I'd like to begin by promising that I won't share any statistics.
It's World Breastfeeding Awareness Week. Which means that wherever you are in the ENTIRE world this week, you're supposed to be aware of breastfeeding. In case you haven't heard, it's a thing, but I'm sure you have heard about it. A lot. More than you want to. Here's the deal. Everyone loves to talk about it. Let's run through the whirlpool. Breast is best, fed is best, hide your chest, don't hide your chest, just do your best. Boom. Dr. Suessed it.
I won't share my opinion, I'll just share my story. My journey through the milky way, if you will.
It ends on a sunny day in the pasture with a red barn and a cow. I am the cow. In a nutshell, it all really leads up to me feeling entitled to Chik Fil'A on Chicken Appreciation Day because I should not need a costume if I can create milk without magical powers or a dairy farm. Where it started? I have zero recollection of it. My first, Isabella, was an emergency c-section and I was completely put under anesthesia. I don't remember anything from "you have two seconds to put her under, I'm not stopping" to the next day. Somewhere in the middle, from the story Seth tells me, a nurse came in and helped Isabella latch while I was in and out of it.
Don't get me wrong, breastfeeding is such a sweet thing for me. But I'm not here to tell you about how much money I save, or how much I love being depended on, or how it is the perfect mute button for crying babies, or how much I love how Kate throws her leg over me when I nurse her, and how snuggly my kids are when I nurse. I want to take away the flowers and show you the dirt, so let's keep it real. The most important thing that I want to tell you, is that your chest is yours and whether you want them full of milk, silicone, or whatever they're biologically made of, it's your choice. Whether you want them covered or uncovered while breastfeeding, is your choice. Whether you want them covered or uncovered when NOT breastfeeding in a locker room or on a nude beach, is your choice. Anywhere else, it's likely considered public indecency and it is NOT your choice.
Back to breastfeeding. The beginning was hard. It was hard to learn how to nurse while half-asleep and laying down. It also hurt. Bad. Like a thousand bee stings. Have your Bag Balm ready. It also hurt with my second, but as I explained in Motherhood: Knew vs. New, it didn't hurt for as long and it didn't hurt as badly. But after a few weeks, when the wounds heal and you and your baby learn to latch and get into a rhythm, it doesn't hurt as bad.
The most painful thing for me, more than the thousand bee stings, was when I was told that I wasn't producing enough for my baby. After two weeks in the breastfeeding trenches, Isabella had her first weigh-in and had lost too much weight. It had never occurred to me before that I wouldn't produce enough. No other woman in my family has had that problem so I couldn't figure out why I did. Being told I needed to give my daughter formula, for me, felt like I had failed. The best feeling in the world is the ability to provide for your kid and at that point, I wasn't providing enough. I tried everything to increase my supply, cookies, teas, pumping. I'd pump for 45 minutes and would only get a combined ONE ounce. Which I thought was normal until my friends would show me 5-10 ounces from 10-20 minutes and pictures of freezers full of breastmilk. I felt inadequate and again, like I was not built to be a mother. And although it may feel that way sometimes, I know that I could not be more wrong.
Your performance as a mother is not measured in ounces.
But I got over it. I adapted, and adapting is what parenthood is ALL about. When Kate was born, knowing my experience with breastfeeding Isabella for 1 1/2 years, I asked to supplement and the lactation specialist wouldn't let me. Certain nurses wouldn't bring me formula, I was told to "keep trying". Then there were nurses that kindly brought me formula bottles and the NICU nurses that INSISTED I sleep and allow them to formula-feed Kate every once in a while. I am eternally grateful for those nurses.
Again, my chest is mine. I decide what to do with it.
Breastfeeding, to me, is not natural or beautiful. It's weird. So is pregnancy and birth (something out of alien, really). It's cool but also awkward and weird. You produce food. Food that sustains another life. It's also awkward to nurse in front of certain people. My first time really having to nurse in public was during a study group. Seth would bring Isabella to me to feed and I would step out into the hall to nurse because I felt so completely odd being exposed even under a nursing cover. I'm glad I didn't risk it in front of my study group because Isabella proved to HATE her nursing cover. She'd constantly pull it off. The first time was in front of all the fine patrons of California Pizza Kitchen, it was dinner and a peep show.
I've been nursing for a combined 2 1/2 years and I've become more comfortable nursing in public and on the go. I nurse in restaurants, movie theaters, on hikes, throughout Disney World, while dancing, on the boat, at the beach, at church, Target, weddings, the list spirals on. I don't feel comfortable nursing without a cover, it's not my thing. I also don't love when people insist that I do because nursing is "beautiful". What is beautiful is my ability to provide for my children, in any way.
Nursing has gotten easier. Although I still don't produce enough and died a little inside when I was told, again with Kate, that I wasn't feeding her enough and was "no longer her primary source of food" I got over it. I adapted. It stings, but I deal.
What it all boils down to is this, we can talk about the pros of breastfeeding and we can talk about how it's best for babies to be fed. What we can't talk about is what you think I should do. Breastfeeding is hard. Motherhood is hard. You can do hard things. But can we just all stop talking about my chest? Unless you're telling me I have a nice rack, which at this point is a welcome change from feeling like a cow.