The laundry is piling up, you have no idea what to make for dinner, and your baby wants to be nursed for what seems like 27 times a day. Your friends without children don’t understand why you are so tired and your mother-in-law is pressuring you to wean so she can have the baby overnight. Meanwhile, your boss wants to know when you are coming back to work. No one seems to understand your yo-yo emotions.
Although all new mothers face challenges, you may feel especially misunderstood and alone if you are breastfeeding. “Almost everyone I know thinks breastfeeding is gross,” says Patti, a mother of three in northern California. “My Mom doesn’t even like to hear the word breast.”
“Breastfeeding is not the norm,” adds Nancy, a pharmacist and mother of one in Colorado. “I think it’s hard to continue without support.”
In an ideal world you could turn to family and friends, but this isn’t always the case. To find kindred spirits, you sometimes have to look for them. Support groups, such as La Leche League, an internationally recognized authority on breastfeeding with over 3,000 groups in more than 60 countries, offer a wonderful opportunity to meet other nursing mothers (www.lalecheleague.org or 847-519-7730). Many communities around the country have local chapters and offer free, regularly scheduled meetings. Hospitals, birth centers and other community organizations may also offer breastfeeding support groups.
Sometimes you can find breastfeeding support with a group of like-minded parents. See if there is a support group of attachment parents in your area. If not, consider starting one (www.attachmentparenting.org). Your library or other local organizations may also know of play groups or support groups where you could meet like-minded mothers.
Even if you are too tired to make a meeting or a group’s schedule doesn’t fit with yours, don’t despair. The Internet has become a godsend, offering new mothers mutual support without having to leave the comfort of home. Where else can you find sympathy at 2am? Chat rooms, breastfeeding forums and list-serves are found among the thousands of sites devoted to breastfeeding and parenting.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to connect with other mothers in person or online, simply reading or hearing about other women’s breastfeeding experiences can make a big difference.
As Jennifer, a new mother says, “My friends hadn’t told me their nursing troubles because they said if I knew how hard it could be sometimes, I’d never have tried. Yet more stories would have kept me from feeling so alone in my journey.”
The Importance of Stories
Medical expertise and how-to advice are important, but at a deeper level it is flesh and blood stories that offer comfort and validation. Whether they are tales of despair or delight, stories are fundamental in helping many women transcend anxiety and physical and emotional isolation. When you realize you are not alone, when you recognize yourselves in other people’s experiences, you feel validated and understood.
A simple story may be all you need to help you follow your instincts. It reinforces what you may already know: breastfeeding isn’t simply about the milk; it’s about the relationship. Nursing doesn’t simply nourish; it calms an upset child, comforts an injured one and eases many into sleep. “Being a mother and breastfeeding are so incredibly integrated for me that I can’t even imagine one without the other,” says Nancy from Colorado.
It’s about healing. “Nursing opened me up in an intimate way I had never experienced before,” discovered a mother in Florida. “I could be completely open and unguarded. It helped me to heal from a lot of past childhood stuff.”
It’s about intimacy. “My daughter knows we are planning to have a new baby someday soon,” says Michele of Washington State. “The other day, she bent over, kissed my nipple and said, “I put enough love in here to last for the baby when it nurses.” Why is it that children instinctively know what nursing is all about? And how did society get so far removed from the simple idea of nurturing and love?
And it’s about empowerment. “Breastfeeding was the first part of the reproductive process that went the way it was supposed to.”
Sharing stories and finding support so you don’t have to parent in isolation is very important, says Laura, a former rower and runner from North Carolina. “It has given me faith in the strength and capability of my body and I discovered how strong and capable I truly am.”
Finding Common Ground
Stories provide comfort that you are not alone; that you shouldn’t take your problems so personally. Perhaps your baby didn’t latch on well and you thought there was something wrong with your breast. Maybe you quit nursing because someone suggested you didn’t have enough milk. Maybe you think there’s something wrong with you because at three months postpartum you still aren’t interested in sex.
When similar themes emerge in story after story, it becomes clear that despite the uniqueness of your own experiences, there are underlying cultural patterns and commonalities that shape them. You may discover, for example, that women who have a planned home birth seldom have breastfeeding difficulties, while women who give birth in many U.S. hospitals often struggle to get nursing established. Or you may begin to wonder why it is that so many moms in the workforce don’t have a clean, private place to express milk? And what better way to understand that many of the challenges American women face are not significant problems elsewhere in the world? Stories help you understand that what you face are not simply private problems, but issues that can’t be resolved in isolation.
Finally, stories can help you, in turn, become more compassionate to others. Nursing mothers, for example, often accuse bottlefeeding mothers of being selfish and uncaring. Formula-feeding mothers, in turn, accuse breastfeeding advocates of being strident and insensitive. As Staci, a breastfeeding-turned-bottle-feeding mother in Nebraska explains, “What many don’t realize is that when a woman fails after wanting so badly to succeed at breastfeeding, she is literally going through a phase of mourning.”
So the next time you feel overwhelmed, misunderstood or simply a lone voice in the wilderness, remember that you weren’t meant to parent in isolation. Kindred spirits are out there. Stories abound. And your story, too, with a dose of compassion, can make a difference to someone else.