Feeling like a failure

Wow, it has been QUIET in the blogosphere lately. My reader is thin and no one is commenting. I’m trying to go out there and do unto others, as they say, but mostly the vibe seems to be… quiet. I’m sure it’s just people gearing up for the holidays. Around here it’s more about gearing up for be home alone with both kids for two weeks. Mi.Vida only gets Christmas Day and New Years Day off so I’ll be home alone with the kids for 8 days. I know this is what SAHM do all the time, but, well, there is a reason I’m not a SAHM. 😉 It’s definitely going to be crazy and I suspect we’ll be spending the night at Nana and Papa’s (my parents’) house at least once, if not more.

But that is not what I sat down to write about. Today I sat down to talk about breastfeeding… again.

I know, I know. ENOUGH already. But there it is, itching a certain spot in my brain, making me want to write about it.

You see, today Teo had his two month well baby visit. I didn’t realize there would be SO MANY vaccinations and I didn’t have a bottle ready–I had left them in the car to bring to his grandparents’ house. Of course after all the shots he was pretty upset. I thought popping him on the boob for a few minutes might calm him, so I whipped one out, the right one, the one we generally had better luck latching on.

And of course, it was a total disaster. A shit show of epic proportions.

He sputtered and gagged and smacked and pulled off and got milk all over his face. He was more upset AFTER the attempted breastfeeding that he was before.

And so was I.

The whole ordeal settled such a deep feeling of failure in me, I could barely smile at the nurse on the way out, and she had been so kind when taking Monito’s measurements, I really wanted to return her kindness. It has only been 2.5 weeks since we abandoned exclusive breastfeeding for exclusive pumping and I had already forgotten how BAD it made me feel. I wonder if I ever really realized how awful it made me feel while I was actually doing it. I think back then I was so close to it, so intwined in the guilt and self-expectation and personal desire to make it work that I didn’t realize the desponded feeling of failure it inspired in me.

I think I had an idea of it, when I watched Monito first take a bottle and I saw with my own eyes that the issues he has with eating are much more about him than me and my ability to latch him on properly. He has all the same issues eating from a bottle as he does from a breast, which means it’s not about getting him to latch on well at all. I think at that point I felt a huge weight lift and now I recognize that as the leadened weight of failure, of not being able to do that which everyone says I should be able to do, that which everyone says EVERY WOMAN should be able to do, if we just stick with it and work hard enough.

Except I did stick with it and I did work hard, we just had so many factors working against us, like both oversupply and overactive letdown, treatment-resistant thrush, mastitis (turned to sepsis) and a bad latch/suck. I tried so hard, I consulted so many professionals, I made it my mission to persevere and find a way. But there was no way, not for us. Not without constant pain and frustration and misery.

Watching my son struggle to find comfort in breastfeeding–and failing miserably–I felt guilty, but not for stopping breastfeeding. I actually felt guilty for continuing as long as I did. In the thick of it, when I wanted to make it work SO BADLY, I didn’t let myself see how miserable it was making not just me, but both of us. He was just as unhappy as I was, maybe even more so, but I was forcing him to keep trying to prove to myself that we could make it work, that if we just tried hard, and long enough, we would eventually be successful.

And who knows, maybe we would have. Maybe at month three, or four, or five, it would have clicked for us. Maybe the oversupply would have evened out and the thrush would have finally resolved and he would have learned to latch and suck well enough. Maybe, eventually, it would have gotten better, but at what cost? Would that really have been the best thing for him, or for me? For either of us?

I really truly believe the answer is NO. Continuing to breastfeed was NOT the right answer for us. For some people, refusing to quit is not appropriate, not for mother OR child. And I think that story needs to be told, because there are so many stories about perseverance leading to success. Sometimes perseverance just leads to more misery and while the decision about when to quit, or to keep trying, is a very personal one–a decision that women should be supported in making no matter what they decide–women should hear as many stories about how others have resolved their issues with breastfeeding as they can, so they might be informed when making their own choice.

I obviously still have a lot of processing to do about all of this. I never fathomed that breastfeeding could be such an important issue to me, I always thought I just didn’t really care that much about it, either way. It turns out I only felt that way because I was able to do what I wanted last time, at least I was able to do what I thought I wanted. I was able to feel successful. In the absence of that feeling of success, I had to redefine my relationship with breastfeeding, to tear down my assumptions and rebuilt my beliefs from the foundation up.

And I’m doing that, slowly but surely. It’s taking a while, longer than I expected. Just last night I read a post about a difficult breastfeeding experience that eventually ended up being exactly what the author had always wanted and I found it pressed a finger deep into a psychic wound that is not yet healed. I found myself telling my story, defending myself, even though I knew the author had been reading along and knew what I had been through (and had supported me all the way). Despite knowing I was understood there, I still felt the need to post my story, because I wanted to be sure that if someone else found that post and the sentiment that “if you just keep going it will get better” wasn’t what they needed to hear, I wanted to write a different account, one that didn’t end the way its author wanted but that still ended somewhere positive. I wanted to validate what I had been through by telling people that there is another way, because I so rarely heard those stories before my own struggle and I wish I could have known more about the other paths people take.

It turns out there are more roads than just “breastfeeding” and “formula feeding” and many women have forged their own paths somewhere between those well trafficked highways. We need to tell these stories, in all their messy complexity, more often. And we need to support women in whatever path they want to take, and ultimately in whatever path they end up taking.

10 responses

  1. This is such a tough topic, so highly personal, and emotionally charged.

    I defend my story in regards to my c-sections all the time, even when I know the author isn’t judging me. I have to believe that’s my inner guilt, even though I know I had no options. Our psyches are weird!

  2. I’m so sorry you had such a rough time at the doctor. And I do know exactly what you are going through- I went through the same roller coaster of emotions- questioning myself weeks and months after I quit if I had just tried a little harder, or gave it more time, etc, etc. Have you ever read the Fearless Formula Feeder’s blog? I know when I was going through this, the personal stories people submitted (she has these every Friday) helped me tremendously to feel that I wasn’t alone and that things were going to be ok despite me not BFing.

  3. I’m a new reader/follower and wanted to comment and let you know that breastfeeding is such an emotional thing. With my first son Aiden, I failed miserably. I STILL (2 years later!) beat myself up over it and wonder what else I should have done to help us be successful. This 2nd time around, we are still exclusively breastfeeding and we are going on 3 months! I honestly believe in reading this post that you made the BEST decision for you and your son. You should feel SO incredibly proud that you gave it 100% and that you are still pumping as well. Pumping takes immense dedication and you are still supplying that for your son. Sometimes it takes many, many, many conversations with friends and blog posts about it before you can emotionally heal or accept what has happened. I know I still often regret the way it all went with Aiden, even though I know deep down I can’t change the past. I swear, mommy guilt is the worst. Us moms are always WAY WAY too hard on ourselves! You are doing a great job mama, keep it up!

  4. The blogosphere has been very quiet. And I keep forgetting to do the award you sent me. Sorry! I will remember one of these days.

    I used to never understood why people thought breast feeding was too hard, or too much of a commitment. I had no problems at all with J, except for lie supply (we supplemented about 4 oz/day).

    But then I had C, and we had the preemie issue, and then I got thrush. I treated it and it went away. Last week I got another, much worse, case. Like she was sucking needles out through my breasts. I’m on the mend now, but I have to say I get it. I can totally see why people don’t want to do this. And with treatment-resistant thrush like you had…ouch!!!

  5. Good Lord.

    If someone who was literally almost killed because of breastfeeding is still feeling guilty, there is something seriously wrong with the “Breast is Best” campaign.

    The thing that many don’t realize is:

    Just like fertility is a privilege that people are born with, so is the ability to breastfeed. The people who can breastfeed are like Range Rover owners. For people with Range Rovers to look down on those who can’t afford them is gross. So too is encouraging struggling so hard with breastfeeding that it lands someone in the hospital with sepsis, a fatal condition.

    Honestly, this natural/breastfeeding is best nonsense nearly cost me the life of one of my best friends. And it makes me furious!!!!

    Don’t feel guilty about this for another second. The only people who should feel guilty is those looking down their noses at those who aren’t natural enough for them.

  6. Your story sounds a lot like my experience with Tadpole. We worked really hard at breastfeeding, but ended up deciding that the things we would have to do to make it work (mouth exercises that made the baby scream) just weren’t worth it. My partner said something that I found really helpful when I was feeling guilty about having “given up”. She reminded me that a lot of parenting involves listening to what our kid is telling us about what he needs, rather than pushing him relentlessly to do/be what we want. And it seemed to us like Tadpole was telling us that breastfeeding was just not working for him.
    I’m glad that you’re feeling more comfortable with the decision you made, and it certainly sounds like the right one for you and for your family.

  7. Once I get back to blogging I’m going to share my experience. I’m so glad you posted this. So many women (me included) need to hear more stories like this. I miss you and I’m so glad to have popped in over here. Much love to you and your family.

  8. Oh I’m glad you posted your story because I honestly almost didn’t post mine because I was thinking of you and the many, many others like you who tip on the other side of the scale. I really feel like it is a precarious balance and you can just tip on one side or the other. In your case, you just had way too many factors tipping you to one side. I really didn’t want my post to come across as “it’s easy… Just keep going,” because those posts or comments or advice pissed me off When I was in the midst of it. I truly think you made the right decision. As, I said, too many factors on the scale. I know if I’d have had just one more thing to deal with, I would have tipped that way as well.

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