To the Mama just begging her baby to latch.
To the Mama scrolling through feeds and seeing how beautiful a journey it is for others, how bonding an experience between mother and child, but looking at their own and seeing anxiety, pain, and frustration.
To the Mama whose mental health is suffering.
To the Mama researching the best supplements.
To the Mama feeling rejected by her baby.
To the Mama sore with engorgement.
To the Mama switching from cradle, to football, to sidelying, to cross cradle.
To the Mama whose relationship is struggling.
To the Mama searching how much coffee she can safely consume without it affecting her baby.
To the Mama who feels guilty she’s still trying.
To the Mama haunted by growth percentiles.
To the Mama feeling shamed for her choices.
To the Mama who doesn’t have access to a lactation consultant.
To the Mama cursing at the nipple shield.
To the Mama who feels like she’s failing her baby.
To the Mama who wants to feel like her body is her own again.
To the Mama who is tired of trying.
To the Mama crying over spilled milk.
To the Mama anxiously leaning over her baby listening for swallows.
To the Mama washing endless pump parts.
To the Mama who has changed her entire diet.
To the Mama stressing about her supply.
To the Mama who feels under supported.
To the Mama using donor milk.
To the Mama who is juggling a difficult decision.
I see you, I feel you, I am you.
It’s not just you, Mama.
Despite how isolating it can feel, I hope you find solace in the fact that you’re not alone in this. If no one has let you know just how common this is, let me be that for you.
My breastfeeding journey started with a breast pump. A nurse showed me how to use it in less than a minute. By her memorized and robotic movements, I could tell she’d done the performance countless times before. She was in and out before I could even grasp what I’d be doing. For the next 16 hours, I practiced pumping instead of nursing. We delivered labeled vials of freshly pumped colostrum to my son down the hall in the NICU until the next day. A lactation consultant came to assist us for our first try, and it was tricky but she said it would be. I honestly didn’t think much of it.
I believed my experience with the pump would end at the hospital because I was so determined to breastfeed my son. I thought that was the magic thing that strengthened a connection between mother and child. I had no idea just how difficult it would be. I couldn’t possibly imagine that three days of pumping would lead to six months of it. I didn’t realize the journey to nursing could ever be that rocky.
There is no pain like feeling rejected by your baby. My son would fight me from pure frustration— scratching at my breasts, flailing his body, and screaming were all common occurrences at every feed. In addition, a sobbing me and a very concerned but supportive daddy. My partner would encourage me until I surpassed my limits, then he would warm up pumped milk, and calmly take our son while I collapsed into despair.
“I can’t do this.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Why doesn’t he want me?”
“I’m starving my son.”
“I’m a terrible mother.”
“If I stop, I’m giving up on him.”
“Remember: ‘breast is best.’”
“I’m a failure.”
The negative thoughts consumed me. The weekly doctor’s appointments and growth charts, the pumping six+ times a day, the raw nipples, the seven lactation consultants, the scale I bought to weigh the ounces after every feed, the pang in my gut every time someone called my baby, “tiny.” It all led to a very significant postpartum depression and anxiety diagnosis. I still suffer from it 14 months in, but the bad moments come and go. In hindsight, ironically this thing that I thought would create such a bond actually cultivated resentment and disconnection. I love my baby more than anything else, but I found nursing him so dreadful. Those two things can co-exist.
If I could go back to the beginning, I’d wrap my arms around me and say what I say to you:
Give. Yourself. Grace. You are an incredible mother and I’m proud of you. Your dedication is admirable. Breastfeeding is HARD, it is not as “natural” as it’s made to seem. You’re both learning something new, this takes time, practice, and consistency. Rejection is not an easy feeling to feel, but you are your baby’s whole world. I promise they aren’t rejecting you, they just don’t understand. The screaming is unbearable, but remember this is the only way babies know how to communicate their frustration. You are not starving your baby, language matters, they’re hungry but not starving. It’s okay to need help, there’s a reason lactation consultants are in business. Yes, breastfeeding is a wonderful bond to share with your baby but if it’s taking away from your ability to be a whole and healthy mother, it is no longer wonderful. One of the things that make you an incredible mother is your ability to show up for your baby and want the best for them— if you’re so depressed you can’t get off the couch, it’s taking away from your ability and it is not worth it. You both deserve a healthy you. This is not giving up, this is choosing yourself as well as your baby.
The choice to continue or to stop has always been yours, and no one else’s. No matter what you choose, it does not define your motherhood, you do.
Olivia Tokunbo is a writer and mother of one. A friend of Solly, she’s also shared her experience giving birth during Covid-19 and her babywearing journey.