Liquid gold. A miracle. Mother’s milk. The breastmilk hype is real. Squirt some into your eye to cure an infection, the internet tells you. Squirt it up your baby’s nose when they are congested. Douse yourself in breast milk. There’s just one problem: I find milk revolting. Breastfeeding disgusted me.
That didn’t deter the breastfeeding mafia:
Breastfeeding builds a healthy immune system and boosts brain development.
Breastfeeding means no bottles to clean and no expensive formula to buy.
Breastfeed actually burns calories and shrinks your uterus so you’ll get your body back faster.
Breastfeeding can help children avoid asthma, eczema, diabetes and even death.
Breastfeeding blah blah blah.
I get it. Breastfeeding is best. But whether it comes from a cow or a goat or my very own breasts, milk is the most vile liquid on this earth. I loathe milk so much I don’t even like touching it when it’s spilled. So feeding my little human from my breast every three to four hours hours was a bit of an uphill battle.
I was born allergic to milk before it was fashionable. Back in the early '70s, little was known about food allergies. After I had trouble digesting formula, my mother learned she needed to feed me soy milk. But by the time I was off formula and onto solids no one knew I was still allergic. Hence, I was fed milk products. It would be decades before it was clear that milk and I were going to be mortal enemies for life.
Every single night a giant glass of milk was presented with my dinner. It haunted me. My mother wasn’t trying to torture me. She thought I needed calcium, and she didn’t know milk was making me sick. This went on until right around my sixteenth birthday, when I realized I had the power to take a stand. I haven’t touched milk since.
Until I became a mom.
Every single person said, just do it. It’s what’s best for the baby. Yes, yes, of course. I’ll do it. I want the best for my baby. So I gave in. I breastfed.
As a first-time pregnant woman I was a diligent student. I read all the books, monitored the websites and attended classes. The message was hammered home — breastfeed your baby or don’t show your face out in public. A growing dread loomed over my life. I tried to tell people I didn’t think I wanted to breastfeed. I explained why but it mattered not. Every single person said, just do it. It’s what’s best for the baby. Yes, yes, of course. I’ll do it. I want the best for my baby. So I gave in. I breastfed.
Due to some minor complications my daughter was whisked from the delivery room and moved into the NICU. It would be hours before she was put on my breast for the first time. When the nurse finally helped her latch on I felt like I was going to be sick. The pulling and stretching of my nipple felt awful. But when the milk emerged, the true horror of breastfeeding began.
I know lots of moms struggle to make enough milk. Oh, how I wished this were my problem. That way I could say I couldn’t make enough milk and no one would look at me askance for using formula. But, no, I made enough milk to feed a continent. Unfortunately, when my daughter was fed from a bottle in the NICU she became comfortable. She never liked to feed on the breast. So I dutifully pumped gallons of milk into bags. I produced way more than my daughter required.
Every time I tried to latch my daughter onto the breast, milk sprayed in nine or 10 streams onto her face. Milk drenched my shirts right through the pads. Engorgement from overproduction caused infections and intense pain. With every drop of milk, I felt more repulsed and less close to my child.
After months of misery I called my doctor to discuss the latest infection. She told me that while breastfeeding was important, it was getting in the way of my relationship with my child. My feelings about milk were being transferred from my breast onto my little sweet baby. My daughter was both innocent and the reason I had to go through this nightmare. The doctor suggested that maybe I should stop breastfeeding altogether. It felt like permission from God to do what was anathema to the mothering chorus I was hearing. I immediately stopped breastfeeding and bonded fully.
Three years later I was pregnant with my son. I emphatically declared that I would not be breastfeeding. But then the pressure returned. Friends, neighbors and family all repeated the same breast is best commentary. I already knew the facts but I also knew how much breastfeeding ruined the early months of my relationship with my first child. I finally agreed to give it a try under one stipulation. I would not pump an ounce, ever. If he didn’t latch on easily the gig would end. Well, of course my son was a champ latching on and emptying a full breast in five minutes. I had no excuse to quit. I begrudgingly gave my son his breastmilk.
I am proud of myself for feeding on the breast for as long as I did. It was distasteful from the moment I started until the last drop dried up.
Four months later, I had a sinus infection that would not clear up. The doctor prescribed a strong medication and said I couldn’t breastfeed for two weeks. I would need to pump and dump. Absolutely not. No way. That was my line in the sand. So again, I chose to stop breastfeeding.
Of course, breastfeeding is the best option for many parents. The benefits significantly outweigh the cons. But for me, the scale tipped in a different direction. I am proud of myself for feeding on the breast for as long as I did. It was distasteful from the moment I started until the last drop dried up. It didn’t feel beautiful and special. It felt gross and unpleasant. Now when people ask me if I breastfed I can say yes while avoiding the inquisition.
But would I do it again?
Um, no thanks.
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