A few months ago I accomplished something so very dear to my heart: I achieved my one year exclusive breastfeeding goal!
For me, the challenge of breastfeeding has been one of the mind as well as the body. I have faced some physical setbacks while nursing, but the main enemies to my goal were ones I created myself: insecurity, anxiety, and fear. Overcoming these mental and emotional barriers has been necessary work.
A nasty bladder infection and a misinformed ER doc led me to introduce formula when Scribble was five days old. Once the antibiotics were out of my system, I started nursing exclusively again, and re-set my breastfeeding goal to one year…and five days! Later, oversupply and overactive letdown threatened to turn me a nervous wreck before Scribble was even three months old.
My supply balanced out, then bottomed out after Scribble started sleeping through and eating solids. He began striking frequently and biting hard. He didn’t gain an ounce for two months. My pediatrician’s office gave the dreaded recommendation: supplement.
After careful thought, I decided not to. Choosing not to supplement was probably the first time in my life that I ignored the advice of a doctor, and it took a considerable leap of faith for this first-time mom. But with the help of a certified lactation consultant, I began a pumping schedule that helped boost my supply and Scribble’s weight.
At times my dogged determination to breastfeed exclusively would falter: a bad weigh-in, deep bite, or frustrating pumping session would completely unravel my confidence. I began to cope with the frustration by imagining what it was like for the throngs of nursing mothers who came before me. I told myself that women had been nursing for the whole of history, and that their solution to a problem was often the simplest: nurse more frequently or wait it out. Oversupply issue? Wait it out. Undersupply or weight issue? Nurse more. Bad latch? Nurse more, then wait it out.
Eventually, this idea became my “happy place.” In my mind’s eye I would imagine a pioneer mother, somewhere out in the middle of a prairie, calmly rocking and nursing her baby while she looked out the front door of her cozy little cabin. I imagined her view to be a picture of loveliness: grassy fields, a sunset, cirrus clouds in the distance. Birds chirping and wind whistling through tall grasses. No knowledge of weight charts or percentiles. Sometimes she was a cave woman, or a medieval peasant living in a thatched roof cottage. Anyone I could imagine to help put the nagging doubts away for a moment or two.
Of course this “view” is unrealistic. For starters, I am sure women in bygone ages were far more modest than the women I imagined; they probably didn’t breastfeed on the front porch of their cave. Nor did they have time to sit and look out a window (they probably didn’t have a window to begin with), when they had to raise their children and support their families without the gadgets that make modern life so comfortable.
And I know there have always been alternatives to nursing, like employing wet nurses, using homemade formulas, introducing solid foods early, and community nursing. I am deeply grateful for formula. I understand the value of weight charts, although they have caused me no end of anxiety (percentiles on the other hand I might actually hate). Indeed, my happy place was a work of historical fiction.
But still, the mental metaphor stuck with me. I will admit I do become frustrated at how easy access to information often works to derail mothers and negate their intuition, sometimes to the detriment of their children. And so my little bucolic mindscape, although inaccurate and ahistorical, came to represent how motherhood might look if I didn’t surrender myself to that din of information. It was a meditative trick that helped me reset my thought patterns back to a place of calm. Just as looking at a starry night sky helps me to realize that I am a small part of a vast universe, my “happy place” helped me to put my setbacks in proper perspective. I began to see myself as part of a bigger landscape of mothers, in this day and in the past, who faced the same challenges and, by choice or necessity, overcame them.
Do you have any “happy places” that help you to cope with the challenges of parenting? How do you overcome the mental obstacles you’ve confronted while parenting?