Friday, March 9, 2012

It's Personal

Breastfeeding. (That's what this post is about, so run away now if you are not interested)

It's personal to me.

Of course, that doesn't keep me from talking about it all the time. Even though I talk about it, I realize I am perhaps hypersensitive to the subject.

My days consist of nursing one baby and then another, tandem nursing when they are both awake, pumping, and washing bottles and flanges. When I say it is my life, that is not an exaggeration. With the most recent growth spurts, I spend 12-15 hours a day nursing and pumping. This means there can be no scheduled meals or sleep. I am always "on call," which means the babies eat several times before I eat at all. If I am lucky, I get a solid two hour stretch of sleep before being awoken again.

Because of these facts, Nathan and I had to have a rather intense conversation last night about what nursing was doing to me / is doing to me.

I am rapidly losing weight. I am sleep deprived. I am constantly starving because I cannot keep up with the calories I am burning. He is worried. Worst of all, there seems to be no time for Eliza in my busy schedule. We sit on the couch together and watch shows, but we don't have a relationship where we run around and play together. There are very rare moment when I have time (and the energy) to be an attentive mother to Eliza and her needs.

And that makes me feel horrible. I find some solace that Cheryl and Nathan are around to play with her during the day, and I know she is not being neglected. I just know I am too tired to be really interact with her and that I have been tired now for nearly a year.

She's only 2. I've been sick or somehow incapacitated for half of her life.  But for some reason, I still feel like I need to nurse the boys.

For a while, it was more of a guilty feeling.  I felt this immense pressure to be a "good mother," especially after breastfeeding did not go well with Eliza. I had this thought that giving up on breastfeeding would somehow make me a bad or selfish person. It's ridiculous, but it was a feeling I could not shake.

I also didn't want to treat the boys differently or shorten the amount of time I wanted to nurse them because they were twins. They couldn't help that they were born at the same time, and I didn't want to justify not trying to nurse because I had two babies. These were my initial thoughts before delivery and the first few days in the hospital.

Only a few weeks later, I would text a close friend, "I can't do this anymore. I give up." She, of course, supported me no matter what and let me know good mothers also feed their babies formula. And you know what--they totally do! I thought about it for days and nearly gave up after the mastitis. I kept thinking, "How much more can I take? Is it worth this? What am I trying to prove?'

The mastitis was excruciating, the bleeding chest was unimaginable, the clogged ducts have been painful, and the thrush has been a nightmare. But somehow, we have survived. The cluster feedings are now my nemesis, but I know the worst is over. There are moments when I don't think I can unhook my bra one more time, and I feel like I am married to my nursing pillow. But then there are those sweet bonding moments when I cuddle with a sleeping, nursing baby. There are those moments when I get to bond with little Ezra and Elliott as they nurse and hold hands. I can't even tell you how much my heart bursts with love when I see their hands reach for each other. It is the cutest sight in the world.

Obviously, though, it's still no walk in the park. When Nathan suggested that we use formula at least at night, I knew my response was someone hysterical and irrational. I essentially freaked out at him for even suggesting the thought. How dare he?! Did he not know that I am doing everything I can to nurse these boys? How dare he take away my opportunity to breastfeed. I was furious. I was so upset I couldn't even finish the conversation before storming off to bed in tears.

And why? He had a good point. I am tired. I am (at times) miserable. He was thinking of me and how I am essentially worthless (for lack of a better word) to my children if I am hardly able to function. I just have the sure knowledge, though,  that we are through the hardest why stop now? I then realized that I have become a little too breast obsessed. I need to step back and think about the advice so many fellow moms have given me: "Do what is best for your baby and you." You are included in that phrase. YOU.

With Eliza, I would have been better off stopping nursing sooner than I did. Without a doubt, I know my inability to properly nurse greatly contributed to my post-partum depression. I pumped until she was 6 months and then switched to goat's milk as soon as we figured out her intolerance to breast milk. It was never the joyful experience I imagined. I had too much milk. She flailed at the breast. She screamed. When she latched, she nursed for hours and used me as a human pacifier. I felt trapped. And yet, I didn't feel like I could open up about my anxiety to anyone. Who could understand me not liking something so natural and beautiful? Even typing this, I feel a little worried about what people may think. But why?

It goes back to the thought that "good mothers" nurse their babies. For a while, I truly believed that sentiment. Why couldn't most women at least try to nurse or pump? What was their deal? Now,  I realize that there can be a variety of factors that prevent a woman from effectively breastfeeding. None of these things make that woman any less of a mother.

With the twins, I began to feel the same twinges of anxiety once I encountered problems. The euphoria of successfully nursing began to wear off. Fortunately for me, I had a friend on call, who gave me constant breastfeeding support. A lactation consultant, Caitlin walked me through several traumatic nursing experiences.  I also talked to a couple of other twin moms (and a triplet mom!) who nursed and gained the confidence I needed in order to continue. I consider pretty lucky to know these supportive people. Additionally, seeing the babies rapidly grow made me feel like supermom. I was so proud of myself when the boys doubled their birth weights in 5 weeks!

So although I am a breastfeeding advocate and I feel immense joy (even with the physical pain, there is still so much joy) and satisfaction in nursing my children, I understand that this isn't always the case for others.

And you know what? That's okay! You do what you do. I do what I do.

Like my friend Megan says, "Good mothers feed their babies."

I feel like you know my biggest secret now.

p.s. Despite the conversation last night, I have no plans to stop tandem nursing or pumping. I just need a better plan for snacks and meals in addition to a little more sleep. I want to also stress that having support while formula feeding or breastfeeding is essential. However, if things don't improve and I continue to feel overwhelmed, I know now that I can supplement without guilt. There is no shame in it!

(**Disclaimer: Because I don't like controversy and I want everyone to be happy, I hope I did not offend any of my friends or loved ones. This is such a touchy subject, but I had to write how I felt. I want to also recommend this blog post by my friend, former roommate, and fellow twin mom, Brittany. I read this post a week after the twins were born, and it essentially freed me of most of my guilt. I love you, Brittany. Seriously.)


  1. You really don't understand how difficult breast feeding is until you experience it. I still don't know how I got through those first 2 weeks. In zombie mode, I guess. So let me just say, I have some serious respect for your awesomeness in breast feeding two babies. I know how difficult it is to not give up with one, can't imagine how it would be with two! I can definitely relate to a lot of your feelings though: the guilt, not taking care of yourself, feeling like formula is somehow cheating. I don't know if it helps to know you're not the only one having all these feelings (or having super emotional conversations with a super sweet husband who is really just trying to help, the poor guys) but just in case, you're not the only one. :)

  2. This may make me sound awfully snotty, but I'll go ahead an throw it out there as well. I have a super easy breastfeeding relationship with Hazel. it was easy with Ella too. And yet, breastfeeding is one of the hardest things for me to do because I don't enjoy it. At all. I enjoy knowing that the baby enjoys it and that I'm giving her what's best for her, but that's it. In my case, I feel like there's no legit reason to stop and it is what's best for both of us, especially since I credit it for building the bond Ella and I had after I was freaked out at our almost loss of her at birth. Motherhood is often talked about as a great sacrifice, which it is, but I've learned over and over in my short time as a mother that a mother who is taken care of by herself and those around her has the capacity to do so much more for her children. Please take care of yourself. You are an amazing mother (really, one of my mothering heroes) I just don't want to see you burn out.

  3. Celia, I just love you. I really, really do.

  4. I hope that didn't sound as bratty as I think it did. Really, I think you should feel supported no matter what you do! And just FYI, I want you to know that we're still praying for you guys at our house :) Ella prays for "the two boy babies" to sleep :)

    1. Not bratty AT ALL. I think it is great that you point out that "easier" doesn't always means that it is fun. You are still sacrificing so much. I respect you for sticking with it, even when there isn't much joy. Only recently have I found joy in nursing, but it took a lot of soul searching to feel that way. Also, I had no idea about Ella. I knew you had a c-section, but I didn't know about the circumstances. I am so glad everything ended up being okay! And thank you for the prayers. We feel them (and need them)!

  5. Breastfeeding can be a huge challenge, and I am so glad you wrote this. I'm glad people are talking about it more. I definitely understand the feeling of failure as a woman or a mother if you feed formula, but I had to get over that the day after Noah was born when he went in the NICU and I couldn't walk down the hall to nurse him, and he wasn't allowed out from under the lights for more than 15 min a day. There are tons of reasons mothers may not breastfeed and women need to stop judging one another for their (like you said) very personal feeding decisions. Formula is good stuff too, and every mom is different. I am so impressed you have created such chubby cheeks on those boys with your awesome milk. :) You have put in a lot of time feeding them and done an awesome job. Whenever you feel is the right time to stop nursing IS the right time. They will be strong and healthy with formula too, and just as important, so will you.

  6. No matter what you decide to do I will always support you. The most important thing is make sure you are also taking care of yourself. I guess I would say to take the advice you gave me. You are a good mom and are doing the right thing. Do what's best for YOU and your situation. Remember how I came over a week ago, completely upset because though I tried my hardest to feed my baby, she wasn't getting as much as she needed and was therefore hungry ALL...THE..TIME. I struggled terribly that first night when I let Ty go buy bottles and give her formula that first night because I didn't know what else to do. Thanks to your's and Cheryl's encouragement, I'm happily supplementing my milk with formula (and your milk THANK YOU!!!!!). Anna and I are both happier and what's most important is she is being fed. Wow. I really need to get on it and write a post about this. :)

    I would agree with Nathan that you do need to make sure you are getting the nutrients you need. It can only help you and further help the boys even more. You won't do them any good if you are passing out and unconscious. It's not fair to you if your babies are getting super chubby cheeks and you are becoming gaunt. Also, it's not fair to me if you get any skinnier and it takes me longer to catch up to you. Just sayin'. ;)

  7. Celia, I love you. I think you are fabulous. I do.


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