More than Just a Breast

Guest post by Lisa D’archangelo

It’s safe to say that most of my expectations of having a baby were blown out of the water by actual reality. I mean… millions of people have babies every day; how hard could it be… right?

Expectation: Hey, I’ve never been off of work for an entire 3 months – I’m going to get SO much done on maternity leave!  

Reality: OMG I haven’t showered in 2 days, I can’t remember the last time I ate, and I’d choose sleep over either of those things.

I also envisioned a beautiful, bonding breastfeeding experience with my baby, which would enhance our relationship. I expected to nurse my baby for at least a year. I mean… millions of women breastfeed every day; how hard could it be… right?

What I couldn’t have predicted was the massive amount of time and logistics involved in breastfeeding; especially after going back to work full time. 

Every spare minute was spent pumping, preparing bottles, freezing milk, and cleaning parts. I frequently had to ask my husband to watch the baby because I was at the breast pump and unable to engage with my child. I even bought an AC-to-cigarette lighter adapter so that I could pump on my commute to work. This way I could multi-task while sitting in DC traffic, rather than spend an hour of my morning chained to the pump. Plus the truckers loved it!*

Worst of all though, was the havoc that lactation hormones wreaked on my mental health.  The hormones required to breastfeed create a “menopausal”-like state. Lactation requires a severe drop in estrogen and a large spike in prolactin. Although I didn’t correlate it at the time, I believe these hormones triggered my severe anxiety, as well as feelings of hopelessness. Those symptoms made me think that having a baby had been a terrible mistake. 

When my son was 6 months old, I finally reached out for help for postpartum anxiety and depression. I was startled to learn that several professionals encouraged me to wean from breastfeeding.

My first reaction was, “OH NO, I could never do that… the guilt would kill me“.  What about those stats I heard touting the benefits of breast milk?  I’d even heard that it even decreases the risk of SIDS.

My anxious mind yelled, SIDS?!?  Dear God…my baby will literally die if I don’t breastfeed him.

One of my caregivers finally broke through my thoughts by asking, “As a mother, aren’t you more than just a breast?”

Sure, when you put it THAT way – yes, absolutely. 

I AM more than just a breast. 

Being a mother is so much more than just breastfeeding. I am a comfort to my son when he needs it; I am there for him when he cries. I am a playmate, and a teacher. I’ll kiss his boo-boo when he scrapes his knee. I’ll teach him to swim. I can’t wait to take him to the zoo and Disney World. I will show him right from wrong. I will guide him through life’s tough situations.

In fact my breast plays the most minuscule part in our relationship.

I am much more than just a breast.  

Ironically, weaning from breastfeeding allowed me MORE quality time with my son. No longer was I tethered to a pump and continuously hunched over the kitchen sink washing parts. I had more time to sit one-on-one and play with him. No longer was I lethargic from the physical toll breastfeeding took on my body; I had much more energy to take walks with the stroller and play with him. My hormones restored to balance and greatly helped relieve my postpartum anxiety and depression – I was a happier person and a much better mother to my son.

Does our culture overvalue breastfeeding? 

Maybe. 

Is sacrificing my mental health and so much bonding time worth avoiding formula at all costs? 

I think not.

 

*Just kidding – I used a front cape and no one ever seemed to notice.

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