Two years ago this month, I was a first-time mom of a nine-month-old. Some of my guilt about failing at breastfeeding was just starting to fade when suddenly my social media accounts exploded with posts for National Breastfeeding Month. I read and “liked” them each in support for this cause that I so believe in, but I’m sorry to admit that each time I did so with a slight eye roll and more than a twinge of jealousy. I so badly wanted to be celebrating nine months of breastfeeding, and on the other hand I needed it to be ok that I wasn’t. But you don’t get that kind of support when you give up on breastfeeding. There is no National “hey, I tried” Month. Two years ago I felt like a failure, and even worse, I felt completely alienated and alone.
There is nothing all that special or unusual about our story. Despite my utter certainty pre-kids that I would breastfeed, things did not turn out as I had expected. What really does once you have a baby? But of all the things that could go completely down the toilet during those early weeks of motherhood, breastfeeding is a big one. It was so unexpectedly painful, complicated, and emotionally charged. Weak and selfish, I was no match for the challenge – at least, that’s what I told myself. Today, I can say with confidence that I did what I needed to do at the time to feed my baby and stay sane, and I have no regrets. But my Google searches, doctor’s appointments, lactation consults, and even friends and family made me feel like I was making the wrong choice.
To be fair, I put a lot of that pressure on myself. And I truly believe that every person and piece of advice that I encountered was basically well-meaning. They thought their suggestions were oriented toward my goal and what was best for the baby. No one told me that bottle feeding was bad quite in those words, but there was a conspicuous lack of options on the table. This is really the issue I have with the “breast is best” movement. We know much about the benefits of breastfeeding, but there isn’t much empathy for the fact that it is truly not best for everyone and in every situation. And when struggling new moms reach that breaking point, they really need that support too.
Fast forward two years, and National Breastfeeding Month still strikes a nerve. Not because I don’t support breastfeeding – I do, wholeheartedly, and actually I have been happily nursing my second baby for almost eight months. I know the level of support that is necessary to successfully breastfeed a baby, and I think that these sorts of celebrations are important in terms of raising awareness for and normalizing the act of breastfeeding. It’s just that the memory of the loneliness I felt two years ago and my entire experience in general as a bottle feeding mom make it hard for me.
My cause is not to disparage or abolish National Breastfeeding Month or any other celebrations of breastfeeding, it is simply to reassure other moms like two-years-ago-me that you are not alone. And even though there is no month celebrating your feeding choice or situation, you are a super mom and are making great choices for your baby. I know this because now that my first child is approaching three and thriving (running around in the backyard like a wild woman as I write), I never second guess the choices I made around feeding her during her first year. That whole saga is little more than a memory now, and it doesn’t define me as a mom or her as a child. There was a point when the story of my “failure” was so important to me, but now, just two years out, it is just that – a story. And not at all a failure.