The Dirty Truth About Breastfeeding

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.

via Glamour

via Glamour

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.

The dried up desert aka my mammary glands

Dried up desert lake beds aka my mammary glands

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.

Shut up, tarot card!

Shut up, tarot card

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.

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5 Lies You’re Told

This is going to be a fun one!  Not only are we going to discuss the lies you’re told about being pregnant, but also about the lies dealing with illness.  Even before I was pregnant, there were all these misconceptions out there about how a “sickie” is supposed to feel and act and live.  Now that I’m with child, it seems like I’m fighting two different yet equally prejudicial battles.  So here are some things I’ve been told that have turned out to be completely false.

5. You Can (and should) Have it All

Now I’m just as much a feminist as the next gal.  I even hyphenated my last name when I got married!  If that’s not proof, then I don’t know what is 😉  But seriously, there’s this unreal standard that women are held to in society.  You’re told you should be able to juggle your personal and professional life – all while staying in perfect shape, of course!

Me thinks Photoshop has been used

Me thinks Photoshop has been used…

There is absolutely no shame in picking your own path, even if you feel like you’re admitting defeat.  The moment I realized it was okay for me to take time off work to focus on the health of me and my baby, I felt amazingly relieved.  Don’t fall prey to the lie that you are supposed to be some kind of “Wonder Woman.”  You’re growing a human inside of you!  How much more Wondrous can you get?

Real women. Real bodies.

Real women. Real bodies.

4. It’s Just in Your Head

Pre-pregnancy, when I was searching desperately for a diagnosis, I was told by many doctors and specialists that the joint pain, fatigue, and subsequent anxiety was all in my head.  I had never felt more confused, full of self-doubt, and even angry than when I started to let those doctors get to me.

NO IT'S NOT!

NO IT’S NOT!

Thank God (after quite a few years) I found a doctor that listened to and believed me and was able to give me my diagnosis.  Then, as a high-risk pregnant woman, I’ve also been judged by non-high-risk women telling me that I was just exaggerating my symptoms.  The insulting part was when they would tell me their “real symptoms” as if a) mine weren’t real and b) that their symptoms were worse than mine.  Honey, I would take your puffy ankles over my hip dislocation any day!  So just tune out the negative people in your life and don’t back down with your health professionals if/when they don’t take you seriously.

3. It’s All About the Birth

This was a new one for me.  Out of all the weird comments I was expecting to get, this was kind of a curveball.  While it’s true that “It’ll all be worth it in the end,” some people take it to the nth degree.  Some people made it sound as if the entire process of pregnancy is only about the end result.  So anytime I would be talking about a speedbump we had encountered in the pregnancy, the validity of my concern was immediately thrown out the window, because I should just “focus on the main event.”

The indignation of it all!

The indignation of it all!

But the entire nine months are important in their own right.  For instance, my husband and I have never felt closer than through these months of pregnancy.  I’ve gained a new perspective on motherhood from many late-night phone calls and talks with my mother and mother-in-law.  I’ve made deeper layers of friendship with the women in my life that are moms or moms-to-be.  I’ve even formed bonds with people on internet support groups where we can all rally around each other and our shared health issues. There are so many wonderful experiences I’ve gained through this pregnancy, that I would hate to think what would have happened if I only let myself focus on the end result of birth.  Live in the now and appreciate the process, warts and all!

This applies to so much in life

This applies to so much in life

2. Just Push Through It

Whether you are pregnant, have a chronic illness, or a combination of the two, you have had days where the word “pain” is an understatement.  For the average person, pain is your body’s way of saying something is wrong, but often we are told that as high-risk pregnant women, the pain is just something we will need to learn to live with.  While there are some things that I’ve gotten used to with my Lupus or EDS, I know from experience that not all pain is the same.  Listen to your body.

Some days are a 10

Some days are an 11

There is also this misconception that asking for help = weakness.  Admitting that your body can no longer do the things it used to isn’t being weak, it’s being honest!  To “push through it” and “suck it up” is not only delusional, but potentially harmful to both you and your baby.  So, no, don’t stress out over every little twinge of pain, but also don’t ignore the signals your body sends you.

1. You’ll Get That “Pregnancy Glow”

Maybe this one is just me, but one of the things I always heard about was how women will get this “glow” during pregnancy.  I imagined that when my pregnancy was in full swing, I’d have this cute little bump, radiant skin, and fabulous hair.  Well with a little help from MasterCuts, my hair is pretty fabulous, but besides that I don’t feel like I’m glow-y.

SHE'S SO RADIANT!

SHE’S SO DARN RADIANT!

And I’ve realized that’s okay.  At this point, I’m actually just stoked that my baby is staying healthy and is growing how he’s supposed to be.  Us high-risk ladies find happiness in the little things “normal” moms-to-be take for granted.  While some of my pregnant friends were talking about how their skin cleared up and their hair and nails seemed stronger than ever, I was over here being like “Hey I had a brief moment where my joints didn’t feel like they were on fire!  It’s gonna be a good day!”  It’s also good to remember that most celebs (and even some of our friends) just happen to have the extra time, money, and stylists to make it possible to look like an actual human in the morning.  For me, not so much.

I ain't even playin right now!

I ain’t even playin right now!

So in the end, no two pregnancies are exactly alike and we shouldn’t expect ours to hold up to the magical standards portrayed in movies and on magazine covers.  Your pregnancy is your pregnancy.  What is normal for you won’t necessarily be normal for everyone else.  This is basically how life goes, by the way.  The quicker we can acknowledge and accept that we make our own definition of what’s beautiful, the better.  Now I love the bags under my eyes, sallow skin, and swollen joints.  You know why?  Because it means the little life inside of me is still alive and kicking and my body is so busy keeping him healthy, it doesn’t have time to worry about looking “fresh.”  Flip the script and embrace it!