Denise is a fellow doula in my area. She also offers birth photography and placenta encapsulation. Seeing how passionate she is about breastfeeding, I was surprised when she recently shared she didn't nurse her first two babies. Intrigued by her evolution, I was eager to read her story.
I have never thought to write about my long road to becoming a full-term nurser and huge breastfeeding advocate. I even run a breastfeeding support group now on Facebook! I haven’t even really shared my story with many others. I decided it’s time to sit down and share my experience in hopes that it will help another mother that may be going through the same struggle I was.
I found out I was pregnant with my first child in the fall of 2004. I hadn’t given much thought on the subject of breastfeeding because I knew from the moment I was pregnant that I wouldn’t be breastfeeding. That was it, my mind was made up -- why would I breastfeed a child from breasts that were used in a sexual manner? How disgusting would that be!?
At the age of 19 I couldn’t even fathom the thought of nursing a child. At that time in my life, I was newly married and just found out I was expecting a child. My husband was already enlisted and we were preparing for him to leave for boot camp in May (mind you my due date was July, and he of course missed the birth). My mother didn’t breastfeed my brother because he was a micro preemie in the early 80s. I’ve asked her why she didn’t breastfeed me, and she said because she didn’t want to nurse me in front of my 3 year old brother! Her mother didn’t breastfeed her children either. I was so young, and none of my friends really had children, so no one that I knew really breastfed a child besides my grandma (whom I didn’t get to see that often). She graciously nourished 8 kids from her breast and even tandem nursed my father and uncle (HOW AMAZING!). My husband never suggested of brought up to me that he thought I should breastfeed our children. It was just something we never talked about.
On July 1, 2005 I gave birth to my first child -- a girl! She was light of my life and we named her Isis. I remember at that time I was never once asked at the hospital if I would be breastfeeding? I wasn’t encouraged by any of the staff to give it a try. I just remember packing my bags the days before my due date and making sure I packed my little formula bottles I had bought to take for our hospital stay. My oldest daughter never had a drop of breast milk and no second thought was given by me or my husband. When my daughter was 5 1/2 months old I found myself pregnant with our second child. Much of a shock that it was to us, we dealt with it and made the best of the situation.
In January of 2006 we moved to Washington state and started our life as a navy family. This is when my feelings on breastfeeding began to change. I remember always feeling really awkward and uncomfortable when I saw a mother nursing in public. I would make snide comments like, “wow she needs to cover that up!” I made friends with my neighbor who had just recently had a baby. She was breastfeeding her son and I quickly learned to set aside my feelings, and I slowly began to feel comfortable around her nursing.
In the area of California that I’m from it isn’t common to see a woman in public breastfeeding. For example, I’ve been living back in my home area since September 2011, and I can count on 1 hand the number of times I’ve seen a nursing mother out in public. Washington was a totally different culture and it really opened my eyes to things.
I gave birth to my 2nd child, another girl, in August 2006. We named her Athena and she also was strictly formula-fed. I remember my neighbor asking me why I didn’t want to breastfed, and encouraging me to try because it was the best for baby. She explained how close she felt to her baby when nursing him, and how it was such a wonderful bond. I admit I really almost gave it a try, but something kept telling me to just stick with what I was doing and not listen to anyone but myself. My 2nd daughter had severe colic for the first 10 weeks of her life.
My husband and I decided in November of 2007 we would try for another child. After 3 miscarriages, we finally conceived our 3rd child in March of 2009! I still knew I was going to formula feed because that is what I did with my other children. How could it be fair to them if I decided to nurse my 3rd? That was the mindset I had for my entire pregnancy, and even after delivery. My 3rd child was born in December of 2009 -- we had our first son and named him Thayden.
Thayden’s first few feedings in the hospital were formula. The first night in the hospital he became really fussy and uncomfortable. I was trying everything to keep him calm and comfort him, but it just seemed like nothing worked. I was in my room with just my husband who was asleep, and I decided to try to breastfed him. After all, this was supposed to be our last child, and the thought of never experiencing breastfeeding was disturbing to me. I had no clue what I was doing, and I just hoped that from watching a few friends over the last 3 years I could figure it out. I remember feeling really nervous, and at that time feared my husband would wake up and be totally sickened by the fact that I was trying to breastfed. I set those feelings aside and took down the left side of my hospital gown. I held my son in a cradle-like hold and tried to latch him. I couldn’t believe it!!! He latched the first try! How on earth could it be this easy, I thought to myself? He nursed for 30 minutes and was soon asleep -- the fussing had stopped.
That moment of our first latch, I just remember the semi-awkward feeling of him latching, but then a flood of emotions and love. I continued to nurse him and formula feed him for the rest of my hospital stay. I had decided at that point, I would do both formula and breast milk. Once I got home with him, I found it easier to just breastfeed him, and so that is what we did for the most part. If I was around someone and didn’t want to nurse, I pumped milk and fed him the milk by bottle. Around 3 1/2 months, I noticed my son becoming really fussy after feedings, acting as if he were still hungry. I was feeling disappointed, and almost like my body was failing me. How could I have come so far in my journey of breastfeeding for it to end so suddenly? At the age of 4-4 1/2 months, my milk supply completely diminished and my son went back to an exclusive diet of formula. I later found out that my son was tongue-tied and the milk transfer was insufficient, which caused my milk supply to diminish over time.
Fast forward 9 months after the birth of my 3rd child -- SURPRISE! I find out that I’m now expecting our 4th child. I knew from the moment I was pregnant that I was going to breastfeed him. I didn’t buy any bottles, formula or anything that could set me up for disaster. I read a ton of information and had my husband on my side, super supportive of my choice. I also had 2 amazing midwives that always encouraged me to breastfeed. It was a totally different go-around from when I had my first child. We had now been living in San Diego since October 2009. This time I had planned a home birth with midwives because I wasn’t happy with my hospital birthing experiences(but that’s a different story for a different day).
In June of 2011, at 41 weeks, I gave birth in my bedroom on my bed to my 4th child. He was caught by his daddy and handed to me right away. Soon after birth we spent hours nursing and being skin-to-skin. This was something I had never done with my other children, yet it felt so natural to me. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I decided to pump milk as well to have some frozen and on-hand in case I had to miss a feeding or something happened and I had to be hospitalized. In the first 8 weeks of my son’s life, I was able to nurse him exclusively and pump 550oz of milk. I was a milk making machine, but soon my supply established and I discontinued pumping. I found out at my son’s 3 day appointment that he was tongue-tied as well. My midwife gave me some great advice on latching and ways to work around it. I was having some awful blistering on my nipples and cracking. It was caused by a bad latch, but with her help and advice I was able to correct the issues and move forward with no problems. My son’s tongue tie was never clipped.
We moved from San Diego back to our home town of Visalia, CA in September of 2011. I made sure my milk was transported in a cooler of dry ice. I used a majority of the pumped milk to make his baby food and also to let daddy feed him. When my son was around 9 months old, I began pumping my milk again so I could make a milk donation to a local woman who was pregnant and had breast cancer. She was unable to breastfeed her baby, and I felt the need to do this for her. How could it be possible, a self-proclaimed breastfeeding-hater-turned nursing advocate and milk donor! My feelings have changed so drastically that I now regret not breastfeeding my daughters, it is something I wish that I could go back and change. I know that I cannot change it, but I can help encourage and support mothers who may be feeling the same way I was.
It is now 2014 and my son will be turning 3 in June. We are still happily nursing and I couldn’t imagine forcing him to wean. The plan is to let him do child-led weaning and be done when he is ready. So that is, in a nutshell, my journey to becoming a nursing mother of a toddler after a huge struggle with my own personal feelings. My biggest piece of advice for new mothers that may be having the same feelings I was: surround yourself with supportive, encouraging people. Do some soul searching and try and understand why you’re feeling this way. My issue with breastfeeding was due to the fact that our society is raised with breasts being sexualized, and that made me uncomfortable with the thought of nursing. If I would have been exposed to breastfeeding as a totally normal aspect of life and child bearing, I wouldn’t have had such strong feelings against it. If you are feeling this way and are local to the Visalia/Tulare, CA area, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to talk to anyone or answer questions.
These are photos of my son at 15 months and 24 months. We are excited to take our 3 year breastfeeding pictures in June!
Find Denise Online:
Tree of Life Photography & Birth Services
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)