Breastfeeding – whether you’re a fan or not, one thing is for sure: everyone seems to be talking about it. For many mothers around the globe, this is a wonderful celebration of the emotional and physical bond shared with their child. Breastfeeding pride is everywhere you look these days. From Instagram protests to celebrity magazine spreads, this topic has caught some media attention, as well. Olivia Wilde’s photo shoot in a diner seems appropriate since that’s the purpose of breastfeeding: nourishment.
But here’s the dirty truth about breastfeeding: not all women are able to do it. I’m sure breastfeeding is an amazing experience between a mother and her baby. And I think I may have even had a small glimpse of it. But that’s all it was for me, a brief glimpse. I cradled my son, tears streaming down my face, asking the heavens for a miracle while he cried, hungry and unable to receive any life-sustaining milk from the very body that unceasingly nourished him for nine months.
But the milk never came.
Don’t get me wrong, I am in total support of breastfeeding and completely aware of all the benefits. I could even cite you ten statistics off the top of my head about how awesome breastfeeding is. I am full of this knowledge for two very important reasons: first from the overwhelming amount of pressure and opinions from doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, other moms, friends, family, strangers, etc., and then from the debilitating guilt that followed and had me desperately searching the internet for answers.
Bottom line, I cannot breastfeed. My heart breaks a little more every time I admit it out loud. But my shame diminishes just a little, too. “You are not a whole woman; you’re not even a real mother.” Those thoughts still poke their way into my mind every so often and it’s difficult to ignore when tags like #FreeTheNipple started trending on Twitter and famous celebs started posting breastfeeding pictures on social media. All this pride, all this “I am woman, hear me roar” type empowerment can be both intoxicating and poisonous at the same time. I could scroll through beautiful photos of women breastfeeding their children for hours, envying them and hating myself at the same time.
If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: you are not in control of your body when you have a chronic illness. I know this, but I am stubborn. And bitter. And I think all of us with a chronic illness are better off for being so insanely optimistic even if we never get the results we want. I wanted so badly to breastfeed. I wanted it so much it made my insides hurt (or maybe that was just the c-section). Three intimidating lactation consultants, some very caring friends, a connective tissue disorder, multiple breakdowns, a gazillion hippy-dippy remedies, and one empathetic mother later, I came to the conclusion it just wasn’t in the cards.
The moment I finally resigned myself to my milk-less fate, I felt like an udder failure. Get the pun? Eh, this blog post needed a lame joke, but I digress. It took my very kind OB-GYN and my own mother to pull me out of my pit of despair. My doctor told me that many women are unable to breastfeed and that it’s common for women with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to have issues with breastfeeding. The connective tissue disorder can make it difficult, if not impossible, for the mammary glands (which are made up of connective tissue) to produce and maintain a milk supply. So that helped on the factual, medical side, but my hormonal, emotional side still needed consoling.* Thankfully my mother was there for that. Though her story is not mine to tell, I can say that I trust her completely when she said there was nothing more I could have done and it makes me no less of a “real” mother for it. So let me tell you, if you haven’t been told already, you are a real woman, a true mother. Being able or unable to breastfeed does not make you any more or any less of a mother. Shame on anyone who would try to tell you otherwise. While I still openly support breastfeeding, I wish there was someone like me on the cover of a magazine. I wish I could see a woman – flawed, chronically ill, unable to breastfeed, tired, and with loose skin where a tight stomach once was – in the spotlight, praised by the media and told how beautiful she is. Until that happens, you have me, telling you the dirty truth and reminding you that you are beautiful.
*If you feel you are unable to cope or are having serious concerns after having your baby, you may have postpartum depression. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Click this link for resources and support.