(Originally published on Romper and republished here with permission.)
Breastfeeding, while a wondrous thing, can be frustrating, painful, exhausting, and, at times, extremely confusing.
Parents who are nursing might feel conflicted about the fact that while they’re lucky they’re able to successfully breastfeed, there are certain aspects of nursing that aren’t so great (engorgement, anyone?).
There are a lot of totally normal things breastfeeding parents feel about their bodies so, honestly, there’s no reason to feel like a weirdo. You’re definitely not alone.
I often felt ungrateful every time I had a negative thing to say about my breastfeeding body because I knew I was lucky to have come to breastfeeding so easily.
My son latched within the first few moments of my offering him my breast in the hospital, and after a few awkward football holds, we were off to the races and stuck together like white-on-rice well beyond the sixteen month mark.
Still, there were things about nursing that made me rage against my body.
The lopsided breasts, the uncontrollable leakage, constantly having to be beholden to another person who was relying on me as his life source. (You know, like, no big deal.)
It was confusing, to say the least, to have these feelings about my body, while it was simultaneously doing this awesome thing (that is, feeding my baby). Still, it was also doing things I didn’t have any control over, and that’s not an easy feeling to accept.
Of course, now that I’m far away from my days of breastfeeding and my body is back to being my own, there are times that I kind of miss (certain aspects of) nursing.
In short, having conflicting feelings is part of the whole package of pregnancy and motherhood and is a completely normal thing.
1. That Your Body Isn’t Your Own and You Only Live to Serve
You only live here in this body, but no one cares, because your purpose on this Earth right now is to provide sustenance to this baby in front of you.
You’re a humble vessel whose sole purpose is to feed and nurture the baby. For a lot of moms, this gets old after a while. It has them wondering, like it did for me “Hey, what am I, chopped liver?”
When I was nursing my first son, who seemed to never tire of being attached to my breast, there were times when I began to question my purpose. What was I if I wasn’t breastfeeding? Did I exist if I wasn’t nursing? Who was the woman behind the boobs?
2. That You’re a 24/7 Diner Specializing in Just One Thing
You wonder if chefs at those fad restaurants that people line up for to only order the one thing on the menu, like a dumpling bigger than their head, feels the same frustration.
Would it be so hard, you wonder, for your body to maybe be able to turn up something a little different? Instead of milk, maybe a nice coconut water every once in a while?
3. That Your Body Just Doesn’t Make Any Sense
One day your boobs are size C, the next day the left boob is a D, and the right boob is between an A and a B, all thanks to your baby’s marathon nursing session that morning.
And, of course, you only own one nursing bra that’s currently clean.
Nothing makes sense about your breastfeeding body. Physically, you’re a case of “one of these things isn’t like the other,” and emotionally, you’re either filled with baby bliss or crying because you’re so tired and hormonal.
4. That You Have No Control Over Your Own Body’s Responses to External Stimuli
You kind of understand why it happens, but, still, it’s something you’re less than thrilled about: hearing another baby cry can make you lactate and there’s nothing you can do about that.
At times, I wished there were more fun and delightful perks to what your body does while nursing. Like, if you hear a baby cry and you’re breastfeeding, why can’t little birds just start flying overhead singing sweet music to you? Or why can’t flower petals start raining down overhead?
Both of those things seem like lovely alternatives to milk uncontrollably leaking out of your breasts when you’re completely unprepared and not necessarily anywhere near your own baby.
5. That You Sometimes Really Don’t Like Your Body
When I would wake up in the morning with the rock hard feeling in my breasts from not having nursed for hours, I’d have some choice words for my body.
I couldn’t understand why my body would want to punish me for something that really wasn’t my fault.
If my baby had decided he wanted to sleep for several hours (for once) and not nurse, what was I expected to do? Wake him up? This should’ve been cause for celebration! But no. My body would punish me instead, waking me up with heavy rocks in each breast the next morning. Really unfair.
6. That You Sometimes Observe Your Naked Body Like It’s a Medical Curiosity
When I was breastfeeding, sometimes I could see these blue veins starting in my upper chest area protruding in this nearly perverse, almost grotesque way.
Without any nod towards actual science, I would imagine my milk coming from some kind of pouch in my neck and filtering down through those veins and into my breasts. I felt like a freak show.
Was I actually a superhero and I didn’t know it? Was my body bred from infancy to perform feats that defied nature? What was up with all those blue veins? It freaked me out and fascinated me all at once.
7. That You Kind of Can’t Wait to Go Back to the Old You
Even though I knew I wouldn’t be breastfeeding forever, and that I should savor the many tender moments that my children and I enjoyed when we were connected while I was nursing, I also really looked forward to when it would be over.
I longed to go back to the days of not having to carry nursing pads around, or worry about things like leaking, or having to change my shirt in the middle of the day. I looked forward to having just one size of bras in my underwear drawer, and being able to wear the shirts I wore pre-pregnancy.
Every now and again I can still feel that weird tingle or tensing up feeling in my chest I used to get when my body was trying to tell me it was time to nurse.
I don’t know where that feeling comes from now, as there certainly is no milk anywhere in my body at this point in the game. I imagine it’s phantom in nature. I wonder if I will always feel it, because the connection you get when you breastfeed a child is so intense.
Do you ever truly get your body back, in every sense of the word?
Alexis Barad-Cutler is an essayist, children’s book author, and book publishing veteran.
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