It’s not always possible to see the ways you grow and change over time. But sometimes it’s possible to get a little glimpse.
For me, that glimpse came in my journey through breastfeeding.
I didn’t start out particularly invested in breastfeeding. I tried it with my first born. We lasted a couple months, although I mostly pumped and bottle fed. We supplemented with formula the entire time and it didn’t take long before I transitioned out of nursing. I never felt guilty or cheated. Breastfeeding was HARD. I was a new mom doing what I needed to do.
It was four years before my next baby came along. By then some things had changed. I had done more research. I had a group of breastfeeding friends. I was making the transition to stay at home mom so I wouldn’t need to make arrangements to return to work. Although I still didn’t have anything against formula feeding, I was more invested in the idea of breastfeeding.
And it was still HARD. Cracking, bleeding, engorgement, pain. I went back to pumping to give myself a chance to heal. And pumping worked well. So we stuck with it. At four months old, we were still exclusively feeding breast milk–just doing it through a bottle.
Then we planned a vacation. The logistics of packing for and traveling with two children were overwhelming enough. But the idea of having to find places to pump, storing milk, and warming and sterilizing bottles was too much. So I took the leap and transitioned back to nursing.
After a brief adjustment period, suddenly it wasn’t so hard anymore. In fact, it was pretty great. Much easier than pumping and warming and sterilizing. I actually felt a pang of disappointment when she self-weaned the week of her birthday.
Then along came number three. After nursing for a year with number two, it was pretty much a given that I would breastfeed again.
But guess what? It was still hard.
Baby came early and, after being supplemented in the hospital, she decided that the extra effort required to nurse versus bottle feed was irritating. Since she was early and small, pumping and bottle feeding was a great way to know how much she was getting at each feeding. And that was fine with me. In the early days, pumping is easier, even with all it’s inconveniences.
And that’s where we are. I’m still nursing enough to keep the option open. But for the most part, we are pumping and bottle feeding. But because I’m a chronic over-thinker, I feel like I’m constantly wondering whether to keep going as we are or transition back to nursing more or even exclusively nursing. There are pros and cons to everything.
But that’s another post. Back to my point.
It’s been a long journey through breastfeeding. It was and still is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. To be honest, by the time the third baby came along, I was feeling a little disappointed that I wasn’t more of a “pro” at this by now. Should it still be this hard?
But then I went to our local breastfeeding support meeting where they weigh baby and have a lactation consultant on hand to answer questions. Moms usually weigh baby before and after feeding so that they know how much baby is eating.
Since I am re-starting this breastfeeding journey from square one, and since we haven’t been nursing regularly, I wasn’t planning on nursing in public at the meeting. I really only got “comfortable” nursing in public during the last few month of nursing my middle daughter and hadn’t had enough practice with the newest baby to have regained my confidence. I just wanted to see how much she weighed. But then as I started talking with the consultant, I though “Eh, why not?”
Afterward as I was driving home, I was remembering going to the same support group with my firstborn. I don’t think I ever actually nursed her there, but if I did I tried to hide in the corner behind my awkward nursing cover and be as discreet as possible. It felt stressful and awkward and I had no idea what I was doing.
But tonight, even though we are still adjusting to this round of breastfeeding, I sat down on the couch and nursed her like it was no big deal. I chatted with other moms who were nursing. I didn’t bother with an awkward cover. She was a champ about it, and it boosted my confidence knowing she got a good feeding even when I wasn’t measuring with a bottle.
And I couldn’t help but feel just a little proud of myself. I used to envy the people who could breastfeed effortlessly in any situation. I always felt so awkward and self-conscious. And while I still don’t totally feel like a pro, being able to go to the breastfeeding group, not feel completely naive, and sit down and nurse my baby with minimal stress feels like a huge accomplishment, especially compared to where I started this journey.
On a closing note, as I was reflecting while writing this post, I realized that the growth I’ve seen in myself as a breastfeeding mama has so much to do with the people around me. With my second and third babes, I had stumbled into a friend group of nursing pros. Maybe with my firstborn I was just young and oblivious, but with my next two littles I suddenly found myself surrounded by people who made it look easy. Not only did I learn so much from them, but I drew inspiration to keep going even when it was tough.
I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to see how much I’ve changed and grown in this aspect of parenting. But I’m even more grateful to be surrounded by other amazing mamas who inspire me to grow and keep me believing that we can do hard things.