There are so many thing that, as a mother who has carried and birthed a baby, you'll get to experience that your partner won't or can't. They won't know what it's like to feel someone kick you from the inside. They won't know what it's like to poop in front of a bunch of strangers, and it be totally normal. If you choose and are able to, there are things your partner just won't understand about breastfeeding, either. So many of these wonderful albeit difficult albeit amazing albeit exhausting situations that only breastfeeding can provide, are yours and yours alone. For better or for worse, my friend.
In so many ways, this is great. I think that if both partners were able to experience absolutely every part of parenthood together, they'd burn out. I know that for me, personally, it helped that my partner was physically unable to get pregnant or birth another human being or breastfeed. I was able to lean on him and have him aid me in ways that, if he was in the same amount of pain or was just as exhausted or was just as nervous/scared/excited as I was, he wouldn't have been able to facilitate. I was able to ask things of him that, if he was pregnant or if he was in labor or if he was breastfeeding, I wouldn't be able to ask, because he would be just as busy and working just as hard. I mean, that's partnership, right? Being able to lean one another and help one another, even and especially when you can't completely understand what your partner is going through?
Would it be nice if my partner had milk-producing breasts and could have handled a few night feedings every now and then (or always)? You freakin' bet. I can't tell you how many times I have wished that was the case. Did I need my partner to listen to me and try to at least be empathetic, even he couldn't completely understand what I was going through when I was breastfeeding? Absolutely, and every partner should if they want to be supportive of their breastfeeding partner. Still, there are things your partner can't possibly understand about breastfeeding, and while it would be nice if they could, it is also pretty great that some parts are just for you.
How Exhausting It Can Be
Not only do you burn more daily calories when you breastfeed, but you get less sleep. Because you're the only source of your person's nutrition, you'll be the one waking up every few hours and sacrificing your sleep in the name of someone else and their seemingly endless appetite. It's unbelievably exhausting, and it's difficult to realize or appreciate or understand just how exhausting it is, until you're the one being asked to give up your sleep and your time and your energy and your extra calories.
Why It's Not As Easy As It Looks
I remember "preparing" to breastfeed, thinking there wasn't really any preparation involved. All the breastfeeding I witnessed, either in the media or when my friends fed their kid, seems so effortless and easy. I assumed that my breastfeeding experience would be the same. Yeah, I was wrong. You can't possibly know how difficult it can be, until you're trying to get your baby to latch and you're engorged and in pain and exhausted and certain breastfeeding positions aren't working and your baby is crying and you kind of want to crawl into a hole.
How Difficult It Can Be To Give Up Body Autonomy
For me, personally, the loss of complete body autonomy was the hardest part about breastfeeding. I naively thought that, after my pregnancy ended, I would "get my body back," meaning I would feel like I was completely in control of my being. Yeah, not so much. It's impossible to know how that feels; To be touched out; To not want another human being, even one you care very deeply for, to hug you because you're so tired of being in constant contact with someone.
How It Can Make You Mad...
Sometimes, I would get so mad that I had to be the one to breastfeed. I mean, I loved and was very thankful that I had the ability to feed my child with my body (formula is expensive) but, still, sometimes I just didn't want to. Sometimes I just wanted to keep sleeping or not pop a boob out in public or hand my baby off to someone else so they could handle feeding him. I was legit mad at times, because I was so exhausted and being constantly needed in such a large capacity is, well, stressful.
...And You Will Resent The Fact That You Can Do It...
There were plenty of moments when, in the middle of the night, I would look at my partner and wish he could magically grow milk-producing boobs so I could be the one loudly snoring and he could be the one tending to our child. It was, at times, so frustrating that breastfeeding fell entirely on me. I mean, yeah that's how it works and science and whatever, but why can't men be like seahorses and reproducing can be their "thing?" I mean, that would be kind of nice. Maybe.
...Even Though You're Happy That You're Able To
The feelings associated with breastfeeding are usually complex and contradictory. You can love it and hate it, simultaneously. You can wish someone else could do it but the moment you no longer can, you're sad. I loved that I was able to breastfeed my son for as long as I did, but there were times when I wished I didn't have to. All of those feelings are valid and one doesn't negate the other and, well, it's difficult to understand what it's like to be bombarded with juxtaposing views on the regular, until you're the one breastfeeding.
What It Feels Like To Be Judged...
Most people aren't strangers to judgement. You definitely don't have to be a breastfeeding mother to know what it's like to have someone raise their eyebrows and/or shame your choices and experiences. However, there's a special judgment reserved for women who breastfeed, especially for an extended period of time and especially in public without a cover. Until you're in that position and exposed and being yelled out by some random stranger who thinks you're being "inappropriate," you won't know what it's like to feel so vulnerable while you're doing something so powerful.
...Or Shamed In Public
Unless you've been yelled at for enjoying your lunch, you just don't know what it's like. I mean, when you stop and think about how ridiculous it all is (yelling at a woman for feeding her child) it's sort of unbelievable that this is happening. In 2016. Still. And, like, all the time.
How Guilty You'll Feel When You Wean And/Or Stop
It was so difficult for me to explain the guilt I felt when my breastfeeding experience ended, to my partner. He couldn't understand why I would feel guilty. I mean, I had breastfed our son exclusively for seven months; I had sacrificed sleep and time and my body; I had voiced how difficult it had been, but pushed through those difficulties anyway; I was, honestly, ready to end breastfeeding. He was right and I had done all of those things and felt all of those things, but I still felt guilty. Breastfeeding was still hard to give up, and when I did, I felt like I had failed.
Why You're Willing To Sacrifice So Much To Make Breastfeeding Work...
For someone who can't experience breastfeeding (or simply doesn't want to), it can be difficult to understand why you'd be willing to put yourself in certain situations and/or work through potentially painful scenarios. It can be hard to understand why you would try everything under the sun to up your production or push through the triggers breastfeeding can cause when you're a sexual assault survivor or open yourself up to constant criticism when you breastfeed in public. I get it, and that's why I will be the first to support any woman who doesn't want to sacrifice all of the above (or more) in order to breastfeed. But when it's important to you and you want to do it, those sacrifices are worth it.
...And Why Pointing Out Formula As An Option Isn't Helpful
I know that my partner was just trying to help me when I was at my lowest and most exhausted by telling me that we could always go to the store and buy formula, but it wasn't helpful. It's hard to understand why, because it seems so logical, but when breastfeeding is your goal and you're determined to make it work (as long as it's safe and healthy to do so) hearing about easy alternatives is more hurtful than helpful.
How It Feels...
It's impossible to adequately explain. It just, is. It's weird and cool and strange and odd and it sometimes it hurts but it usually doesn't and it's just unbelievable and empowering and makes you feel vulnerable and maternal. It's just unreal, and until you experience it for yourself, you'll never really know what that feeling is like.
...And Why, Even When It Sucks, It's Amazing
For as difficult as breastfeeding can be, it's just as wonderful. For as painful and exhausting, it's just as amazing. Obviously, every woman's breastfeeding experience is different and many women hate breastfeeding, but if you are one of the ones who enjoyed it, even if you had to struggle through it at times, you'll probably fail to describe just why it can suck and be wonderful, simultaneously. You'll probably fail to make someone understand that even when you're way past tired and all you want to do is sleep and you're up in the middle of the night trying to get your baby latch and feeling frustrated, the moment they do erases everything and you feel completely at peace.
Sure, your partner will never understand the struggles you will face when you breastfeed, but they'll never experience that incredible bond only you and your baby share, either.