Breastfeeding is no joke, y'all.
I am shocked and amazed by how hard it is. People would ask me while I was pregnant "Are you going to breastfeed?" "Of course!" I'd answer, unsure why they'd even ask such a ridiculous question. My, my, my, how much I had to learn.
Everyone keeps telling me it gets easier, but I'm in week 6 of this strange new adventure and it is still really freakin' hard. Last weekend, Dan and I took Lukas to Dollywood, Dolly Parton's amusement theme park in nearby Pigeon Forge. I know, I know, a 5 1/2 week old at Dollywood! We were young and we didn't know any better.
Needless to say, we spent the majority of the day feeding Lukas... and changing Lukas's diaper... and making sure that Lukas wasn't in direct sunlight, that he wasn't turned sideways in his seat, that he was, in fact, still breathing... you get the picture. We also spent a considerable amount of time searching for places for me to discreetly breastfeed the baby. This was, of course, before we learned that they actually have nursing rooms located strategically throughout the park. Oops! Hopefully those people at the picnic table beside us in the chicken finger and french fry stand aren't scarred for life. Anyway, once we finally stumbled upon the actual nursing room, our lives changed. It was roomy and private, with a restroom, changing table, and even comfy gliders for us nursing moms. I just don't understand how I've been going to Dollywood (and formerly Silver Dollar City) for 36 years, and I never knew that such a room existed. So while I was nursing Lukas, awkwardly balancing him on one arm while making sure he could also breathe, and trying to keep everything contained under a ludicrous excuse for a nursing cover, two other ladies breezed in and, in a single swift motion, they lifted their shirts, positioned their babies AND pulled out their phones. Because, I mean, God forbid they get bored! I awkwardly shifted Lukas, trying not to hold him completely upside down, and making sure he didn't ruin his THIRD outfit of the day with spit-up. And before we had even gotten started these super star moms were finished. One of them gave me a knowing look as she headed out the door "This must be your first" she said. "It gets easier." she assured me, and then disappeared into the busy park as quickly as she'd appeared.
While I was a little annoyed by this whole encounter, it did give me a strange sense of hope. I'm still brand new to this, I realized. Yes, it's difficult and awkward and extremely frustrating at times, but it's also pretty amazing that my son and I are figuring this out together and learning more from each other every day.
A few weeks ago, I was having a really rough day. I was feeling guilty that Lukas was hungry, feeling like a failure because I couldn't nourish my baby the way that I should. I was feeling scared and unsure and out of control. I REALLY don't like to feel that way. I spend an excessive amount of time and effort trying to ensure that I do NOT feel that way very often. I over prepare, analyze, worry and obsess over things so that these very emotions do not catch me off guard. I like to know what I'm doing. I like to know what to expect. I like to have a PLAN and work the plan. But then of course, life happens, and it breaks all my rules. I texted my friend Christin for advice and support. She called me immediately.
"I just have no idea what I'm doing!" I wailed. "He's not gaining enough weight, I don't know if I should supplement. I don't know if he's getting enough to eat. I don't know if I'm producing enough milk. I don't know how to feed him and also be able to read a book and do other stuff at the same time! How on earth do these women do it?"
My friend offered some helpful tips and assured me that I'm doing everything right and it just takes time. "Good grief" she added. "You've just started doing this! You and the baby are still learning and figuring all of this out. You're not going to be perfect at it right away, just give yourself time. And be kind to yourself. You'll get there."
This mild scolding was just what I needed. It really hit home for me. I was reminded of my fear of failing at so many other things in my life. My anxiety at work. My lack of patience with learning new things. My perfectionism and need to do everything right the first time. My limited supply of self compassion. I should have known that I'd experience these same fears and this same perfectionism with caring for a child.
I mean, I'm raising a human being, for crying out loud! I'm learning how to feed him and sooth him and understand what each of his different cries means. I'm learning what kind of bouncer he like best, what kind of shampoo doesn't make his scalp flake. I had an idea of what motherhood would be like. I'd dreamed about it and imagined it and longed for it for years, but I was just guessing. Turns out, it's just like all of the other worthwhile endeavors in life, it's hard ass work, and sometimes you think you may never survive. It reminds me of this little quote that I love. I have it pinned to my desk at work, and it applies just as much to motherhood as it does to architecture or writing or any of the other things that stress me out sometimes but ultimately bring me great joy:
"For the things we must learn before we do them, we learn by doing them."
Basically this just means that we have to start before we are ready. No amount of planning or preparation can eliminate the fear and anxiety that I have about motherhood in general, or about breastfeeding in particular. Just like I've had to learn to dive in before I'm ready in so many other areas of my life, it's the only option here too.
Even though this is HARD ASS work, I know that it is worth it. And I know that my little family will figure this out. So, after a good cry and a long shower, I'll wipe away the spit-up, smear on the nipple cream, and get back to work. And maybe one of these days, I'll be the one giving advice to the new mom in the Dollywood nursing room.
© Haley McManigal 2017
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