There is nothing quite like breastfeeding to make a new mom feel like a complete failure at the most important job she will ever have. Scratch that. There is something else: a lactation consultant.
Now before anyone objects, let me say I am perfectly aware that nurturing and helpful lactation consultants exist and are likely the norm. I was lucky to have a good one after the birth of my first child. Unfortunately, despite all the help and understanding she provided, I struggled with little success to breastfeed my daughter. After latching problems, unsuccessful pumping sessions, a painful bout of thrush, and many tears, I gave up after a month. And man, did I feel the guilt. Hence my statement, “There is nothing quite like breastfeeding to make a new mom feel like a complete failure at the most important job she will ever have.” But guess what?
It turned out okay. My daughter thrived on formula, was happy and healthy, and we both enjoyed feeding time once the stress was gone. That was my first lesson: despite good intentions and all the support in the world, sometimes breastfeeding just does not work out. And that is okay; do not let anyone make you feel otherwise.
This “mommy enlightenment” came in handy when the time arrived for us to welcome our second child into the world. I approached the whole breastfeeding thing much more relaxed. My first choice was to breastfeed, and I went in with that intention. But I knew that if I encountered similar problems to those I had before, I was not going to beat myself up about it. That would not have been healthy for me or my baby. I had this mommy thing down now. No one was going to shake my confidence in my ability and decisions this time around. That was until I met…dun, dun, dun…The Lactation Consultant from the Black Lagoon. We’ll just call her Cruella for short.
There I was in the hospital, glowing after the birth of my beautiful, healthy son. Life could not have been better. He was actually doing pretty well with breastfeeding at first, but then he started having some problems latching. No big deal. I’ll just ask for one of those kind lactation consultants to come and give me some pointers, I thought. It had been three years since I had done this after all. Little did I know what would transpire from this simple, well-intentioned request.
Let me paint the scene for you. My 80-year-old grandmother had just arrived with my aunt to see her new great-grandchild for the first time. We were chatting cheerfully about how adorable my son was and how he had such a perfect little head since he was a C-section baby (take note of that for later). Enter Cruella. She sat herself down right in the middle of our little circle, and I began to tell her the issues I was having. She listened quietly, looked at my chart and said (a little snidely), “You had a scheduled C-section, huh? Well that’s your problem. Your child doesn’t know that he is born yet.”[Crickets chirping]…WHAT????
My blank expression must have said it all. She went on to explain, “You can’t take a baby out of the womb before he’s ready to be born and expect him to be alert.” And there was this tone in her voice. I could not believe what this woman was saying to me. I was starting to get the feeling she was blaming me for having a C-section, which, by the way, was necessary because my son was breech. Not only that, but she was saying all of this in front of my grandmother and my aunt. How embarrassing. How incredibly embarrassing.
After trying to process what she had just said, I think I stammered out something along the lines of, “Okay, well, I can’t un–C-section him, so what do you suggest I do?” Her response: “You have to convince him he’s born.”
This ought to be good.
She went on to explain that I should not have him swaddled; he should be lying skin-to-skin on my bare chest at all times. Before I knew it, according to her, he would just wriggle his way down to my breast and begin feeding with no problems.
“So, you’re saying I should be naked pretty much all the time?” I questioned skeptically.
“Yes.” And looking right at my grandmother, she added, “So that might mean visitors will have to take a back seat until this little guy gets things figured out.” I have never wanted to say, “Oh no she didn’t!” more in my entire life.
Now let me interject here that, despite my obvious bitter tone in this retelling, I do understand that Cruella had some valid points. I understand the idea behind a C-section baby “not knowing he’s born.” I get it. I was not in labor, so technically, the little guy was not ready to come out. And I also understand that skin-to-skin contact is soothing for a newborn. What mother doesn’t love snuggling her baby up to her bare chest and feeling that bond? My bitterness comes from how this woman made me FEEL in the way she chose to deliver this advice. She had the nerve to come in at one of my happiest times and make me feel like I had done something wrong as a mother. Hence my statement at the beginning of this story.
One of the beauties of becoming a mother for a second time is that you can go into the experience feeling confident because you have done it before. So much for that. I had apparently wronged my child right from the moment of his birth, or so she made it seem. And to top it off, she made my grandmother feel as if she was unwelcome to celebrate her new great-grandson. I was livid.
I wish the story ended there, but it doesn’t. As she got up to go, she told me that she had a meeting until 3:00, but she would come back and check on me again after that. Oh no. Cruella round two? I thought to myself, if my son is still not eating by 3:00, she will probably make us reenact the entire birth to “convince him he is born.” At least I had a couple of hours to think of how to get out of this.
Then a glorious thing happened while a good friend was visiting with her young daughter. (Gasp! Visitors? Busted.) At around 2:30, my beautiful son performed his first concrete act of love for his mother: he began breastfeeding like a champ! I was so happy, not only because he was eating, but also because at the time he was swaddled up all snuggly and warm, and I was not naked. It was just the opposite of Cruella’s advice. I felt vindicated as a mother. My husband, knowing how much I was dreading the second coming of Cruella, suggested that since she would still be in her meeting, I should call and leave a message telling her everything was fine now and that a second visit would be completely unnecessary.
As the phone was ringing, I was carefully planning out what I would say. My thoughts were interrupted by the simple, terrifying word, “Hello?” Oh crap. She answered. I quickly spouted out that my son had begun eating, and I appreciated her help. Just as I got ready to say that she did not need to come back, she interrupted, “He’s eating right now? Great. I’ll be right there.”
God, why have you forsaken me?
Not two minutes later, Cruella whisked into the room as I sat there feeding my son. Flustered and panicky she clamored, “Skin-to-skin! Skin-to-skin!” At the same time, she scooped up my son, unlatching him in the process, loosened his swaddle, ripped my gown down to expose my chest (in front of my friend, mind you), and tried to get him to latch back on. By now, my son was screaming; he would not latch; my breasts were hanging out there in the breeze; and my friend was in the corner “playing” with her daughter, trying to pretend she had not just witnessed the whole thing. If it had not been so absurdly funny, I probably would have cried.
Thankfully, that was my last dealing with Cruella. We brought my son home a few days later, and ironically enough, I had great success breastfeeding him. I made it six months — stopping when he decided that my breasts were great teething toys for his little chompers. It was the complete opposite of what I had experienced breastfeeding my daughter. I had all the wonderful lactation support in the world with her, but could not make it work. And in spite of a total lack of helpful lactation support with my son, I had a wonderful six months breastfeeding him. What’s the moral of this story. Well, there are a couple:
First, I learned that the breastfeeding experience with one child does not predict the experience with another child. I am glad I did not let my problems the first time around keep me from trying again. But I have also gained the wisdom of hindsight to know that one way was not better than the other. I bonded with my daughter just as intensely and she thrived just as well.
Which brings me to my second moral: trust yourself and know that you are enough for your child. I learned this when I was able to get over my guilt of feeding formula to my daughter. And I learned it even more so when I realized that the only way Cruella the Lactation Consultant could make me feel like a failure was if I let her. Looking back on the experience, he words do not hurt me. If anything, her words humor me now. I have told this story to many friends and fellow moms who find it equally horrifying and hysterical. I laugh at it now because I know in the end, I was the one who ultimately knew what would work for my son. Because I am his MOM. And that trumps everything.
P.S. In case anyone is wondering, my son is now six and fully aware that he was born.
Want to read more stories like this? My post was originally published as a chapter in the book Milk Diaries: a compilation of practical, encouraging advice from the “real” breastfeeding experts by Maggie Singleton. The book offers perspectives from mothers all across the breastfeeding spectrum in order to support, humor and educate. It reads more like a conversation with girlfriends than a breastfeeding manual, and I am honored to have my story be a part of its pages. I wish this book had existed when I had babies. Check it out on Amazon! Seriously, like now. Go. You’ll be “pumped” you did. HA!!!
Before you enter the comment section, I am fully aware that the topic of breastfeeding can sometimes trigger conversations that aren’t always cordial. SO, I’m just going to preempt any heated comments by saying that anyone who uses this blog to somehow go on the attack against either breastfeeding or formal-feeding IS MISSING THE POINT OF MY STORY. Any disrespectful comments will be deleted because, well, this is my house and I can pick my party guests. Now, comment away…but do so as if your kids were in the room listening.