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This I Believe - The Things Worth Doing in Life are Hard

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Welcome to the latest Carnival of Breastfeeding! This month's topic is a spin on the NPR's "This I Believe" series of essays. You'll find my post here followed by links to other participants in the carnival.

There's a phrase I remind myself of when the going gets rough.

"The things most worth doing in life are hard."

Maybe it's because I'm such a Robert Frost fan, maybe it's become I come from a very long line of "work as hard as you have to to make it work" types. Either way, I firmly believe in taking risks, making mistakes, committing myself and seeing it through the long haul.

I look back on the things I've done that were the hardest and I find they are the things I'm most happy to have accomplished. Working my way through college to avoid taking loans, taking on jobs I wasn't fully qualified for, being married for seven years, working to build a business while staying home with my kids...breastfeeding.

Yes, breastfeeding.

There are a ton of moms out there who will tell you how easy breastfeeding is. That it's so much simpler than bottle feeding. That "the first few weeks are tough, but once you have the hang of it, it's easy!"

Maybe it is for them. It's not for me.

Sure, after a rough first week I sailed through the next six months, but once I got past the six month mark breastfeeding became incredibly difficult.

Combine a child who won't take a bottle (or sippy cup) with a child who doesn't sleep through the night. Then throw in an early teether who doesn't bite, but enjoys a nice game of Gumby-nipple and you have a not-quite-so-pleasant experience.

In fact, as I noted in my post "The Dark Side of Breastfeeding," nursing isn't all warm cuddly babies and blissful milk grins. I imagine some of my regular readers have wondered how things have been going since I wrote that post. It's really the last personal update on breastfeeding I've posted here. (Though I really will get a reflection on a year of breastfeeding up.)

The truth is, it hasn't gotten much better. After ages of aiming for 18 months of nursing, I'm now actively (but slowly) working to wean Emmitt. I simply cannot take it any more. For me, for our family, breastfeeding is HARD.

Would I do it again if I had another child?

In a heartbeat.

I know I'll look back on breastfeeding and be so thankful I did it. Getting breastmilk into Emmitt for a full year (and counting) has been one of the things I'm most proud of as a parent. It's also been one of the hardest things I've done as a parent.

My readers know I don't sugar-coat breastfeeding in an attempt to make it more attractive to moms who are still making up their minds. I do this because I know how difficult it can be. I also know how many times I sat here wondering why it was "so much easier" for everyone else.

I got through by reminding myself that not every mom has it so easy. Sometimes the ones who have a hard time with it just aren't as vocal. I also got through by reminding myself that the things worth doing in life are often the most difficult.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful, fulfilling and healthy thing for a mother and child.

But it's not always easy.

To new moms thinking of breastfeeding or already struggling with it, I say this:

You aren't alone in wondering if you can make it. Many moms have been exactly where you are now. You'll have good days and bad days. Blissful days of milk smiles and twirling fingers and tear-inducing days of screaming frustration. You'll thank the heavens for being able to settle a baby in the middle of the night without making a bottle and you'll pull out your hair wondering when you might ever get a free minute to yourself again.

Remind yourself that breastfeeding may well be the first really difficult thing you do as a parent. Instead of using that as a reason to avoid it, embrace it. Parenting is a life-long journey that will ask you to stretch yourself beyond what you thought possible time and time again. You'll walk your children through bullies, first loves, broken hearts, frustrations with Algebra (maybe that was just me) and many more things. (That's if you're lucky...otherwise things will be even harder.)

Parenting is hard. Living life is hard. Look at breastfeeding as practice for the challenges of parenting that will follow.

Is it hard? It sure can be.

Is it worth it? Most definitely.

Check Out the Other Carnival Entries

Sinead at Breastfeeding Mums believes Education is the key to breastfeeding success
Half Pint Pixie writes Breastfeeding is natural but it sure isn't easy
Angela at Breastfeeding 1-2-3 believes in gentle discipline
Ashley at Such Great Heights points out you don't have to be a nursing mom to support breastfeeding
Tanya over at the Motherwear Blog says she believes in trusting her instincts
Amy at Crunch Domestic Goddess (who by the way is one of my favorite posters from the other end of the political spectrum) joins Tanya as a big believer in natural parenting instincts.

(More to come...)

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  1. Blogger half pint pixie | 12:21 PM |  

    That was one thing I would have liked to have known before I started breastfeeding, that it can hurt (a lot), it came as a surprise to me! But I knew my daughter needed me to get through it, so I managed. It's amazing how your thresholds change once that little baby is put into your arms! I must say, she's almost a year but no teeth yet, it'll be "interesting" to see if there's any changes when the teeth arrive!

  2. Blogger Ashley Benz | 1:22 PM |  

    This is great. I've often seen women made to feel stupid as they've talked about the struggles of breastfeeding as if if they were doing it correctly they would have no problems at all...

  3. Blogger Danielle | 7:26 PM |  

    If breastfeeding was that hard, humanity would not have survived.

    I think moms need to decide for themselves what is hard and what is not.

  4. Blogger Shay | 8:26 PM |  

    Thanks for writing this. Today I celebrate one year of breastfeeding a child who's never taken a bottle, hardly goes more than three hours day or night without nursing and has no intention of slowing down. Am I glad I did it? Yes, I sure am but it hasn't been easy.

    Breastfeeding the first 8-10 weeks hurt more than giving birth. I didn't expect that. The books don't tell you that and anyone who you ask says "It won't hurt if the baby is latched on correctly." yeah...if only it was that simple.

    Congrats on 1 year of BF.

  5. Blogger Ahmie | 8:44 PM |  

    I always tell women, if it's difficult/painful ASK FOR HELP... silence doesn't help anyone. Realizing that we're not "designed" to do this alone got me through some rough spots, even when there wasn't anyone there to help in the moment, realizing that my ancestresses weren't expected to be alone for hours at a stretch when they had small children to tend to - other women and men and older children would have been there to help them, to give them a break for a little while, etc. It's these strange structures we've built for our "comfort" to live in that contribute to these problems... not that I'm heading for the commune anytime myself, mind, but just realizing how drastically different we live now compared to 200 years ago helps keep the sanity sometimes for me. Maybe it'll help someone else too.

  6. Blogger The Lactivist | 9:11 PM |  

    Danielle,

    Nothing helps encourage moms to breastfeed like completely negating their personal experiences and feelings.

    I'm sorry, but it's comments like yours that make women at the end of their rope throw in the towel. Sometimes acknowledging that someone has a harder time at something than you did can go a long way toward helping them get into the mindset to make it work.

    I used to think women who said pumping was hard were nuts. After all, I exclusively pumped for 14 months and had enough extra milk to donate 27 gallons of it to a milk bank.

    Then I had my second child and found pumping to be so draining and difficult I couldn't bring myself to do it at all.

    Besides, I said it was hard, not impossible. I guess I don't see how something can't be hard if it was required to keep humans alive for decades.

    Guess hunting and gathering wasn't hard either. ;) Did the deer walk up and lay down in front of the dugout with a bag of berries around their necks? (sorry, couldn't resist...)

  7. Blogger Jill | 1:27 AM |  

    Good way to put it in perspective. Yes, breastfeeding can be hard, but so is everything else about parenting...and it only gets "worse" from there. But we do it anyway, because after all, if we didn't want to, we wouldn't have had kids.

    Congrats on topping a year of mommy milk! We mutually decided to quit after about 13 months ourselves. That's 13 months more than far too many babies ever get. Anyone who makes it past a year deserves a dang medal, in my opinion.

  8. Blogger Natalie | 5:56 AM |  

    I breastfed Olivia, now 2.5, until she was 18-months. The first few weeks brought tears to my eyes and constant frustration. But, we made it through and I ended nursing through sore nipples when newly pregnant with baby number two (when Olivia was a year). By 15-months we started to wean and by 18-months had accomplished that. So, when Lila, my waterbirth baby who's birth enpowered me, came along, I was downhearted to discover that I was having more trouble nursing my second child than I did my first. This time there was blood! So, I reached out immediately to a lactation consultant who came to my house, gently reminded me that nursing a toddler is very different than nursing a newborn and by the end of her visit, Lila and I were happy nursing partners. It is a struggle. To those mom's who think they can't take it anymore, reach out for help, cry if you need to and keep on trucking! It will get easier, with bumps along the way but the benefits to you and baby make it all worth it! It's something that will enpower you and years from now, when nursing is long in the past, you'll realize the gift you gave your child. Currently, Lila is just about a year. She clamps down with her top teeth as she nurses. I've been working on correcting that latch for a few months. We have good days and bad. Though I get frustrated at times, I'll keep on going until Lila is ready to give it up!

  9. Blogger HW | 8:03 AM |  

    Great post.

    I think this totally leaves room for women to decide for themselves what is hard. Your point is, I think, that it is OK to admit that it is hard.

    I felt like I was surrounded by two kinds of women - those who disapporoved of breast feeding all together and those who couldn't believe I was having pain when I nursed.

    I managed to nurse both my babies, and loved it but I did it with very little female support; and it was difficult in many ways. Both my kids had teeth at 3 months and we even got through that.

    Thank you for validating many many mothers' feelings.

  10. Blogger JudyBright | 9:08 AM |  

    Danielle, straight to the moon with you!

    Mankind has done things to survive for thousands of years that are hard. Like finding food, building shelter, exploring new lands, etc.

    I guess I'll decide that losing weight is easy, and waking in the night for months on end while trying to remain a productive citizen is easy. Mind over matter, right? Please.

    It's just that things tend to come relatively easy to modern folk like us and that many aspects of parenthood are like a slap in the face.

    Humanity has survived because our ancestors weren't wusses like many of us are.

    And I'm sure not one baby has died in the history of humanity because breastfeeding didn't work. We're here because it worked most of the time, not all the time.

    What about the modern challenges to breasfeeding that our ancestors didn't face? Like hospitals giving your baby a bottle assuring you it won't affect breastfeeding? Or not being able to benefit from older women's experiences in your family or community because they all bottlefed? Or the after effects of a medical birth? Or people freaking out if you want to feed your kid in public?

  11. Blogger Crunchy Domestic Goddess | 11:36 AM |  

    i had no idea you have had such a hard time bfing emmitt (i missed that post), but i do agree that it's important for moms to be truthful about breastfeeding as well as other aspects of parenting. if everyone acts as if everything is all roses when it is not, then moms will be that much harder on themselves when they don't have the perfect experience. i appreciate you keeping it real.

    and thank you so much for the compliment with my link. that means a lot to me. :)

    amy

  12. Blogger Eilat | 11:56 AM |  

    I am ashamed to admit that (mostly before I breastfed myself) I had Danielle's attitude. All that changed once my son was born. We had a rough start to breastfeeding and after talking to women at my LLL meetings and friends, and reading stories posted here I saw things very differently.

    JudyBright, you hit the nail on the head! Our modern lives are actually not very conducive to breastfeeding. Back in the "hunt and gather" days humans lived in tight groups. Extended families all lived together and shared in the survival efforts. This facilitates breastfeeding in a way that our modern isolated scheduled lives do not. Aside from the medical interventions and other societal problems that JudyBright mentioned, there are the simple realities of work and structure that didn't exist a few thousand years ago. Jennifer is a WAH mom, which, to me, seems like the hardest thing in the world. Breastfeeding and raising children while sleep-deprived and meeting deadlines is hard.
    But our little babies are still creatures of nature and biology and deserve to receive the milk that their mothers' bodies make. So it takes a good deal of effort, in our modern culture, to navigate and negotiate that. We also need to change our cultural norms, so that at least some of the things that stand in the way can be made easier, starting with not being so hard on one another :-)

  13. Anonymous Jake | 3:35 PM |  

    Bravo girlfriend! I breastfed three kids over eight and a half straight years, many of them in tandem. Most of it was extraordinary and life altering and made me happier than I had ever been. But some of it was really horrible. And sometimes it was horrible because of physical things I needed help with. But sometimes it was horrible because I wanted my body back. I wanted to spend some time alone without being grabbed at all the time. Sometimes I wanted to just be something like the me I used to know and not feel like a bad mommy because I felt that way.

    I miss breastfeeding a lot. I wish I could soothe my thirteen year old as quickly as I could when I put him to my breast. But I also remember the desire to cover my breasts with my hands and scream, "mine! mine! mine!" There is a lot about breastfeeding that is hard and we need to stop judging each other when we admit it.

  14. Anonymous MomOnTheGo | 6:56 PM |  

    Thanks for these words. It's not just that you admit that breastfeeding can be tough but that perseverance is worth it. My sister kept telling me that "you don't try to breast feed, you just do it" and when I struggled at first, I felt like a failure. Of course the same sister did come to our rescue. Taking my baby from me to cuddle and sending me to a hot bath with instructions to express some milk so that the poor kid could latch. Just having an experienced mother to lean on got me over my troubles but others must work harder. We need supporters not judges.

  15. Blogger JudyBright | 8:30 PM |  

    Jill said: Anyone who makes it past a year deserves a dang medal, in my opinion.

    I agree. Here's a woman receiving a Dang Medal for achieving the one year breastfeeding mark.

    http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e348/judybright/dang.jpg

  16. Anonymous theperfectlatch | 1:39 AM |  

    Kudos to you to have continued in the face of such adversity! I often wonder, is it better to tell women it CAN be difficult and risk them deciding not to breastfeed? or better to not tell them until it happens? But your post proves that you can tell the truth and still be inspiring.

  17. Blogger Melissa | 7:08 AM |  

    momonthego, can I adopt your sister? Seriously, I think that is amazing that she did that for you. I always look at stories like that and wonder what I would do, and want to emulate that when I have a friend who needs help with BF. The funny thing is, outside of my best friend, the other new mommies I know think that I had it easy, since I am still BF at 21 months. They ask my best friend for advice, who tells them they should talk to me because I helped her, and they honestly tell her, "How would she understand? She never had these issues." Maybe not, but I bet I have an online buddy or 10 who did!

    BTW, Jen, I've been using the "Things worth doing are hard" as my mantra for getting through school so I can get to nursing school. Thanks for a reaffirming post!

  18. Anonymous Abby | 7:54 AM |  

    Thanks so much for this. You are so right about it not being easy. My experiences were a little different, and frankly, nursing itself came easy, but try convincing your ped. of that when your baby is chronically underweight to the point that she has to start eating solids at 4 months (which DIDN"T help, btw). I found the struggle to keep pressing on with nursing to be the hardest one between 4 and 12 months. But I would and WILL do it again, no matter how difficult it is.

    Loved the comment about the deer and the berries, too. So true. Life is hard, but if we didn't work for some things, we wouldn't be here at all.

  19. Anonymous jessica | 10:53 AM |  

    I too wish I had known more than the three ways to latch the kid on... Now I feel like I could teach a class on bf better than the instructor I had!

  20. Blogger Amanda | 6:20 AM |  

    Thanks for this post. Right now I am struggling to bf my 4th who's a week old. She had zero suck reflex at birth, and her tongue curled back and flicked at the breast. It was excruciating. I spent 2 hours with an LC at the hospital. I ended up finger feeding to teach her to suck, and using an SNS to correct her latch. We've been able to get rid of the shield, but the initial latch is still painful. Nights are the most difficult right now. She wakes to feed, and sucks for 30 seconds, and pops off, rooting around again- we do this for hours. I BF'd 2 of the other 3, and while they had some positioning issues at first, I was totally unprepared for the difficulty this time around. In the last week, I can't count the # of times I've been in tears totally frustrated sobbing, "I don't know if I can do this..." But you're right, it IS worth doing, guess I just needed a little reminder. Thanks again.

  21. Anonymous Anonymous | 8:11 AM |  

    Right on!! I'd encourage any mom to try breastfeeding and work at it day by day. Because it is work! Nursing, through 2 herniated discs because she wouldn't take anything else, a bout of stommach ick that would let her only keep down breast milk and other smaller things that made these past 14 months crazy , is work. Sometimes that work is easier on some days and sometimes it's so ridiculously hard that I wonder why we're still going. But I wouldn't trade it for the world!

  22. Blogger sweetestgirl | 10:39 AM |  

    Hi Amanda, I can really relate to your story. I was totally frustrated and in tears for the first 8 weeks of breastfeeding my little girl. And even after that it was not a very positive experience for me... My daughter had a very small mouth and a very high palate, and my nipples were very flat. She would not latch on. I spent hours with the LCs in the hospital and then had a very experienced LC spend hours with us at home, and I was still in tears and extremely frustrated. My mom was an LLL leader for 10 years and I assumed that breastfeeding would be easy for me. It wasn't. I was determined to feed my baby breast milk and I did consider pumping exclusively, but I hated pumping. After a week of finger feeding and lots of very frustrating attempts to get her to latch, we finally (the LC and I) got her latched on using a nipple shield. After a couple of weeks we tried to wean her off the shield but it did not work. So I continued with the shield, and got lots of unnecessary flak from other nursing moms who seemed to think that if I just tried harder, my baby could latch without the shield. No one could have tried harder than I did to get her nursing without the shield. If I hadn't had the shield, I would have had to give her pumped milk in a bottle, and actually I probably would have ended up formula feeding because I really hated pumping. I felt very isolated from other nursing moms, because nursing was so hard for me, and unfairly judged, too, especially by others in LLL, who thought it was awful that I was using a nipple shield. They didn't have any idea how difficult it was for me to get my daughter to nurse at all, and the hours I had spent with the LC, and the hours I had spent crying and feeling like a total failure as a mother and as a woman. It really hurt me that some other nursing moms were so judgmental and unsupportive. I was so jealous of the moms who could nurse without a shield, and nurse lying down, something I was never able to succeed at. I was lucky to make friends with some nursing moms who had also had difficulty and understood how painful it is when you really want to breastfeed and it isn't working. My daughter ended up nursing for 18 months with the shield and then she decided to wean. It was bittersweet...I had struggled so hard to make breastfeeding work, and at the same time I was happy that she decided she was ready to stop nursing on her own. I wish you all the best with your little one! It's fantastic that you are persevering in the face of difficulties!

  23. Anonymous Laurie | 9:19 PM |  

    Jake,

    Thanks so much for your response. My DS just turned one. I currently am very much in the position of wanting to yell "mine! mine! mine!". Not because I don't want to nurse him. I definitely want weaning to be child led as it was with my DD. But after 3 and a half years of bf-ing, I would like for DS to be able to sleep without my breasts in his mouth just for a night so that I can sleep! ;-) Then I remember that once he weans, I've lost that part of our relationship. And I read a post like yours and am reminded that the way I'm feeling is just a speed bump, not a stop sign - and I can keep going.

  24. Blogger Tere | 11:18 AM |  

    I found breastfeeding pretty difficult and inconvenient (and have written about it), but stuck it through (including being a working cow for 7 months) because I knew it was the best thing I could do for my son.

    And yes, I too would do it again, in a heartbeat.

  25. Blogger Renata | 7:35 PM |  

    Thanks again for your encouragement.

  26. Blogger Oboe-Wan | 8:00 AM |  

    I breastfed my son for 16 months... It was hard. It was fun. It was stressful. It was beautiful.

    Besides my own spectrum of emotions with nursing, i had to deal with a lot of people who thought *they* had any say in what I did with my kid or my body.

    Now, I also had a support "team" of 4 other nursing moms, and it was great to chat, nurse & bond during this time. Our friendship, sadly, didn't last past the weaning stage, though, which I always find funny!! But it certainly helped to see other women, who seemed to have it "all together" struggle with the little things like I did.

    No one's perfect, but gosh that breast milk is just great for those babies.

  27. Anonymous Mama Bear | 10:54 PM |  

    Jen,

    I love this entry. It is so honest, so REAL. People need to read that way more, I think, in a world so full of B.S. You know you've gotta start getting suspicious when things start to sound TOO good to be true (IBMP, anyone?). LOL!

    I totally believe that the sacrifice is worth the effort (and believe me, I have sacrificed a lot to get to -- almost -- month 15 of pumping; it has been a long bitter journey). I totally believe that breastfeeding, and trying to stick with it (within the parameters and context of your life and what you are personally capable of), is excellent practice for the parenting journey ahead.

    As an aside, I would have loved to have participated in the Carnival (great topic), but I have a lot going on right now, and I couldn't find the time to write an entry (didn't even know the carnival was happening until I read this entry)... Anyway, great to know the topic was covered so honestly. It does breastfeeding, and the sacrifices mothers make to accomplish it, an honor.

  28. Blogger Elaine | 10:34 AM |  

    Kudos! It's great I'm not the only one who thinks attachment parenting is hard work-- I couldn't do it any other way, as my instincts won't let me. However... my baby was a serious night-nurser, wouldn't let me put her down-er, I want a boob in my mouth-er, and it ain't easy! I made my needs known early, and my husband stepped in big time to take over the nighttime needs of our older daughter, to do all the dog-walking, to make grocery runs on his way home, to get our preschooler ready and off to school every morning so I could stay in bed with the baby the entire year... it took so much help from others for me to be able to deal with night nursing. I think that our modern households with the nuclear family make nursing and attachment parenting a challenge, because unless she asks for it, mom doesn't get much help. I learned that to survive the first year of nursing, I needed a lot of help, and that that is okay. So keep on keeping on, and thanks for admitting it's hard-- so many women don't admit that, and it makes the rest of us feel like failures if we let it.

  29. Blogger Rural Mama | 3:20 AM |  

    Thank you for an honest post about breastfeeding! I sometimes wonder if part of the reason that breastfeeding rates are lower than optimal in this country is because it gets so sugar-coated. I think that when some new moms are in the midst of all that early (or later!) frustration, they get the vibe that nursing is not supposed to be like that. But I think it is normal for nursing a baby to be extremely frustrating at times.

    My daughter just turned two, and is still going strong. I never intended to nurse her to this age, but she is very determined to keep going and I am just too darn tired to wean her, even though she
    *still* nurses every 2-3 hours at night. I told my husband last night, "I think nursing a toddler is harder than nursing a newborn!" I know in my saner moments that this is not true, but with all the pinching and not being able to sit down without being pounced on, weaning will probably come as a relief when it comes. Each age has its own frustrations, I suppose.

  30. Blogger Victoria/Beachcomber | 11:23 AM |  

    You're right that breastfeeding is hard work. It hasn't been all dimples and relaxation for us, either. My daughter is 22 months and counting and it's been a tough go since she started getting the teeth in at about 11 months. Lately she's taken to biting when she's mad at me. The last time she bit me I actually bled. She darn near got weaned that day, let me tell you. But like your Emmett, she's a rotton sleeper and since we share a bed, we're very over-tired parents. The boob is our middle of the night salvation and I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to cope with night weaning. She ADORES breastfeeding. She has shown no signs of being interested in weaning.

    Sufice it to say that advice on weaning and help with night-time sleeping would be more than welcomed! Hah.

  31. Blogger Danielle | 7:45 PM |  

    Why would a comment like mine make a woman want to throw in the towel? If someone is willing to give up just based on one comment from another person, then that is their choice and it doesn't say much about their character.
    I maintain what I believe that women need to decide for themselves what is hard for them and what is not. If someone believes breastfeeding, or whatever else having to do with motherhood is hard, then they need to decide that *for themselves* instead of deciding it based on what someone else's experience is.

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