I have no problem admitting jealousy. The little green monster is a friend. Not a good friend — like the kind you can count on to answer the phone when you call at midnight — but jealousy is still a friend. Because it teaches me something. The places where I feel I lack. The things I must be most sensitive to. It doesn’t just spew distaste. It opens my eyes, as long as I let it. And that jealousy surfaced over my friend's ability to breastfeed, it was hard to get past.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to breastfeed. I liked the idea of the magical, wondrous process that it appeared to be — my body literally creating food for my baby to eat. But I wasn’t sure I wanted my baby attached to me, feeding. I pictured piglets, and puppies. Cute, but more animal than the way I saw me. Then, of course, he came.
Suddenly, I wanted to be all the things he could ever need. I wanted to feed him because I could — even though it still didn’t feel great to me. I wanted to show up, and show him and my husband and myself (and if we’re being honest, the world) that I was good at motherhood, and that seemed like one surefire way to do so.
So I started pumping and hydrating, and using cold pads and nipple balm and all of the things that had shown to make the process easier, and more abundant. And my baby ate easily. He was so easy. I thought it should have been easy for me.
But it wasn’t.
I would pump and then compare with how much other people procured in one session. I would lament that I didn’t produce more "liquid gold." I started to think of myself as a vessel, instead of my baby’s home. A vessel that wasn’t working. A vessel that couldn’t be good if it couldn’t do the things that it should. And then, one day, I just gave up.
She didn’t struggle with the pregnancy, or the birth. And she really didn’t struggle with breastfeeding.
One of my dearest friends got pregnant shortly thereafter. I thought she’d want to turn to me with questions about pregnancy, and the birth, and breastfeeding. I imagined my struggles would be hers, and I would talk her down from the ledge when she needed it — that she would find refuge in me.
But she didn’t struggle with the pregnancy, or the birth. And she really didn’t struggle with breastfeeding. If there were a breastfeeding Olympics, I swear to god she would take a medal. She just welcomed her son in her arms, and started mass producing. She posted pics on Instagram, “100 percent breastmilk fed,” and every time, I would feel two things. One: an incredible, painful swell of jealousy. Two: an incredible, painful swell of shame.
I was happy for her. I was happy for her beautiful, plump, healthy baby. But mostly, I was filled with jealousy.
It was somehow a reminder that I wasn’t as good a mother. A reminder that I wasn’t naturally inclined to help my baby thrive. A reminder that my main skill in mothering was lacking. It was a reminder that those that come before me and even those that come after me will all be better than me.
My friend was excellent at breastfeeding. Her Instagram feed shows she’s excellent at so many of the mothering things.
I realize now, as time passes, that the only place I need to be is a place of forgiveness. I need to forgive my body. For not being a medal. For not producing liquid gold like it was going out of style. For not being a champion. My body is a place that not only housed my baby — it houses me. Maybe there wasn’t enough to go around, during that time that he was little and I’d just given birth.
That time in which I felt like an object that had just been placed in the lost and found. Maybe I wasn’t ready to be a vessel. Maybe I was still trying to take care of myself. Maybe I’ll excel at other things with him in this life. Things like talking about his feelings and studying the complexity of a flower and riding bikes to make us feel like we were born with wings.
My friend was excellent at breastfeeding. Her Instagram feed shows she’s excellent at so many of the mothering things. Ultimately, my heart tells me I am so happy that her body made it an easy and joyous move into the world of mothering. I’m happy her baby got all of that good stuff she made. I’m happy to know someone for whom mothering looks like a little bit smoother of a sailing trip. Because that, too informs me. Mothering is multifaceted, and a lifelong journey.
This is bigger than the first six months, or two years, of our child’s life. My lack didn’t start with breastfeeding and it won’t end there either. My lack is the other side of my abundance, and my abundance sits in other realms — and it, too, will feed my baby.