7 Ways Breastfeeding Helped Me Reclaim My Sense Of Self

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When I was in the early days of struggling to feed my newborn son, I never, ever thought I’d eventually be writing a piece about how the process of breastfeeding helped me reclaim my sense of self. My sense of self was one of the furthest things from my mind at the time, actually: buried deeply beneath concerns over whether or not my baby was getting enough nourishment, fears of whether or not I was failing miserably as a mom, and questions about how to tell which bodily fluid was smeared on my shirt because it was 3 a.m. and dark and my eyes were half-shut when it happened.

However, wonder of all wonders, breastfeeding eventually clicked for my son and I, slowly but surely and like many other aspects of parenting. In fact, not only did it click, but we found a rhythm, a routine, and managed to keep it up for over two years. If Future-Dena had tried to tell me, as New-Mom-Dena, that such a thing was possible, I’d have thrown my nursing pillow at her and completely disregarded her crazy talk while simultaneously assuming I was simply hallucinating from exhaustion. Breastfeeding seemed impossible at first, but in the end it eventually worked. In fact, not only did it work, it taught me a number of things about my son and about our relationship and about my own sense of self.

Because I Knew, Deep Down, It Was Ultimately My Decision

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I’m not sure about everyone else, but asking myself the same question ("Do I want to keep breastfeeding?"), over and over again, and coming up with the same answer (which in this case was “Yes, I want to keep trying/attempting/doing this") made me feel pretty strongly about that choice. Plus, while everyone is entitled to their own opinion about breastfeeding, I felt ownership over the fact that their opinions ultimately didn’t matter (except for my doctor and my partner, who were allowed to weigh in). It was my call, and no one else's.  

Because I Had To Be Clear When I Asked For Help And What I Was Asking For

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Whether it was asking for a nursing pillow that was forgotten in another room, for the phone that I dropped, for a few minutes of space, or for a certain bottle of breast milk in the fridge to be warmed up for a specific amount of time, I was overseeing the small details too. Not that my partner wasn’t crucial to the process — because he totally was in many ways — but he was also very much following my lead and and responding to the needs of both me and the baby. It was up to me to make sure I was communicating them efficiently.

Because There Are A Million Small Choices To Make When It Comes To Breastfeeding

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It’s not just about, "Should I stop or should I continue?”. It’s also, "Should I pump at work or drop some feedings?” and, “Should I supplement or breastfeed exclusively?”, and, "Should I try a new position or stick with what works?” or, "Should I store pumped milk in bags or ice cube trays?” and, “Should I stream from Netflix or Amazon Prime?” And, if you think I’m kidding about that last one, then you might have magical abilities to stay awake during a late-night feeding.

Seriously though, the more decisions I made, not only about continuing to breastfeed, but just how I wanted to breastfeed, the more I owned that process.

Because It Helped Shape My Identity As A New Mom

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Perhaps, if I was more confident in my abilities as a mom, I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself to breastfeed. However, that simply wasn't the case. It was one of the things I believed I was supposed to do, so doing it made me feel like I was at least getting something right.  

As I grew more secure in my parenting, I let go of this belief, but in those early days it was a huge part of my identity as a parent.

Because I Was Proud Of Overcoming The Challenges

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I mean, I've never summited a giant mountain, or won a Nobel Prize, or met Oprah, but I imagine all those incredible experiences feel somewhat similar to getting the hang of breastfeeding. It was awesome to finally get comfortable with the process, and it gave me a huge boost of confidence and belief in myself.

Because It Was A Whole New Experience For Me And My Body

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If only we can prepare to breastfeed before breastfeeding actually happens. Alas, bodies don't quite work that way. Much like childbirth, breastfeeding is like those spinning gravity rides at fairs: the only way to know what it's like is to get on the ride. I found it to be a whole new world, complete with new vocabulary, strange machinery, and various leaky fluids.

Because I Was Able To Use The Time To Read And Check In With People (In Addition To Staring At My Baby Lovingly, Of Course)

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Of course, I wasn't on my phone the whole time. However, when you're forced to sit still and feed your baby six or eight times a day, for an average of 20 or 30 minutes at a time, for months on end? Yeah, you'll multi-task a little bit.

Using that time to touch base with friends and family, or to skim Twitter and read the latest headlines, made me feel more like me than many of the new mom tasks I was juggling.