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.