The first time I was ushered into a back room to breastfeed, my first child was only a few weeks old. I was at a get-together and the company there was mixed. I sat down in the living room and started fishing around for a nursing cover when the hostess came up to me and offered to show me her bedroom so I could have some privacy. To this day, I’m honestly not sure if she was uncomfortable with my choice to breastfeed in her living room or if she was just trying to help me find a comfortable place to breastfeed my baby. As a first-time mom, I was hypersensitive and already so uncomfortable with the whole breastfeeding thing, so her request felt more like a requirement, whether or not she intended it that way. I followed her back to her bedroom, settle into a chair and spent 45 minutes alone, missing dinner altogether, hating that breastfeeding made me feel so alone.
After the experience, I felt self-conscious about breastfeeding my baby in public anywhere. I never felt sure enough of myself to just go for it when it came to breastfeeding in other people’s homes. I’m a peacekeeper to a fault, and I was too afraid to risk offending the host of whatever event I was at. So, I got used to spending a lot of time in bedrooms and basements, feeding my child out of sight. These experiences made feel isolated. Breastfeeding made me feel awful and alone until I reclaimed my right to breastfeed my child in public.
It wasn’t long before I started to feel resentful of the whole experience. Breastfeeding was hard enough, with the early morning feedings, the sore nipples, and the nonstop struggle to maintain my milk supply. I also had a truly awful experience with a condition called D-MER that gave me a jolting wave of depression every time my milk letdown. When it became a lonely experience, when it started to mean hiding away with my baby anytime I was in public, I really wanted to throw in the towel.
There were family gatherings where I was ushered into a back room and fellow mothers who made the habit of adjusting my cover anytime I tried to breastfeed in public. Once, when I was caught out and about running errands and had to feed my daughter, a dad made his family move out of eyesight when he saw me get out my nursing cover.
I had really internalized that first experience but it wasn't the only time I felt pressure to hide while I nursed my daughter. There were family gatherings where I was ushered into a back room and fellow mothers who made the habit of adjusting my cover anytime I tried to breastfeed in public. Once, when I was caught out and about running errands and had to feed my daughter, a dad made his family move out of eyesight when he saw me get out my nursing cover. It felt like every time I worked up the bravery to just go for it, someone was making me feel uncomfortable for feeding my child.
When I did go out to dinner or a get-together in a friend’s home and had to excuse myself to feed my baby, I always felt this huge fear of missing out. Was everyone having fun without me?
Motherhood can be so isolating. When my husband returned to work, I spent my maternity leave at home, alone with a baby who seemed to only care about the milk I provided. Feeling like I couldn’t breastfeed in public only made matters worse. I started to decline invitations, knowing I'd probably spend more time alone than I would socializing with my friends. When I did go out to dinner or a get-together in a friend’s home and had to excuse myself to feed my baby, I always felt this huge fear of missing out. Was everyone having fun without me?
I remember rushing my baby to finish up, which only made me more frustrated because a hungry newborn is a fussy newborn. I hated that something that felt so important and special — feeding my child — was getting in the way of the time for connection with friends I needed so desperately during the huge transition of becoming a mother.
During my second pregnancy, I began to feel anxious at the very thought of breastfeeding. I dreaded all of that time spent alone and I worried that I'd have to same struggles with a low milk supply and D-MER that I did the first time around. Somewhere in my third trimester, something switched me and I realized that my first priority was my child, not the comfort of everyone around me. If I needed to feed my baby, I didn’t need to stay home or run off to hide somewhere, it was OK for me to do whatever made the most comfortable.
When my second daughter was about 4 months old, my husband and I went out with some friends to grab a bite and watch a World Series game. While I sat there in the booth, surrounded by childless friends, breastfeeding my child without a thought, I realized how far I'd come as a mother. A single shift in thinking, that I was able to do what is best for my child and myself without an explanation to anyone else, made all of the difference. I was happy, I was comfortable, and most importantly, I wasn’t alone.