New motherhood teaches you a lot. I went into it uneducated. I swam with it and focused on the typical: eating super healthy, no travelling, small doses of exercise and calmness. I did no birthing or baby classes, simply went to my O.B. and worked up until I was diagnosed with high blood pressure (my doctor had already asked me to leave work earlier on in my pregnancy).
It may be funny to learn that the editor of Mother Muse, a publication dedicated to the celebration of motherhood, went into her journey very ordinarily with zero expectations, wants, or a birth plan. Truthfully, I just believed everything would happen the way God intended, and I trusted my body to do what it needed. Plus, I figured it would all come naturally?
The one thing that definitely broke my heart was my breastfeeding journey. I think this topic needs serious light: the struggle most new moms experience when breastfeeding. I remember the first night in the hospital breastfeeding my daughter. I didn’t know how to monitor what she was getting. Was she getting enough? It just didn’t seem right. I was already leaking milk earlier on in my pregnancy, around 30 weeks. Once again, I assumed breastfeeding would come so naturally. Flash forward to my daughter’s first latch, and I just knew it didn’t seem right.
My nipples began bleeding that first night, and I spoke to multiple nurses who all told me it was fine. If I had the proper help those first two days in the hospital (I had to stay longer so they could monitor my heart rate), I would have had a different mindset with breastfeeding, but instead, I just felt even more pain.
Navigating motherhood when you’re young feels different. I felt so exposed and vulnerable. The first two days included many visits from family members and navigating this new world as a mother. There was just so much pressure. If I could do it all over again, my birth and my first two days in the hospital, I would ask for space to connect with my daughter without friends and family visits. I wish I had the time to connect and I wish I got help with breastfeeding.
I called this article “Milk and Cookies” for a reason. When we finally were able to leave the hospital and go back home (living with my parents at the time), my mom had filled the house with so many beautiful foods: fresh fruit, oats, fresh juices, milk and these fantastic chocolate chunk cookies. The first night back that I attempted breastfeeding, I had all of these pillows around me on the couch (I did not have a breastfeeding chair), and I had my glass of milk, a glass of water, and two cookies on a plate for energy. My daughter was trying her best to get milk from my breast. At this point, after multiple nurses told me I was doing fine, I genuinely believed she must be getting milk.
My nipples were still covered in blood and swollen, and she was getting blood in her mouth, which made me cry. I think just seeing blood all the time (navigating blood clots when I peed and seeing it come from my nipples) made me feel so foreign in my body. What was this shell now? I genuinely felt like I had failed my daughter already in my first few days as a mother.
The first week post-birth, you go back to your doctor to check on your baby and their weight, amongst other things (this is the norm in the Fraser Health region that I gave birth in). I discovered that my daughter lost more than half of her birth weight in the first week. That is when the doctor and nurse told me to introduce formula immediately. I knew it.
The doctor recommended I pump to get an idea of how much milk I was producing and feed her formula and breastmilk until she returned to her birth weight. That was incredibly hard to swallow; I felt that I did fail her. Seeing her scarf down formula did not make me angry because I was grateful she was finally getting nourished. I knew that something was off with my milk supply and not once was I insulted with the idea of her drinking formula. My mother fed me with formula, and sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work out. It was the fact that I felt like I failed her because no one helped me the first two nights at the hospital when I reached out for help.
I would pump one breast for 45 minutes and make under 50 ml. What made this worse was getting phone calls from Fraser Health the second week post-birth with constant pressure to breastfeed again. In my mind, I wanted to yell: well, where was the support from the nurses when I was at the hospital for three days?! My daughter was finally back with her weight and rosy cheeks and smiles, and they wanted me to stop nourishing her with formula. Now they tried to pressure me to breastfeed when my body wasn’t doing the one thing I thought would just come naturally.
People didn’t know these two weeks into my new journey created months of trauma, sadness, and the feeling to justify my lack of breastfeeding to every new mom friend I met. People don’t realize the pressure or failure you feel when you can’t breastfeed until you experience it. It was one of the most challenging times of my life, those first three months. Even though family and my partner constantly surrounded me, it was the most alone I ever felt because I had to hide my broken voice. Inside I was telling myself, Shereen, you failed. I missed having privacy. I think if I felt comfortable and not so vulnerable, things might have been less complicated. Eventually, I stopped justifying to nurses, strangers, and family members that my daughter needed formula. You get to a point where defending yourself to others how you nourish your child is none of their business.
As long as your child is thriving, healthy and growing, you’re doing great as a mother. It took me a long time to get to that place. I was bombarded with women on the internet saying that your child won’t love you or connect with you if you don’t breastfeed. I am here to tell you that’s bullshit. Your child will love you and always want their mother before anyone else on this planet, regardless of whether you breastfeed or formula feed.
This article’s goal is to be relatable and honest to the hundreds, if not more, women out there who have felt this sadness and pressure to breastfeed when they can’t. If you missed out, as I did, on being educated, if you were too stressed to create enough milk like I was, or if you felt alone like I did, know that you are not alone and don’t allow your dark thoughts to contribute to months of trauma.
Breastfeeding is not always as easy as milk and cookies. It can be the most time-consuming, painful, dedicated form of nourishing your child. After the first month of pain and dedication, your milk supply will build for most women, and it will become second nature, but for some, like myself, your body might not make enough or can’t. Don’t give up, but don’t tell yourself you’re a failure if you can’t.