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boobs ‘o plenty

I’m not a virtuous person. I make a lot of snarky comments and swear a lot, and sometimes I drive closer to aggro bike commuters than I probably need to, just because they annoy me. But for all my faults, I’m not judgmental about how other moms parent their kids. I used to be. But then I had children, and struggled to breastfeed. I learned that no matter how much you will it, sometimes you don’t get the breaks. And life goes on.

Portland is a bad place to have trouble with breastfeeding. The only thing that Portland loves more than composting and small-batch roasted coffee beans is breastfeeding. Because breasts are natural, milk is natural, and as any Portlander will tell you–natural is the way to be. One day, someone in Portland will figure out how to produce hemp milk from their breasts, and then we’ll be able to prove, once and for all, that Portland is superior to Seattle.

But back to my breasts. From the first, Finn wouldn’t latch on. And when he did manage to latch on, the pain was indescribable. I visited the lactation clinic so many times in the first six weeks of his life that I practically lived there. For anyone who has wanted to breastfeed their child and couldn’t, you know that there is no worse emotion than the despair you feel when you cannot give your child the one thing that your body was supposedly designed to provide. So I soldiered on, through cracked and bleeding nipples, innumerable plugged ducts, and three bouts of mastitis.

And it was never enough. Finn still drank formula half the time, because my supply was low. I had him during law school, so I pumped in the school library and carefully carted my milk home in ice packs. My supply dried up completely while I was holed up studying for the bar exam. In the end, I managed to nurse both Finn and his brother for seven months each. And it tore me up that I could not give them more. Last week, I opened my best friend’s freezer to find bags and bags of her breast milk. And even though it’s been almost two years since I last nursed, I felt such a stab of raw pain looking upon that bounty, that I realized I had never let go of the guilt I felt at not being able to nurse my boys as I wanted to.

I guess I’m writing this post to say what I wish someone had told me, back when I was struggling. And that is this: it is ok not to breastfeed. Being unable to breastfeed, or choosing not to breastfeed, doesn’t make you unnatural. It doesn’t make you less of a mother, and it doesn’t make you less of a woman. It just makes you less of a breastfeeder.

Being a parent is hard enough without the second-guessing. We make the best decisions we can, with the knowledge and resources available to us. I did the best I could. As every mom does. Time to cut ourselves some slack. So here’s a toast to my under-producing breasts, and a thanks for their months of embattled service.

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44 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good for you. I had such a bad time with the first one (who’s now 14) that I didn’t even try with the 2nd and she is fine and gets better grades than the first. Nurses at St. V’s were very concerned with my decision but I held my ground.

    Love yer blog!

    May 17, 2012
  2. The first three months of my (premature) firstborn’s life were a blur of trying to breastfeed (9 lactation consultants; different/conflicting advice; no sleep; so so awful). My second came along and I breastfed for 2 and a half years, and my third is going well too. Who knows how it works. My sister used to have to pump before feeding her daughter, she had so much milk, and her freezer was jam-packed with it all. Even now I never have an extra drop.

    But what moves me most about your post is its ending: giving thanks to the breasts that worked so hard, and did produce milk for your baby against some serious odds. It’s so easy (and makes for misery) awful to feel at odds with our bodies at any stage of pregnancy and motherhood, that it’s nice to see you give yours a high five. We should all do that more.

    May 7, 2012
  3. gulgun #

    This post speaks to me! I thought I would squat and give birth, but had two c-sections. I thought I would be one of these granola mothers who breastfeeds until their child asks for it by name, but I had minuscule amounts of breast milk. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I followed all the ancient advice as well as the lactation consultant’s and was even on a prescription medicine that is not approved by the FDA for lactation and therefore needed to be filled at a compounding pharmacy. Felt so subversive. 😉 I was so desperate to breastfeed that I followed the medical advice to feed 10 times a day for 40 minutes and pump after each feeding. When I do the math now, I realize that half of each of those precious days with a newborn was spent trying to lactate rather than enjoying my new family. What a waste! I wish I could send that message out into the world. And these: 1) there’s a great Atlantic article that ran in the last few years about how the benefits of breastfeeding are overstated/virtually non-existent; 2) bottle feeding enables non-birthing partners to be more involved in their children and in my observations leads to families with equally involved parents; 3) if you still feel pangs of guilt that perhaps you didn’t do enough, apparently there’s some evidence that you can predict whether or not you’re going to have breast milk while you’re pregnant. (More on this when I see you in person and not on a public post). Thank you, Yoona!

    May 6, 2012
    • you put into words the sense of regret i feel when i think about all the anxiety i had about nursing, the anxiety that pulled me away from focusing on and appreciating a lot of those amazing first moments with a baby. it was a lot of time that would have been better spent appreciating the fleeting moments. thanks gulgun. and hope i catch you soon so i can hear about that predicting-your-supply evidence.

      May 7, 2012
  4. Thank you for this post Yoona. As Michael Jackson so famously said, “You are not alone.” I made it to nine months with my girl but I was never enough for her, even before I went back to work, and had to supplement. As long as you feed your babies you’re doing right by them, and I kept telling myself that every time I spent 45 minutes to pump three measly ounces, feeling like a big fat failure sitting on the grungy carpet in my office storage room. Parenthood is a very personal thing and there is no right answer. I wish it wasn’t such a polarizing topic… women have enough crap to deal with from men and society as a whole without having to deal with judgement from other women too.

    May 6, 2012
    • that’s right–gotta start with the man in the mirror. my god michael jackson is awesome. you probably repeated the same mantra i did whenever i pumped and saw the pitiful half filled bottle: “something is better than nothing.”

      May 7, 2012
  5. Thank you so much for writing this! My daughter is now 4, but I too stil feel pangs of guilt over not being able to breastfeed her.
    I had gone through my pregnancy wanting a natural child birth and was dead set against having my child be formula fed. I ended up having a schedule c-section and then not begin able to breastfeed either. I was devastated. I too, felt like it was something that I should be able to do. It made me feel like I was failing her.

    May 6, 2012
    • natalie the odd thing about the c-section/nursing thing was i didn’t naturally feel all that upset about it–meaning i didn’t have a visceral, physical reaction that i’d given birth in a way that was any less “natural” than the norm. but once i started reading things and hearing the dialogue, that’s when i started to feel bad. it made me think about how often we look to exterior sources to tell us what should feel “natural” to us. thank you for the comment.

      May 7, 2012
  6. Rachel #

    I’m not mom but I watches my sister go through this. Her son is now a vibrant two year old. (maybe too vibrant given the extent of his two-ness). Bottom line is that the babies have to be fed. Teats and bottles are legitimate mechanisms so long as the little parasites don’t starve. Thanks for saying it.

    May 5, 2012
    • i was formula fed! it was the thing to do in the 70s! and i’m ok. 🙂

      May 7, 2012
  7. ow >_< .. sorry you had that painful experience. i'm sure there are some grateful moms out there right now reading your post and glad to know it's ok 🙂

    May 5, 2012
    • they already know it’s ok. 🙂 we just have to dig past the guilt to get to that knowledge we already have.

      May 7, 2012
  8. Emma Semple #

    My daughter wouldn’t latch properly either and my nipples were a bleeding painful disaster. I’m not a fighter though, and when she was 2 and a half weeks old and after 2 days of non stop feeding I caved and supplemented, before giving up totally at one month. I felt so guilty, I used to cry to my partner that I was doing the wrong thing. I’m ok now though, but I do wish occasionally I didn’t have to cart bottles and formula around with me.

    May 4, 2012
    • even 2 and a half weeks is something, given that kind of pain. so good for you.

      May 5, 2012
  9. Veronica #

    Oh Yoona, this one is right up my alley! I love that we briefly connected on this when you so lovingly brought us dinner after Audrey was born. You made me feel so much better when you told me that you also had mastitis and struggled with breast feeding, and I think 7 months is amazing of you. I have a little breastfeeding monster on my hands now. The pediatrician called her a “ferocious eater” when he walked into the room last week and found us sitting there mid feed. You struggled with not enough milk, well get this…mine comes out so fast that Audrey has a hard time with it. What the HELL. It literally squirts her in the face when she comes up for air. I think it’s rare that it works out perfectly, but in my mind it was to be perfect!
    Here’s something to add to the scrutiny behind breastfeeding. My “ferocious eater” refuses to take a bottle, and somehow I feel judged when I complain about it to people. As if it’s not ok to get a break from breastfeeding once in a while and let someone else feed her THE SAME EFFIN MILK from a bottle. Is it wrong to want a night free from the little monster, or am I destined to be her slave forever?

    May 4, 2012
    • oh man, so many ways to experience the nursing, huh. do you make audrey wear a poncho when she nurses? 😛

      yeah i don’t get the whole bottle thing. it’s really annoying. i did enjoy the sense of not being physically tethered to my child after i stopped nursing, i will admit. with the bottles, maybe keep offering different brands/nipples. finn was not picky but tate was like cinderella–we had already bought $200 in avent bottles and he totally rejected them. he settled on medela after trying a bunch of options. i’m sure you’ve already thought of this, of course. xo.

      May 5, 2012
  10. agreed! we’re all trying our best to be good parents, and should try equally hard not to judge each other!

    May 4, 2012
  11. I’m 5 months pregnant and obsessed with all things baby right now, and I’ve noticed on the internet that people really are very judge-y of parents who use formula. I guess on the internet, people are judge-y of everyone who didn’t do exactly what they did. But I appreciate your honesty about this. And I want to say that I’m only a reader, and only for a short period of time, but it seems to me like you’re a pretty kickass mom.

    May 4, 2012
    • congratulations!! my advice–familiarize yourself with the options, but don’t spend time worrying about what will come, because it will come and you will make the right decisions and deal with it. and nursing could be easy for you (i hope it is).

      enjoy this time–in my experience, second trimester was the best place to be (morning sickness gone, and before the serious discomfort from the weight gain).

      May 5, 2012
  12. Jessica #

    Yoona, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to write this moving post. I have a chronic illness and am on medication that makes me unable to breastfeed. I cannot tell you how often people gave me grief about that and it made me question my motherhood more than once. Breastfeeding is great if you can do it and if you want to do it. Some cannot not. Some do not want to. Some can only do it for a short time. And all of that is okay.

    May 4, 2012
    • hey jessica. thanks for the comment. i think a lot about why parenting brings out the judgment in all of us, and maybe it’s because we have to invest in each of the decisions we make for our kids, and convince ourselves that the decision we’ve made is the best–because otherwise you’d feel like your kids are being shafted. and maybe a natural extension of that is a tendency/desire to look down on choices of other parents that conflict with the ones we’ve made. i mean, i’ve felt that emotion, although not consciously. dunno. but i feel for you. don’t let it make you question motherhood though. 🙂

      May 5, 2012
  13. Christie #

    Love this: “The only thing that Portland loves more than composting and small-batch roasted coffee beans is breastfeeding.” Side-note: my insanely over-producing friend donated her surplus…after extensive medical screening, it goes to babies who need it (like preemies in critical condition whose moms’ milk hasn’t come in). I think Doernbecher’s has a drop-off, but I also think you might be able to sell it, although trafficking bodily fluids seems iffy.

    May 4, 2012
    • liquid gold, that stuff. i’d like to see the black market prices.

      May 4, 2012
  14. Michelle Kane #

    You and your breasts are hilarious. Beautifully written with humor and emotion. Mike and I both love to read your posts.

    May 4, 2012
    • my breasts were super hilarious two days ago when they tried to fill out an A cup in a dressing room at the gap. xo to you and your cool hubby.

      May 4, 2012
  15. so glad that we were not alone. Thank you for sharing

    May 4, 2012
    • best part about blogging. makes me feel that i’m not alone in my experiences, no matter how troubling. happy friday mr. bunny chow.

      May 4, 2012
  16. Tera #

    Amen, Yoona….amen. I also struggled and couldn’t do it with either kid for more than a month or so. At the time, it was difficult to accept, but that was more a judgement I was putting on myself; that I had somehow failed my kids. But in reality, they were sooooo much happier when they actually got to eat something, lol. This is a hot topic for me and I get mad whenever I see someone judge another mom for not breastfeeding. And if you DO judge, at least keep it to yourself. Having a newborn wears a woman down enough as it is; please don’t kick her when she’s already down.

    May 4, 2012
    • Those post-partum months are a perfect storm, aren’t they? The feeling that I’ve failed my kids is something I often feel, but with breastfeeding it was more primordial. I felt unnatural. And it was made worse because I had an emergency c-section and already felt that I’d cheated with childbirth somehow. Funny how crazy we get with the right mix of hormones.

      May 4, 2012
  17. hallerwoman #

    And a mom who has milk a plenty (even though she may nod her head) secretly believes you’re not trying hard enough. Kudos on 7 months apiece. I was only able to do 6 with tillie. Looking back on it, Lucas was probably starving for the first 6 months of his life. Finally at 10 months he refused it. But I don’t feel the same significance looking back on it. At the time it literally seemed like the world was ending, now I barely remember it. 

    May 4, 2012
    • My goal is to be able to look back on it and not feel the significance. And this post was step one. So Lucas is living proof that you can create an athlete no matter what you feed them–Tom will be reassured.

      May 4, 2012
      • hallerwoman #

        Indeed. Lucas is living proof. Next up – outing the frequency of miscarriage?

        May 4, 2012
  18. Hey, I am a bfing mother to my fifth child. I am also a working mother. I will say that I get very judgmental to people that don’t bother to even TRY and breastfeed….or to those stupid girls on 16 and pregnant that don’t bother for superficial reasons. Kudos for you going as long as you did. It has been fairly easy for me, but I do understand how it isn’t for everyone. I just want people to try a little bit harder. They give up way to easily these days. Thumbs up!

    May 4, 2012
    • Many would think I didn’t try hard enough. And I guess that was what I was getting at–only the person living it knows where the lines are, and what is “enough,” and what is not. For me, not making those calls has allowed me to better bond with other moms and feel the connection of shared experiences. Thanks for posting Marcie, I appreciate the perspective.

      May 4, 2012
  19. Portland will never be superior to Seattle, Seattle will always one up them. 🙂 But don’t tell Seattle that, because they don’t believe in one upmanship. 🙂

    May 4, 2012
    • it must be difficult for seattle to see portland get so much attention. that’s all i got. except this: seattle’s restaurants are not on par with ours.

      May 4, 2012
      • I am sure Seattle isn’t upset about how Occupy Portland can eclipse all the rioting. 🙂 I grew up in the Seattle Restaurant business, I only have a few favorites and my dad has worked for all them.

        May 4, 2012
  20. Courtney #

    That’s very true and I’m glad you said it. Moms are horrible on one another and themselves. But what I’d really like to hear is a blog about how the new Bachlorette contestants look now that their photos are on line. It’s a very young crop and I think she might be racist because there’s only one guy who looks vaguely like a person of color.

    May 4, 2012
    • oh i’m on it. i’m blogging after the first episode, assuming i feel compelled by what i see. tom loves himself some emily so i assume we will be watching the whole season.

      May 4, 2012
    • I am so totally embarrassed that people are now going to associate Charlotte with that show. Well especially since I recall her saying how she didn’t want all the limelight etc….such a liar.

      May 4, 2012
      • At least you have John Edwards my dear.

        May 4, 2012
      • Yea because that is something to be proud of too. Oh and the Amendment One vote, which has polarized the entire state. (I do apologize for going off topic). I do feel for you and your issue though, I can only imagine how frustrating it can be.

        May 4, 2012

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