I wanted to tell you something pithy and sweet about breastfeeding; anything I put down just came across as insincere and trite. The truth is, nursing a child is not something easily done, or easily explained. I find the whole experience so contradictory, a few neatly packaged words aren’t enough.
Breastfeeding is the most foreign natural thing I’ve ever done. Women’s bodies were designed to feed their children. So how can nursing be so wrought with complications? Mastitis, over production, pumping, nipple shields, clogged ducts, overactive let down, thrush…I could go on. Any mom who has attempted it, even for a day, knows how strange feeding a child with your body can be.
And yet, something about breastfeeding made me feel connected to something – someone – outside of myself, yet an extension of myself. A selfless offering to the child I’m responsible for and love beyond all other things. I was fortunate to be able to nurse, and therefore there was no question that to do so was the right choice for me and my family.
Nothing made me feel closer to my daughter than nursing her. Breastfeeding was our way to get to know each other, catch up after an afternoon apart, calm her when she was upset, and learn how to meet her needs, even those beyond nutrition. Nursing made us close and kept us close.
And yet, while breastfeeding can be incredibly connecting, it can also be impossibly alienating. I missed out on a lot by feeding my daughter on demand. I wasn’t afraid to nurse in public, but that wasn’t always possible and, even if I did, I couldn’t always fully participate in activities while holding a nursing child. I spent many long evenings up in the nursery, away from guests we were hosting downstairs, nursing my daughter back to sleep over and over again throughout the night. I would grow tired of sitting in the dark and, even though I always had my child with me, there were times while breastfeeding that I never felt more alone.
Eventually, the time does come when you get the hang of nursing and your child becomes efficient at it. On most days you can lift up your shirt, latch the baby, get them fed and be on your way. But as much as breastfeeding can be a timesaver, it is also a time suck. In the beginning they may cluster feed and you lose your day to nursing; as they get older, the demands on your time and body are still there, they’re just different. I’ve nursed my daughter as a toddler through growth spurts, developmental and physical. Nursing helped her deal with her frustrations. It would calm her during a tantrum. It would make her feel important amidst the other priorities placed on mom and dad. It made her feel loved.
Breastfeeding is hard. So why do we do it? Because for every day you feel like you can’t continue and are completely touched out, there are the ones where you vow you’ll never do anything but snuggle her for the rest of her life. Those are the days that keep you going.
If you want sweet and pithy, then here it is: breastfeeding is the easiest, hardest, most beautiful, messiest, most foreign, natural, BEST parenting choice for my family.
Beyond that, I just don’t have the words to describe it.