I have one picture of my daughter nursing.
The first four weeks of her life were the most difficult weeks of my life. On top of the usual sleep deprivation, stress, and massive doubt that comes with a new baby, there was the unexpected struggle of intensely painful breastfeeding. I wasn’t prepared for this.
I don’t remember one whole day where nursing was good. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe there was a day here or there when it was fine, but those weeks are such a blur now that it’s hard to say for sure. Sometimes it only hurt when she first latched. Sometimes it would only hurt at night. But after a few days, it just hurt all the time.
I have one picture of my daughter nursing. I took it exactly two weeks after she was born, five days before her lip and tongue tie revision, and two weeks before I gave up trying to nurse her.
I don’t have good memories of trying to nurse. Whether it was the hormones or “mom guilt”, those moments are mostly clouded by memories of crying every night when my husband handed her to me, feeling guilty for the growing resentment I had every time she’d get hungry, feeling inadequate for not being able to do what my body was designed to do, and the hopelessness of never seeing an improvement.
“It’ll get better,” I kept hearing. The lactation consultant told me her latch was fine. The pediatrician said the same thing. I just had to get used to it.
I have one picture of my daughter nursing. I vaguely remember thinking “One day I’ll want a picture of this.” Did I know subconsciously that these moments were quickly coming to an end?
I can’t remember if I called the pediatric dentist before or after this picture was taken. I was so hoping we’d be that mother and baby who’s breast feeding journey was completely turned around as soon as her lip and tongue tie were revised. For a moment in that office, I thought we were. But within seconds I recognized the pain and realized it had been there the whole time. It didn’t get better.
Even after everything, after all the support, after the immediate feeling of relief the first time I gave her a bottle and she looked right into my eyes, I still feel an overwhelming sense of failure – I couldn’t give my baby what she needed. I couldn’t disregard my own discomfort and force myself to nurse through the pain. I feel selfish. She’s only seven months old, but I don’t think that feeling will ever go away completely. Maybe that’s just a “mom” thing, and maybe I’d have that feeling regardless. After all, she’s still been getting breast milk the entire time.
I have one picture of my daughter nursing. If you’ve seen my Instagram, you know I have plenty of pictures of her giving me the biggest smile or snuggling on my shoulder while she sleeps. She’s the sweetest, happiest baby. She’s always been healthy; thankfully her weight has never been an issue.
I’m not going to share this one picture on social media. This one is just for me. My own reminder of how hard I tried; my own little badge of honor. A token of the intense bond I felt with her from the moment we heard first heard her heart beating, before we had any idea she’d be the little girl who lights up when Daddy walks into the room, climbs over the breast pump to get into Mommy’s arms, loves sweet potatoes, and likes to chew on her burp cloths when she’s teething.
I have one picture of my daughter nursing, and I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life.