I wrote Part 1 when my daughter, Kaylen, was 14 months old. I had met my 1-year breastfeeding goal and was over the moon proud of myself for not giving up. The heartfelt response I got from the Part 1 blog post was amazing—I gave words to a struggle that several mothers experience alone.
It came to a point where I couldn’t read a breastfeeding SOS post on FaceBook without 1) Crying and 2) Offering encouragement, support and information. Just like when I felt my calling to be a doula, I knew I wanted to do more than offer advice on Fluffy Bums. The day registration opened I set up a payment plan for Lactation Counselor Training, a certification course through Healthy Children’s Project Center for Breastfeeding. I couldn’t wait! I would be able to help so many more women succeed with breastfeeding by offering evidence-based education, counseling and an ‘I’ve been there’ empathetic presence. What I didn’t expect was to end every day of the training in tears.
My IBCLC (Cassidy Hotz that you met in Part 1) and I grew to be great friends as I continued to reach out to her for information and guidance. I love how the universe provides a kindred spirit when you need one most! IBCLC had become my goal. A huge, scary, expensive, time consuming, exciting and “Yes! This is the next big step on my birth work path!” goal. But how could I continue my education, let alone offer professional services, when I was still reliving and grieving the “normal” breastfeeding experience I never had? After a tear-filled phone call to Cassidy after an especially hard day at training, I was left with the charge to “help from my scars, not my wounds”.
So I gave myself permission to do something that I had been withholding—to grieve.
I went through every picture I have of Kaylen and sobbed as I watched her round chubby cheeks disappear the weeks following birth. My newly trained eyes would immediately focus in on pursed and tucked lips, dimpled cheeks and shallow latches. I had to fight the feelings of shame for not knowing my baby wasn't transferring milk. That she was hungry. That my supply was being affected and... the mother guilt list is a long one.
I was filled with compassion seeing myself as a new mother, exhausted and desperate to do what was “best” for her baby. I sat with the emotions of my experience. I forgave myself for submitting to the ideology that giving your baby formula to supplement was like giving them poison. I lent grace to my postpartum depressed self and I leaned into the healing words of, “When you know better, you do better.”
I let go of the guilt I felt for being so stubborn and not realizing that I needed better professional help. I let go of the shame that would fill my cheeks with heat when I would look at nursing pictures of my new baby with a terrible shallow latch and pain/tension on my face while forcing a smile.
It was not a quick and easy process. I struggled for weeks following the training still analyzing Kaylen’s still poor latch.
But as time went by and I focused on the choice I made to not give up and the choice that I continue to make every day to keep nursing, even with a shallow latch that is still uncomfortable to painful at times, and I stopped focusing on how my experience wasn’t/isn’t “normal” or “ideal”. And now that it’s not a matter of ounces gained but instead about comfort and connection, I am able to be thankful for the hand I was dealt. It has given me the ability to connect with other mothers and validate the big feelings that come with struggling to succeed at something that is seen as so easy and natural while sharing laughs about choking down lactation cookies and smelling like maple syrup.
I remember sitting in my Bradley Method Natural Childbirth Class and completing the breastfeeding questionnaire. When asked what my ultimate breastfeeding duration goal was I put 2 years, as that was and is the World Health Organization’s recommendation. The day of her 2nd birthday I stopped taking all of my lactation supplements and medications, put my pump in the closet, and decided to see what my body would do on its own. If I kept producing, and she wanted to, we would keep nursing. It did, she does, and we are!
As of today I have passed that "ultimate" goal and have been breastfeeding for 28 months. I have no plans to wean and Kaylen still loves and asks for her "milkies". I savor the time she spends at my breast, not only because of the health benefits for both her and I, but because toddlers are busy little people! It's our chance to slow down and just be together. Don't get me wrong, there are days (boy, are there days) when I get touched out and consider researching gentle weaning but those days are far outnumbered by the joy I get from snuggles after morning milkies, her falling asleep on my chest, and having a way to calm/soothe/make everything better for her anytime she needs it.