Faith, Hope, and Love: My Breastfeeding Journey

When I was pregnant with my first child, I said plenty of ignorant things. Don’t we all make ridiculous statements before we have kids of our own? I had no clue what it was really going to be like, and now I look back on pre-children me, I shake my head and chuckle. Oh, self! You knew so little, and were wrong about so much. But I think I might have had the most incorrect preconceptions about breastfeeding.

I didn’t know it was such a contentious topic and that making the choice to breastfeed would put me in the center of an enormous worldwide conflict. I had no idea that it would be so, so difficult and that I would need a tremendous support network to make it work. I did not know that it would make me feel so much awe at the amazing workings of my body.

When that first child, my beloved daughter, entered the world, so many things went differently than how I had envisioned them, and breastfeeding was no different. I had no idea what I was doing, in spite of my efforts to learn beforehand (attending a 2-hour breastfeeding class at the hospital and connecting with a breastfeeding mothers’ support group). In her first couple weeks, I experienced excruciating pain, crippling doubt, mounds of anxiety, and utter confusion as I got conflicting information from lactation consultants, nurses, pediatricians, and other mamas.

By God’s grace my husband and I were able to navigate through the muddy waters and get some answers - my daughter was tongue-tied and wasn’t transferring milk effectively. This made her slow to gain weight, and gave me the early gifts of cracked, bleeding nipples, painful engorgement, and the challenge of figuring out how in the world to use one of those bizarre pumping contraptions. At one week she was diagnosed and at three weeks her tongue tie was revised. She quit nursing. The next 2.5 months were full of round-the-clock pumping and bottle-feeding, endless attempts to coax her back to the breast using any and all methods and contraptions I could find. There were lots of tears. When I had about given up the notion that she would ever nurse again, she decided she was ready to give it another go. Within a couple days we dropped bottles and she nursed until she was 14 months old.

With all the odds stacked against me, my body ferociously pushed through and nourished my child, and I was awed by its zeal to feed her.

Image by Megan Lacy Portrait Photographer

My second child had his tongue-tie addressed right away and gained weight very well, hovering right around the average numbers on his growth charts. He was a frequent spitter, but that was just a laundry problem and I thought we had this nursing thing down. No problems this time! I was the experienced mama handing out advice and solutions to the newbies and giving nipple butter and nursing tanks as baby shower gifts.

Then I suffered a major health crisis., I got sick.

We thought it was a virus, but I just kept getting worse and worse until I landed in the ER. The gastroenterologist ran some tests but found nothing of note. We thought it would run its course, but I wound up back in the ER twice more. The second gastroenterologist, at a loss, offered me the diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and suggested I cut back on the stress in my life (thanks, doc). Over the course of a few weeks I lost 20% of my body weight and was still losing. I was frequently severely dehydrated.

My son, a nursing addict, absolutely refused to take bottles and simply screamed while I was in the hospital until I returned to nurse him. He nursed and nursed, staying latched sometimes for an hour at a time, until he finally got milk from me. I did my best to drink and eat but my body was just not taking anything from my food. I cried, cursing myself for wasting precious fluids that my son needed for his milk, and several times I feared that my milk had dried up completely. But my son kept growing and wetting diapers, and even though I could hardly carry him up a flight of stairs, my body kept giving him what he needed. He nursed for nineteen months.

In the face of acute chronic illness and weight loss, my body tenderly pushed through and nourished my child, and I was awed by its tenacity in the face of suffering.

I slowly healed and got back to a healthy weight. My body has never been the same and I still suffer from IBS, but we were surprised (and thrilled) when I had regained enough health to become pregnant a third time.

Image by Abigail Workman Photography

Now I am nursing my third child. I’m still suffering from a digestive disorder and jealously guard against dehydration with every herb, tincture, essential oil, and OTC that I can use to ward it off. Like his older siblings, he had a tongue tie we had revised early on and there was pain to push through. I lost all my pregnancy weight by his 4th week, and there have been weeks when I was so ill that I began to fear for my milk supply. But it has never faltered, and my son is at the top of the growth charts. Everyone comments on how big he is and how contented he seems. And when they do, joyful tears sting my eyes as I contemplate how rich a blessing that is. In spite of everything I’ve been through, my amazing body will feed my baby. It will give and give and give until his needs are met.

Tomorrow will mark three months of breastfeeding for us, and I look forward with hope to many more. I will cherish each day of nursing my sweet baby, knowing that my body is giving him the gift of nourishment and comfort…and that it is giving me the gifts of faith and hope in a world full of uncertainty.

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