When C2 was born late last year, my midwife talked a lot about how important it was that I enjoy her. And goodness me, how I wanted to. She’s my last baby, after all, and they’re not little for long!
But I wasn’t enjoying my baby… at least not very much. I absolutely adored her, but I was drowning in a sea of postpartum anxiety, and breastfeeding was not going at all well. And I felt terrible for allowing myself to be so bogged down in these things that I wasn’t enjoying my baby. I sobbed my heart out to my husband, wondering if in persevering with breastfeeding, I was the agent of my own unhappiness. I would never get this time with my baby back. What if I was squandering these precious months struggling to breastfeed, when I could just stop and maybe we would all be happier?
I wrestled with these thoughts during seemingly-endless days and nights as I tried to decide if breastfeeding was worth it. What my baby needed. What my goals were. What my breaking point was. How to make a decision which was right for both of us. I tried to think about how I had felt when my other babies were the same age. Had I ever ‘enjoyed’ a newborn? Actually… not really. And I was totally ok with that.
It was a lightbulb moment. Because it’s perfectly normal to find the newborn daze really tough going in one way or another! Breastfeeding went pretty smoothly with my first child, but the broken sleep nearly drove me out of my mind. My second was a happy easy baby, but living halfway across the country from family with a toddler and a newborn was lonely and miserable. My thirdborn had epic feeding struggles and cried day and night, and breastfeeding has been difficult again the fourth time around. I wouldn’t say I ‘enjoyed’ any of those babies. But oh how I loved them.
It might seem obvious (and a bit embarrassing that it took me nearly 8 years to get there) but the idea that loving my babies did not necessarily mean I would live happily in baby land was a revelation. I felt suddenly free to get on with the hard things, without the additional emotional burden of wondering if there was something wrong with me for finding them hard.
3 months in to life with baby number 4, breastfeeding remains our Hard Thing. C2 is a fussy and irritable feeder, and still needs a lot of support to feel safe and comfortable at the breast, as well as to get enough milk. My anxiety about this has made it hard for me to be in sync with her and while things do seem to be improving, it’s slow and tedious and placing a lot of limits on life. And I have felt an undercurrent of unspoken pressure to let it go – because if I would just quit with this breastfeeding thing, life could be happier, easier, and maybe I would enjoy my baby more.
But I believe in breastfeeding. I believe that breastmilk is what her little body needs. I believe in trying to work out what the problems are and seeing if they can be fixed. I believe that the time and effort it takes to do that is part of getting to know my baby and learning to love her for who she is – Hard Things and all – and I’ve made peace with the hard-ness of it. And if no matter how much I slog my guts out the Hard Thing becomes coping with not breastfeeding her? Well, I guess that will just be another opportunity for the joy of doing something hard for someone I love.