Prenatal videos make breastfeeding look simple, peaceful. Books make it seem like, because I’m a woman, I should naturally know what I’m doing.
My experience was neither simple nor peaceful.
Baby Bird and I STRUGGLED. Her latch was wrong. My milk supply was low. She developed thrush. I developed mastitis.
We were a mess for a long time. Like, for her first four months of life.
I believed breast milk was the first great gift I could give my child, and I was a failure because I was struggling to give it to her. It felt like a crushing defeat, and that feeling — along with possible postpartum depression — kept me in a dark place.
I had nursing pads, two breast pumps, nipple creams, and nursing tops. I’d read the books and watched the videos — but Baby Bird and I couldn’t do what we should instinctively be able to do.
If I wasn’t pumping or trying to feed Little One, I was scouring the Internet for answers and for women like me. I needed to find women who wanted to nurse but didn’t have anyone to ask for advice or instructions. Maybe, I thought, we could figure it out together.
It took a stranger to make realize that I was doing my best, and that that was all I could do.
I met her at Target (where all the wonders of the universe can be found). She oohed over my baby, then showed me pictures of hers. Her daughter, then 14 months old, was beginning to sleep through the night, she explained with glee.
Then she mentioned that she blamed breastfeeding for her baby’s sleep struggles.
I told her about my problems (without the gory details — she was a stranger, after all), then I slipped and admitted that I felt like I was failing Baby Bird.
“Give yourself a break,” she said. “You’re doing the best you can, and you’re doing a great job.”
I thanked her, then excused myself so she wouldn’t see me tear up. (Having a kid has turned me into a marshmallow. That paper airplanes/military dad commercial gets me every time.)
I wish someone would have told me that breastfeeding is hard — like, for real hard — and that there’s no shame in struggling.
And I wish I knew how to reach Target Lady. Her words — and prescriptions to clear up the mastitis and thrush — were enough to keep me from giving up on breastfeeding.
Her encouragement meant the world to me. I know that’s crazy to say — she was stranger and probably just being nice — but she was nice just when I needed it, and she didn’t have to say anything.
Baby Bird and I have now been at it for eight months, and there really isn’t an end in sight. I didn’t think we would or could make it here, but I’m over the moon that we have.
Target Lady: My baby and I thank you. Thank you for engaging an obviously flustered mom. Thank you for your honesty about your situation. Thank you for the much-needed pep talk.
Our encounter was a reminder that you never know how a kind word can change a stranger’s life.
I will pay it forward, and I’ll make sure my daughter does, too.