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Why Breastfeeding My Daughter Was the Hardest Thing I've Ever Done

"Breastfeeding my daughter was the hardest thing I've ever done."

This was a bold statement coming from a nationally renowned theater coach who is commanding in her poised stature. I would have thought making a living in theater would have been the hardest thing she'd ever done, but to her, it was more difficult to sit down and nurse.

"I wrote a book of letters to my daughter throughout that first year and a half when I was feeding her. I told her everything I wanted her to know about life."

I heard this message in the last trimester of my pregnancy. As I experienced many times throughout the nine months of gestation, women would gather around me frequently to tell me about their own experiences of motherhood. While I may not have always been accepting of their advice, I realized that women vicariously traveled back to their precious memories by telling me these stories.

I found it challenging to stop mothers from sharing the not-so-precious memories too – it seemed they found some relief in relaying their painful experiences about getting the child to latch or having chafed nipples.

Nearing the last days of my pregnancy, and perhaps the last days before my breasts were to go to battle, I prepared myself by getting the name of a lactation specialist and stocking up on nipple butter. Despite all of the of the breastfeeding stories I collected, I did not expect that my own problem would not be physical but psychological. As a long-time multi-tasker, get-it-done kind of woman, it was an emotional challenge for me to just sit down, be still, and nurse.

​For the first month after my daughter was born, I arranged elaborate props in bed to hold both my upper back and my baby's head while she nursed. This allowed me to either read a book or place a lap-pillow in front of me so I could work on my computer. After that first month, however, I increasingly found myself "stuck" on the couch or at the dining room table or in the rocking chair, unable to move and ill-equipped for the hour or more of sitting. I felt a prisoner to my own mind, which rattled off the million things I thought I should be doing. The lists grew larger and larger in my head and interfered with my ability to be in the present.

The deepest worry I had on this lists of “shoulds” was that I should cherish this special time with my newborn, soaking in every instant of the experience. I did do that - looking into my daughter's eyes, stroking her head, rubbing ointment into her skin. But to my addled brain that had been trained for the last twenty years to always be productive, I only felt able to be in the present for a couple minutes at a time. I began to solve my unrest by stashing books around the house, behind couch pillows, on tables, in order to keep my wandering mind at bay. I discovered that reading a good book enabled me to find my center, relax into the moment, and enjoy the quiet time with my little one.

In my experience, mothers have a long list of things to regret not doing (or not doing well enough). I chose not to beat myself up about not savoring every second of breastfeeding. Reading while breastfeeding was not a compromise between satiating my busy mind verses only focusing on my child but it was exactly what I wanted to do. My own mother told me that she read tons of books while she breastfed me and other mothers have admitted to watching endless hours of Netflix. Instead of feeling badly about what I should be experiencing, I'd like to let other mothers know that the challenges of breastfeeding are her own and she will find her way to adapt.

By Lucy Gent Foma for The Birthing Tree

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