What it’s really like as a new mom…
I recently traveled to New York to welcome the newest member of my family, my adorable niece, Lainey. Her mom, my sister in law, is one my best friends and has been the most incredible aunt to my four kids. So I was thrilled to be able to leave my own family at home (with their grandparents) and take the trip to support her in her earliest moments as a new mom.
We spent our days lounging and taking turns cuddling Lainey, I cleaned a bit and cooked, and we mostly didn’t get out of our pajamas; save for a few short errands with Lainey in tow. Erin was able to rest and hopefully heal a bit and we had a lot of time to talk. We talked about her birth story, we talked about sleepless nights, and we talked about everything Erin was going through as a new breastfeeding mom. And what she had to say surprised me.
She started to recount all the times and places she’d seen me easily and effortlessly nurse each of my babies. Far from encouraging her, these moments made her feel discouraged, disappointed, and like a failure as a new breastfeeding mom. Lainey was having difficulty latching, breastfeeding was painful and exhausting, and she wondered if she’d EVER be able to leave the house again- knowing that Lainey would latch on and off, for sometimes an hour or more screaming, then sucking, then screaming again.
“I never imagined it would be this hard,” she said exasperated.
She didn’t expect me to understand because I’d never communicated to her before that breastfeeding was difficult for me, too.
One of my daughters had a lip tie, and her painful latch lasted for weeks before we discovered it. One of my girls had jaundice so severe that her doctor recommended I stop breastfeeding and supplement with formula. I agonized over what to do, and ultimately, left our pediatrician for a more informed one. It took me almost the first full year of breastfeeding my first daughter to feel comfortable breastfeeding in public and when I finally did a co-worker remarked that it had always been ‘gross’ to her when she saw a mom NIP. Why hadn’t I shared any of these struggles with my sister in law, one of my closest friends?
Well, I think, because I thought I was encouraging her. And, I think, because as time went on the good things about breastfeeding far outweighed the bad. Each triumph made the challenges I faced in the beginning seem less and less significant. That’s what I should have shared all along. In seeing Erin struggle as a new mom, I knew I should have told her about the good and the bad. I should have helped her prepare for how hard, how frustrating, how intense, how amazing, and how beautiful breastfeeding is. That’s the full story, that’s the true story.
As Erin was adjusting to being a new mom, she had all of the normal questions and concerns every new mom has. Yet, she wasn’t really aware that her frustration and fears were normal and that’s what made them the hardest and scariest of all. As a veteran breastfeeding mom, I left my week with Erin vowing I wouldn’t let that happen again with the other new moms in my circle. Yes, it’s a balance. We don’t want to tell horror stories that keep pregnant moms up at night- and yet, there’s a way to share our stories that inspire and encourage new moms- EVEN when we make sure to include the struggle.
If you’re a new mom and you’re struggling, you are NOT alone. The hard and the painful moments, as well as the wonderful and miraculous- are all a part of EVERY mom’s breastfeeding journey. That’s the story we should be telling. From now on, I know I’ll make sure I do. And, I hope you do, too.