I had blithely assumed I’d breastfeed for at least a year, and probably longer. It was a struggle at first, but I had great support, loads of information, and I finally made it to a point where I was able to thoroughly enjoy the sleepy, snuggly, hormone-drenched lovefest it became around eight weeks or so.
I went back to work after three months and discovered that I HATED pumping. It wasn’t that I was frustrated with how much time it took or how many parts needed washing, that I didn’t have adequate support from my employer, or that I had to lug a gym bag’s worth of equipment around. It was the way that pumping felt, which for me was nails-on-a-chalkboard intolerable (before you ask, I tried every funnel size, nipple cream, and pump setting I could – it wasn’t even pain that was the problem, I was just fundamentally opposed allowing a noisy robot to tug on my sensitive parts. Incidentally, I don’t think this is unreasonable.). That discomfort should have been reason enough to stop, in retrospect, but when my supply inevitably decreased in direct inverse proportion to my loathing of that machine, I doubled down and started pumping a ridiculous amount to try to keep up with my hungry growing smallbear. My supply dwindled and dwindled until eventually there wasn’t enough to keep the smallbear from being frustrated and hungry even when I was able to breastfeed her in the evenings and on weekends. She was a happier baby getting a full bottle from a relaxed parent.
This was really difficult for me, and here is what I wish someone had told me.
It’s okay to be sad. One, this represents the permanent end of an extremely significant phase of your relationship with your baby. Two, things are turning out differently than you hoped that they would. That is a loss, and it’s okay to mourn it. But these are only going to be two tiny little dark blue pebbles in the indescribably complex and constantly expanding mosaic of feeling and experience that, for lack of a better word, you’ll call love for your child. Those sad little bits add something worthwhile to the bigger picture, but there’s so much more to it. Brace yourself, though, because they’re most likely going to be a repeated motif.
It’s not okay to feel guilty. If you’re struggling with guilt, take the time to find out what’s causing it. There is probably a completely false statement somewhere in the chewy center, and you need to find it and dismiss it. Here are mine:
“I’m not doing the right thing for my baby.” I have never known a parent to make this decision flippantly. I’ve known some who didn’t put themselves through all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that I did, but everyone takes a close look at their own family’s circumstances and makes the best decision based on that information. No one else knows what’s going on in your family. No outside on- or offline opinions matter. You know what you’re doing on this one. Nice work.
“I didn’t try hard enough.” Yes, you did. You tried as hard as you could without crossing over into doing more harm than good. That line is in different places for everyone. Good for you for recognizing your line when you found it and adapting your plans accordingly.
And finally – you’re fantastic. Parenthood is hard and you’re kicking ass. Now get back to obsessively reading all the “when to worry” sections on the CDC milestone pages.