Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why Being A Cow Was The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done

As I've said before on this blog, I had a LOT of ideas of how I was going to raise my children, if God so blessed me with them, before I actually had any children. Before I was even married. My oh-so-ideal viewpoint of child rearing came back to bite me in the butt when I actually HAD a child and realized that it might not be so simple as I thought, after all.

Breastfeeding was, so far, probably the most eye opening experience for me in regards to raising children. I had absolutely NO idea what it involved or how it worked. All I "knew" was the following:
  1. It's free
  2. It's more healthy for the mom and baby
  3. It promotes bonding between mom and baby
  4. You put baby to breast, baby eats until baby is content, mom and baby then go about their day
Picture perfect
When I was pregnant with Elizabeth, I got free samples of formula in the mail. I immediately gave them away. "Why the heck do I need formula?" I said. "I'm going to breastfeed for two years. Think of all the money I'll save! Think of how much healthier my baby will be! Think of how much more baby weight I will lose!"

Every time I saw people buy formula at the store, I judged them. "Why in the world would you not breastfeed??" I was baffled. 

And clueless. And ignorant.

And here's what I have to say now to my pre-parent self:


So far in my life, breastfeeding was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It drained me physically, emotionally, and mentally. It was not a was a marathon. A marathon times 10. Times 50. I had absolutely NO IDEA what breastfeeding really involved.

Here is what they DON'T tell you (or maybe they do tell you, but for me it didn't sink in until I actually had to DO it):

1. You must nurse or pump every 2-3 hours (sometimes less) around the clock

I knew this going into it, but I didn't realize what it actually meant. Sometimes a normal activity, such as cooking dinner or working on a project, requires at least that amount of time of nonstop attention. But when a baby is hungry, you must feed her. Even if you have a pot of pasta on the stove or your picture is only half hung, you stop what you are doing and feed. This was extremely difficult for me to get used to.

2. If you wait any longer or skip any feedings, your milk supply will decrease
Elizabeth had her days and nights mixed up as a newborn. So during the day, many times, she would take 6-hour long naps. You're thinking: "wow, you were lucky!" I kept wondering whether or not I should wake her to feed. But the resounding majority of people always told me with great fervor: "Never wake a sleeping baby!!!!" So I didn't. So my supply started to decrease, and Elizabeth began to not gain enough weight. All this spiraled out of control for a few months until I was finally able to re establish my milk supply. For my next baby, (as a newborn), I will never let him or her go more than 4 hours without eating. Even if I have to wake the baby up.

3. The average amount of time one feeding takes is 30 minutes (but can easily take longer)
I used to think that breastfeeding just involved sitting in a chair, feeding your baby for 10 minutes, and then going about your day. Wow. Was I wrong. Did you know that the average amount of time per day a woman spends breastfeeding an infant is 11 hours?? And that's average....many women spend longer! That's about half of your day. It was so hard for me to spend that much time just sitting. People would try to make me feel better, and tell me that I wasn't just sitting. I was providing my new baby with nourishment. And I did agree with that. But all that sitting, even if it is for a purpose, is very hard for some women like myself to do.

4. To time feedings, you must start at the beginning of a feeding.
Example: Begin nursing at 3:00. Takes 45 minutes. At 5:00, it has been 2 hours since the last feeding, even though technically it was 1 hour 15 minutes since you finished feeding. Elizabeth had a knack for wanting to eat every hour for a lot of the day. So I'd start feeding her at 1:00, she'd be done at 1:30. Then at 2:00, she wanted to eat again. Then again at 3, and 4. Etc, etc. And people wondered why my house wasn't clean or why we ate crackers and jelly some nights for dinner.

Now you're probably asking: "Well, since you had such a hard time with it, you're not going to go through it again, right?"

Answer: WRONG. Breastfeeding was difficult for me. I went through a lot. But I wouldn't change it for anything. And I plan on doing it again as long as possible with my next baby.

This post is not at all meant to shed breastfeeding in a negative light. Breastfeeding certainly is the best thing you can do for your baby. It does do all the things the experts tell us: it promotes bonding, it is more nutritional, it is cheaper, and it helps mom get back to her pre-pregnancy self more quickly.  I did have some wonderful experiences breastfeeding Elizabeth. And many women have amazing breastfeeding experiences for the whole time and are able to keep up with it for years. I am truly happy for them, and I really hope that with my next baby, I will have an experience like this.

BUT. I really don't believe that breastfeeding is the best thing for your baby if it stresses you out to the point where you can no longer care for your baby as well as you might have otherwise. Many women who can no longer handle the pressure feel an obligation to continue breastfeeding, even if it is bringing them to the breaking point. Many women who want to give their baby the best nutrition possible feel an incredible amount of guilt if they are not able to supply their baby with sustenance the natural way. Many women who are longing for that "bonding experience" feel only frustration when it seems that their baby simply cannot cooperate with the physical requirements needed for breastfeeding.

If you are one of those ladies...I hear ya. I understand what you are going through, went through, or are afraid you might go through again. This is my story of being a cow, and why I now gaze at those large, black and white, mooing beasts with such reverence and respect.

Multitasking at its finest
I am the type of person that needs to be busy. I do not enjoy spending large amounts of time sitting around, unless I'm with friends or family. I get great satisfaction out of accomplishing tasks, even if it's something simple such as baking a cake, making my bed, or watering my garden. I can physically see the fruits of my labors, and it brings me great joy. I have spent most of my high school, college, and early marriage years being very busy. Not because I think "oh I'm so popular, oh I just have so much to do I can't possibly manage it all blah blah blah." It's because I choose to live that way, I'm used to it, and I enjoy it. Even during my summers off as a student and a teacher, I have always been busy. I worked until the week before Elizabeth was due. I'm just that way.

**Note: I don't think that people who are not busy are lazy or dull or living their life wrongly. In fact, I think being busy all the time is actually a bad thing. But I'm giving you some background so you can better understand why breastfeeding was so difficult for me.**

So when I went from this kind of lifestyle to immediately spending 12-14 hours a day sitting in a chair feeding my baby, it was a huge transition for me. I loved spending the time with my newborn. But there was a large part of me, too, that kept thinking of how much I needed to get done. About the massive pile of laundry on the floor. About how we had only eaten fast food for days. About how I simply could no longer do ALL THE THINGS.

This viewpoint is, of course, not good. I realize this time that I need to change my viewpoint from "I'm not getting anything done by just sitting here" to "I am giving my baby the best possible nourishment I could, which is definitely being productive." It's just a different kind of productive.

So what did I learn from all this? I think that with my next baby, my breastfeeding experience will be a lot more positive. I know a lot more now than I did then. My expectations have changed. I understand the level of time and commitment it involves, and I am okay with that.  I will not put the same amount of pressure on myself as I did then. I eventually figured out what worked well for Elizabeth and me, and I'll figure out what works well for my next baby. And if it doesn't pan out the way I expect it to, it's alllll good.

Basically, it boils down to what I've said before: you must do what works best for you and your family. God has given us the wonderful gift of breastfeeding to nurture our babies. But he has also given us other means to feed our babies, in case the natural way just doesn't work out. I'm mentally preparing myself now to transform my thought process. If there's a huge pile of laundry on the floor, who cares? That can wait. I'm going to focus on spending precious time with my baby, who will grow so quickly. By breastfeeding, I am showing my baby sacrificial love in the best way I know how.

I'm going to go drink a big glass of milk now, so maybe I'll become more in tune with my inner cow. Moooooooo.

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