For all of the wonderful things that breastfeeding makes me feel, the one thing I never really expected was just how lonely breastfeeding can be. Of course I know that even though breastfeeding is mostly a solo act I can pump and my husband can give the baby a bottle, but the reality is feeding the baby is primarily my job, and I am OK with that. Even after three years and two kids, I’ve loved my breastfeeding journey for the most part. There have been soaring highs and treacherous lows, but I’ve enjoyed the bonding moments, staring lovingly into my daughters' eyes, mesmerized by their fragile features, feeling the oxytocin course through us as the bonds thread themselves between us.
But even still, I find myself feeling lonely many days, especially since the birth of my second daughter just a few months ago. In fact, just recently, my in-laws were visiting us and I spent evenings on the couch breastfeeding the baby while they enjoyed the meals I cooked gathered happily around the dinner table. Currently, I'm tandem breastfeeding my toddler and my newborn, and my older daughter was and still is an excellent nursling. When the boob is out, that’s all she is focused on – distractions be damned. But my newborn daughter is different in so many ways.
She's a colicky baby, and her inconsolable fits usually begin in the evening, coincidentally just as I've finished making dinner (notice how I didn’t say after I've finished eating dinner). During these fits, she doesn’t want anyone but me. We’ve tried everything to calm her during these times, but the only thing that really works is me talking calmly to her, bouncing her on my shoulder, and then finally offering her the breast when she's calmed down enough to take it. Many nights I sit by watching my family enjoy their meal while I wait for the baby to be calm enough so I can eat, or so someone can relieve me and hold her.
Sitting in the living room breastfeeding the baby by myself while everyone enjoys the meals I've made makes me feel lonely and left out. I miss partaking in the action, and the moments, the memories, the laughs — I'm not a part of any of it.
I know it shouldn’t bother me because it's part of parenthood, but it does sometimes. Growing up, meals were a family experience for me. It’s when we talked about our days, or told inappropriate but absurdly funny jokes. The chef of the meal would get to watch with satisfaction as we devoured the home-cooked deliciousness. Now, as an adult I am the chef, and one of my favorite things is to watch my family enjoy the food I’ve made for them, and to talk and laugh about our days – especially when my kids' grandparents are in town. But sitting in the living room breastfeeding the baby by myself while everyone enjoys the meals I've made makes me feel lonely and left out. I miss partaking in the action, and the moments, the memories, the laughs — I'm not a part of any of it. I would breastfeed at the table if my daughter would cooperate, but more often than not I need absolute peace and quiet to calm her down long enough just to feed her.
When it's 11 o'clock at night and she won't stop crying and I am downstairs with her in the dark on the rocking chair, that's what I feel the most alone. In those moments, I've literally never felt so alone in my life, to the point where I'm crying along with the baby and don't even realize it.
In all of the loneliness though, the person I feel the worst for is my husband, believe it or not. I know he wishes he could help me more — I can see it on his face whenever he watches me struggle with the baby. He can see me near-meltdown and it pains him because when he takes the baby from me, he knows it only upsets her more. We've tried giving her pumped bottles so he can take some of the pressure off of me, but she hates it.
But when it's 11 o'clock at night and she won't stop crying and I am downstairs with her in the dark on the rocking chair, that's what I feel the most alone. In those moments, I've literally never felt so alone in my life, to the point where I'm crying along with the baby and don't even realize it. I desperately want to breastfeed her, but she won't let me, and I know without a doubt that if she just let me she'd fall back asleep, but during her fits, she refuses. I pray to God to make me strong so I don't give up, but I want to so bad. I don't want to wake up my husband because he has to work the next day and because he's sleeping with our eldest, but I can't endure another minute of loneliness. And just when I think I'm about to crack, I hear the bedroom door open upstairs and his pants rustle as he comes down the stairs, and I breathe a sigh of relief.
I may often be consumed by my loneliness, but I remember we are in this together. For a minute, for a second, for an hour — the memory that I am supported carries me through my darkest moments. Even though he can't help me much, just knowing he is there with me somehow takes the edge off. He'll come down the stairs and take the baby from me, just long enough so that I can get my sanity back. I thank God for those interventions. I thank God for him.
I know that as they say, this too shall pass, but it can be hard to remember that when it's just you and the baby again and again and again, night after night after night. I had such an easy breastfeeding relationship with my first daughter that my second daughter has challenged me in ways I never expected. I know that as she gets older, it will get better, the colic will go away, and my husband will be able to help more, but right now, I am in the throes of it all – and loneliness just happens to be my constant companion.