Actually, Breastfeeding Helped Me Love My Body
It started when I didn’t pass my blood sugar test. My sugar was too high, which put me at risk for gestational diabetes. This is what my husband, and I worried about, because gestational diabetes meant I couldn’t deliver with the midwife, at the birth center, like I wanted. My pregnancy journey was tough. I didn't love my body during pregnancy. But I'd hoped that breastfeeding would help me love my body in a way that pregnancy never could. Following the appointment, I was bummed out when I came home and changed my clothes. I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror when I accidentally brushed my breast. A thick, clear-yellow colostrum beaded up. Suddenly, the fear of gestational diabetes had gone. I was making milk. Milk! I felt as if my body hadn’t betrayed me at all, but had succeeded instead. I was so proud of myself that I called my husband to come see. Bless him, he didn’t make fun of me, but instead said it was “cool." I was so proud of him for supporting my excitement about breastfeeding, not minimizing it. It made me love him even more.
My first son was born in the hospital, with a wonderful resident who swore she was getting him out without a c-section. I’d pushed for three hours when there was a sudden twist: Blaise turned from sunny-side up, or posterior, position, and then a baby was dropped onto my stomach. He immediately cried, and I did what I was supposed to: I held my nipple in a c-position and rubbed it against his lips. He latched on immediately and breastfed for an entire hour. I had failed at an unmedicated birth at a birth center, and I’d danced perilously close to a c-section — something I personally did not want to do if I could help it. But here was something my body was doing right, and my son was doing right, and we were doing right together: we were breastfeeding.
I didn't "bounce back," and I felt like sh*t about it. But my ability to breastfeed mitigated that feeling. My body might not feel like my own, but I was making milk and feeding my baby. That was a high I couldn't compare to.
I loved that my body made milk for my son. I felt so much pride in feeding him. When he developed milk/soy protein intolerance later on, I gladly cut foods out of my diet so he could keep breastfeeding. And I was proud of that; proud of that willpower, proud of that sacrifice. I could control my body. I’d gained a lot of weight — 60 pounds — during my pregnancy, so the idea that I could control what I ate helped me “forgive myself” for the weight I’d gained. Not that there was anything wrong with gaining that weight; it just wasn’t my self-conception, and it was really, really hard for me to accept.
I didn't "bounce back" the way celebrities always seem to — a phrase I hate, by the way, since you just delivered a baby and your body needs time to recover. I was heavier by far. I couldn't hike as far or as fast. My belly was saggy and baggy and crepe-y and falling down. There's pressure to look like a Barbie immediately after birth, especially when you looked like a Barbie doll beforehand, which I had. I didn't "bounce back," and I felt like sh*t about it. But my ability to breastfeed mitigated that feeling. My body might not feel like my own, but I was making milk and feeding my baby. That was a high I couldn't compare to.
I couldn’t totally hate something that gave my son such a gift.
In fact, I hated my postpartum body. I felt fat — the kind of negativity associated with the word fat, the lack of willpower, the sloppiness, the societal judgment. I grew up being called "skinny Minnie" in a family full of perpetual, overweight dieters. Thin was part of my identity. And suddenly it wasn't. Every body is beautiful, but mine wasn't, despite the fact that I’d just grown a human being. But no matter how much I disliked my body, I couldn’t hate it totally: it made milk for my son. He didn’t care if my breasts had stretch marks, and when I bared them to breastfeed him in public, I never worried about anyone noticing them.
Even my pooch of a stomach helped me breastfeed. Blaise laid comfortably across it, cuddled into it. I remembered as a kid loving my grandmother’s soft stomach, how cuddly and comfortable it was. Blaise got that cuddling and comfort when we breastfed in certain positions. I couldn’t totally hate something that gave my son such a gift.
Breastfeeding my son saved my body image with my second son as well. I’d gained a whopping 70 pounds during my pregnancy him, and I felt horrible about myself. I wore a belly binder all the time postpartum, and I wanted nothing more than to return to my pre-pregnancy weight. But my body did something amazing: both my older son, Blaise, and my baby, August, tandem breastfed. They breastfed separately, and on occasion, they breastfed together, at the same time.
Like his brothers, he doesn’t care about the crepe-y skin or my stretch marks. He doesn’t worry about the ridged texture of faded marks on my breasts. All he cares about is his own warm, comfy mama, giving him his favorite "mama milk."
My body made enough milk for both of them — enough that Blaise went to an almost totally all-milk diet for about two weeks. I was amazed at my body, my body, which could feed not one, but two children, one of them a toddler. I still wasn’t thrilled with my weight, or my belly, but I respected my body: it was something that could do such amazing, outstanding things. I tandem breastfed my second and third sons as well, and I felt that same pride, that same amazement, that I’d felt the first time.
I didn’t like my postpartum body. Some days, I still don’t. But it’s always mitigated by my ability to breastfeed my babies as newborns and as toddlers. My youngest son, now 2-and-half years old, will lay down with me and he cuddles into my soft stomach. Like his brothers, he doesn’t care about the crepe-y skin or my stretch marks. He doesn’t worry about the ridged texture of faded marks on my breasts. All he cares about is his own warm, comfy mama, giving him his favorite "mama milk." Breastfeeding has done so many amazing things for my children — and for me. It also saved my body image. And for that, I’m grateful.