When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work

Rachel Jones essays

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You were twenty-two years old when your husband and you came home from the hospital with newborn twins. Almost none of your friends had babies yet. You hated baby-sitting. You’d just been through nine months of carrying two babies and one was delivered vaginally while the second came via cesarean section. You were a mess.

And yet, you were determined to breastfeed. For all kinds of reasons but a primary one was cost. Remember how tight money was? You were recent university graduates with low-paying jobs and debt. You lived in a one-bedroom apartment.

The furniture in the living room had been pulled from the dumpster. Your parents brought paper bags of groceries. They thumbtacked twenty dollar bills to the wall. A friend brought two garbage bags full of diapers. Remember how you cried when you realized these would last almost a month?

Formula was expensive, even with help from WIC.

So you breastfed. Or rather, you tried to breastfeed. There were two babies and you were clueless, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

It hurt. One of the babies gnawed you to shreds and you bled every time they nursed. You once squeezed milk into a cup to show your husband and the milk was thick and dark red, filled with blood. You started crying when it came time to feed the babies again. You were supposed to be bonding. This was supposed to be natural. You weren’t supposed to grit your teeth and exhale curse words.

You started to resent the babies, you struggled to feel affection for them. These tiny, demanding, helpless creatures who made you cry and bleed and lose your temper simply because they were hungry.

Remember that night you wept and rocked back and forth and wondered how you would make it through another day and your husband said, “Something has got to change?”

Something changed. You quit. You got a hospital-quality breast pump through government assistance. You adjusted the budget, you stopped breastfeeding.

You pumped and supplemented with formula and somehow you all survived. You started to enjoy and feel affection for your babies. You did it for five months, until the milk stopped responding to the machine and you got tired of washing bottles and machine parts.

You stopped breastfeeding not because you were a bad mother. You stopped because you were a good mother. Do you remember how ferociously you had to battle this lie that quitting meant you failed? You thought it was a reflection of your character and your love.

Quitting meant you were a success. Quitting meant you loved your babies more than you loved an idea. You had a dream and an expectation of what motherhood would look like and right away, from the first ultrasound when two heads popped up, that idea needed to be readjusted. Again during that vaginal delivery and c-section delivery, again with breastfeeding.

Giving up something you wanted and expected for the sake of bonding with and enjoying your babies was the bravest thing you did that first month postpartum. You didn’t know it then but this would be foundational in your parenting.

You have ideas and plans, the kids don’t fit into your plans, life circumstances don’t accommodate your ideas. So you adjust. You choose love over what others think. You sacrifice expectations so your family will thrive.

And now you know, when you look out at other moms and the choices they make, you know there is no room for judgment. Breast is best, some say. But now you know. Breast is best and love is better.


About the Author

Rachel Jones

Rachel Pieh Jones is a writer living in Djibouti with her husband and three children. She has written for the New York Times, Literary Mama, Family Fun, and blogs for Babble and Brain Child. You can find her on her website .

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May 2015 – Better Together
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