I’ve had so much to say on this topic for the past year, but as soon as I sit down to write this post, I find myself staring at a blank screen. I’ve experienced such a huge range of emotions throughout this journey, I truly don’t know where to begin.
Before my son was born, I assumed I would breastfeed him for one year. Well aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of one year, I thought nothing of it—until he nursed for the very first time, and I immediately wanted to retract my statement. Holy…painful…experience! All I could think of was, “I just gave birth and now I have to endure MORE pain?! This is SO not fair!” After a few days of raw, bleeding nipples and toe-curling pain, I wasn’t sure I would make it another feeding let alone 12 months!
To make matters worse, I was dealing with D-MER, short for Dysmorphic Milk Ejection Reflex. It sounds weird, but what it actually means is that I experienced extreme depression before my milk let down, which then lasted most of the feeding session. As soon as he was finished it would disappear, but it made nursing him very difficult and made pumping almost impossible. I’m extremely thankful that milk supply was never an issue for me, but then of course there are side effects of having plenty of milk. Goodbye morning workouts, or ANY workout for that matter, until baby was fed!
Even with a broken tailbone, I took only 5 weeks off from training, and 6 weeks off from my full time gig at the office. I had this twisted idea in my head that I would have a baby and then go right back to my “normal” life. Unfortunately it took about 8 months, 3 doctors, 1 husband (haha) and an extreme amount of stress before I really understood that I couldn’t continue on the way I was. I would nurse him most of the night (he wasn’t a fan of sleeping through the night at ALL), then teach camp, work my full time job, then train again in the evening. It was easily a 20 hour day, and with an infant and breastfeeding on demand exclusively, it was too much.
Incredibly stressed, suffering both mentally and physically, I needed to reassess my goal. I was at 3 months of breastfeeding, and knew if I had any chance of making it one more day (let alone 12 months), I would have to create a more attainable goal. With the support of my husband and friends and decided I wanted to get to the 6 month mark and then I could quit breastfeeding.
Luckily, reestablishing a smaller goal did the trick! I was able to reach the 6 month mark and after that, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t get me wrong, it was never “easy” by any means. It just got “manageable”. In fact I heard a quote recently that describes breastfeeding quite perfectly,
“Breastfeeding is incredibly difficult, except for when it’s easy.”
Last week officially marked 12 months of breastfeeding and I feel like the most accomplished woman on the planet. I am still working 2 jobs (more than that, actually), and am still breastfeeding without ever having to supplement with formula. I actually worked my tail off to build up a nice supply in the first 4-5 months to ensure my LO would be able to be breastfed as long as possible regardless of how long I made it. With that supply, I was able to help a friend out by donating some breastmilk for her sweet baby. This donation actually helped me in meeting my goal. Knowing that I was blessed with a very generous milk supply and that there are other women who aren’t as fortunate, I felt it was my responsibility to keep going.
This entire journey has been incredibly difficult, yet enjoyable and memorable at the same time. As I look back, I remember crying when nursing, having to do anything to distract myself (lots of squats, usually, because the wave of depression was so intense I did anything to keep my mind off of it), and wanting to quit on a daily basis. I am finally “here” and want to jump up and down and throw my pump off of a tall building, but I can’t. I can’t because I am doing the most beautiful thing for my child. (Also that pump is freakin’ expensive and that would be a totally idiotic move.) I know I have the support of my friends and family if I do decide to stop, and a few doctors have gently suggested I consider it (for my own health reasons), but they are also incredibly supportive of my decision to continue.
I can’t describe the emotions that come over me when I contemplate ending this, and I know that most Mommas understand what I mean by this. I should be ecstatic that I have hit my goal and I should now be able to give myself permission to stop breastfeeding. But I can’t. But I want to. But I don’t want to. I feel selfish. I need to stop. Or do I? I do realize that my full physical and mental wellbeing will not be restored until I stop—but I can’t yet. The mix of emotions and hormones is overwhelming. One second I feel like I could breastfeed forever, and the next I feel like I cannot go on one more day. The amount of hours I have spent sitting still in a chair while my LO eats is insane. Those are hours I will never get back and for a Type A workaholic like myself, that was very difficult for a very long time. However, I thankfully grew to love that time together and as the end draws nearer, I cherish our moments together more and more. Thankfully, Honey Brown Photography was able to capture some of these beautiful moments on film. I will treasure them forever.
For now, I will continue breastfeeding. I no longer have a goal, now the plan is to continue on as long as I feel I can. I think part of my reward for hitting my 12-month goal is to no longer have a goal. There’s something really “freeing” about having hit the mark. I feel like every day I continue on is an extra special bonus for my little angel.
A very special thank you goes out to my husband, friends, doula and family for being so supportive. I’ve called you in tears plenty of times this past year asking for reassurance that if I quit before my goal I was still a good Mother. Thank you for all you have done to help me hit this milestone, I couldn’t have done this without you.
Peace, love, and breastmilk,