When my daughter was born, nearly three years ago now, one of my biggest goals was to breastfeed her for one year. The same goal I had had with my son, only I didn’t make it, and I was heartbroken. With my daughter, I was determined to last for a year. I worked from home and knew I could feed her on-demand, and this time I wasn’t going to let pain, guilt, or my low supply get in the way. Little did I know that three years later she would still be breastfeeding.
These last three years have not been easy though. Breastfeeding is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever experienced. One of my biggest challenges with breastfeeding has been my supply. I have never had an abundant milk supply. I’m not the mom who can fill a freezer with pumped milk and have some to spare. I have always struggled needing lactation teas, pills, herbs and a special diet. My supply struggle with my daughter began right after she was born. I was still healing from my c-section and a usual exhausted newborn mom. In the evenings my body just wouldn't produce milk, or at least enough. My daughter would be hungry and just cry. I felt like a failure. Although I desperately wanted to breastfeed exclusively, I just wanted her fed. My husband and I made many late night grocery runs for formula, even trying goat’s milk at one point. She refused every…single…one. If she had been able, I think she would have thrown the goat’s milk at us. I was beside myself, but kept trying and eventually realized my body needed sleep. I pumped during the day, slept for a few hours a night while my husband stayed up with her, and woke for her midnight feeding with a fresh supply. It somehow worked and she miraculously didn't starve.
We made it to six months, but her 6-month checkup her pediatrician put her in the ‘failure to thrive’ category. She sent us to a dietician and I spent the next month fighting my daughter to eat solid foods. My pediatrician told me my supply wasn’t enough and suggested I stop breastfeeding so my daughter’s only option was solid foods. My supply issues were once again rearing their ugly head and my mommy self-esteem plummeted. I worked to stop, dreading every moment of it, but it didn’t happen. Even at 6-months-old my daughter was too strong-willed to let something come between her and my breasts. For the next year I worried about her weight endlessly. Constantly fretting about what she was eating, if she was growing, how healthy she was. With time I realized my daughter was just small, exactly like I was when I was a baby. Although our pediatrician meant well, charts, graphs, averages and percentiles do not fit every child. The average height for a woman is 5’4”. I’m 5’0”. I never fit the growth expectations either. Never-the-less, I constantly worried about her getting enough, but I continued breastfeeding.
I thought it especially important to continue, because at this point my daughter was in the throws of teething. She had started teething at about 4-months-old, and her pain seemed to get worse with each new set that came in. I say set, because neither of my kids ever had just one tooth come in by itself. Breastfeeding helped her discomfort tremendously. I never had to use pain medication or numbing gel or teething tablets. When she was around 9-months-old, however, I thought I might have to quit. While she slept her teething pain caused her to bite down on my nipple and not let go. So hard that she broke the skin, repeatedly. For about four months, one or both of my nipples had an open cut from her teeth. It was excruciating, but I trudged on knowing it was helping her. Her first birthday came and went and I continued. I had made it to my goal, but I didn’t feel like it was time to stop.
Just after she turned one I noticed she became sick frequently, with fevers. We were in and out of the ER, urgent care, and our pediatrician's office. No one could find anything wrong with her. For several months she was checked and tested, until they finally found she had a potentially deadly bacterial infection that was destroying all of her lymph nodes. She was hospitalized immediately and let me tell you, that is the most gut wrenching thing I’ve ever experienced. We had to watch tubes forced down her throat daily, needles poked in her arms and legs, and procedure after procedure requiring sedation. Through it all, breastfeeding was her only comfort, and mine. It was something I could offer her to drown out the chaos and absolute terror we all felt. We thankfully found out her infection could be treated with medication, but would require four medications a day for at least nine months. So I continued breastfeeding to help her through the trauma of forcing the meds down her. This brought us to her second birthday. Since, I have tried to scale back, but we’re still going.
As I look back, the first year of breastfeeding was the hardest, pushing through all the typical trials and tribulations, but it was the easiest socially. The second year I started noticing judgement from others, but I kept going, because of what my daughter was going through. This past year, however, has been a struggle with pressures from outside influences. I stopped breastfeeding in public, because of the constant disapproval from others. Disapproval I also get when I have to explain to people I am still breastfeeding. I’m in an internal war of shame and love, letting the condemnation from others affect me, yet reveling in the joy I get from being close to my little girl. There is a piece of me that wants to be done, but a bigger piece of me that loves the bond breastfeeding cultivates. Once my daughter weans, my days of breastfeeding will be gone forever. At 40, she is my last, and I don’t want those baby days to end.
These last three years have been an endless struggle with breastfeeding, in one way or another, but it’s all been worth it. My daughter is healthy, happy and has benefitted greatly from our extended breastfeeding. I'm thankful everyday that my daughter never let me quit. Although breastfeeding has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever experienced, it’s also been one of the most rewarding.