to three weeks before things started to feel slightly normal.  It was then that I, for the first time, experienced that 'bond' that so many women talk about.

What is so different this time around? I don't love my other kids any less, so what made this bond so special?

First, he is my last baby.  As much as I hate being the only source of food for him, I also love it. He needs me. And he's thriving! He still gets up 1-3x a night but as tired as I am, I don't mind feeding him. I know it puts him back to sleep and I know he's growing.  And as crazy as it sounds, if it has been more than a few hours, I actually start to miss him!

Secondly, he is my third. After three babies, either your modesty has dwindled to dust in the wind or you just don't give a rip (or maybe a combination of both). Either way, I don't find nursing as inconvenient as I once did.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not whipping out my erasers for the world to gawk at, but I don't hide in the bathroom stall and sit on a public toilet to nurse either (uh hem, totally did that with my first).  I always try to be discreet and mindful of those around me, but I now know that many people don't mind if you nurse in public and the people that do mind don't matter. ;)

Thirdly, with a two and four year old running around, I sooooo enjoy the escape I have when I'm nursing him. I put the gate in my doorway and sit on my bed. I can still monitor my other two knuckleheads, but there is that safe - and sometimes necessary - amount of distance between us and the 'big kids' that creates this bubble for baby and me.

One last reason is that after having my first two kiddos, I truly understand how fast the time really does go! It really helps me to slow down and enjoy these months before I have another toddler on my hands.  I feel I can sacrifice 12 short months of my life (and my body) because once this time is gone, there is no getting it back. *tear*

Oh, and let's not forget that I have the added bonus of needing those extra calories each day. Yum! I'm still clinging to the notion that once I stop nursing I'll lose the rest of the baby weight... hardee har har!

So there you have it. Not necessarily an epiphany of a post, but it made me realize how different my experience has been with the three of them.  I'll have to let you know if I make it nursing the full twelve months this time around... to be continued!