My husband and I only dated a year and half before we were married. Since nearly half of that time was spent navigating a long-distance relationship, I didn't have much of a chance to get to know my in-laws. We played board games together a few times, I joined them for a short trip to the lake near my college, and his mom helped me plan our wedding. I didn't talk about breastfeeding with my mother-in-law or my father-in-law or about raising kids at all. We never discussed what it would be like to form new bonds together, and forever, with each other. Even though I knew I liked my in-laws when I married my husband, I also knew we had a long way to go before we were going to feel like family.
Two years later, when I found out I was pregnant with our first child, I was nervous about how the dynamic of our relationship would change. Honestly, I had a lot of friends who fought with their in-laws on a regular basis over child rearing. I'd listened to so many horror stories about mother-in-laws who crossed the line, who cut their grandkid's hair without permission or criticized their daughter-in-laws for breastfeeding or formula feeding or spanking or not spanking.
So, when my daughter arrived, I had my guard up. I expected my mother-in-law to cross the line, to meddle, or to criticize my parenting choices. My own attitude about the whole thing made for a difficult start, especially since my mother-in-law was so eager to help. But three years later, I can see just how much her eagerness to help, especially with my breastfeeding struggles, completely changed our relationship.
Here's the thing: My mother-in-law is labor and delivery nurse. She also has a special certification that allows her to work as a lactation consultant with the new moms who give birth in her hospital. As you can imagine, her special knowledge and training could be a blessing or it could be a curse.
I had a low milk supply, I had a pretty rough breastfeeding symptom called D-MER (which meant I felt depressed every time my milk let down), and my daughter weaned earlier than I would have liked because of my low supply. I can't help but wonder, looking back, would my mother-in-law have had advice for me that would have made the whole experience less stressful?
For example, the very first time she offered her advice, I was really taken aback. I was sitting on the couch opposite to her, struggling under my nursing cover to get my fussy baby to latch and my mother-in-law sat down next to me and offered to help. It was so awkward, for obvious reasons (like my bare breast), and I refused her help. Now? I wish I hadn't.
I wish I'd been more open to her help because I stubbornly worked through endless struggles during my first breastfeeding experience without reaching out for her help. I had a low milk supply, I had a pretty rough breastfeeding symptom called D-MER (which meant I felt depressed every time my milk let down), and my daughter weaned earlier than I would have liked because of my low supply. I can't help but wonder, looking back, would my mother-in-law have had advice for me that would have made the whole experience less stressful?
When my second daughter arrived, I resolved to be more open to her advice. I asked her questions when I was struggling with pain or my daughter wasn't breastfeeding well. She offered advice, but she also offered something more valuable: empathy.
Before, it felt like the only things we had in common was our love for my husband and our love of coffee. Breastfeeding gave us something to talk about, and our mutual love for my children has become a common thread in our relationship, even when we disagree.
Since my mother-in-law breastfed three children of her own and dealt with supply issues and getting bit by a teething child more than once, she could offer me the support my husband couldn't. There was something so comforting about her knowing nod, about her retelling stories of her own breastfeeding woes, about the fact that she reaffirmed time and time again that I was doing the best I could.
Breastfeeding has changed my relationship with my mother-in-law for the better. Before, it felt like the only things we had in common was our love for my husband and our love of coffee. Breastfeeding gave us something to talk about, and our mutual love for my children has become a common thread in our relationship, even when we disagree. If I could go back to the very beginning, to the awkward conversations over wedding planning and baby showers and breastfeeding my very first babe, I would be more open. I'd toss all of the stories I heard about "monster-in-laws" out of my mind and I'd give my mother-in-law a fair chance, without all of my preconceived notions of what our relationship would be.