Mothers are amazing creatures.
They spend nine months growing a tiny human, hours or even days bringing them into the world, and years of their life focused mainly on raising them into decent humans.
While we hear in the media countless stories of mothers who are uninterested in, abusive of, or resentful of their children, most mothers truly give all they can to their little ones.
The need and willingness to sacrifice for one’s children is a constant pull. Women often find themselves willing to give up things that had once seemed intensely important to them in order to do what they feel is best for their children. From careers to flat stomachs, women give up many things, often without regret.
While we live in a culture where the religion of self and cult of personality seems respected above all, and women are encouraged ad nauseum to practice self care and take some “me time,” mothers often find themselves an exception to this cultural norm. Despite cultural pressures to be selfish, mothers can’t seem to help giving for their children.
I love this about the work of motherhood – I love the sacrifice and the self change that it encourages. I think the push to look away from the mirror and into the eyes of those around us is a purifying and holy thing.
Breastfeeding is one of the early ways that we learn to sacrifice for our children. It takes countless hours, it often interrupts sleep, it requires constant contact, fuel, and nurturing. While a natural function, it can also involve pain, infection, and so much more.
Sometimes motherly sacrifice becomes suffering.
I heard Dr Jack Newman speak a few years ago. He is an amazing wealth of knowledge about breastfeeding and has published extensively and fearlessly on the subject. The thing that struck me from his presentation was when he said that people have no idea how much pain women are willing to go through in order to breastfeed their babies. He, and countless other lactation consultants, have seen women cracked, bleeding, infected, and in horrendous pain – for months – simply pushing through in an effort to give their children the gift of breastmilk.
I had a friend call me recently with questions about breastfeeding. Her older baby has been causing her pain from day one and nursing around the clock. Experts have brushed off her concerns and referred to her low threshold for pain.
And she has persisted nursing through what can only be described as suffering, because she has a burning and inherent desire to give her baby the best – to be a good mother.
I told her how incredible it is that she has done this, and how important I think it is that we, as mothers, sacrifice for our children. But there comes a point where sacrifice is suffering and we must seek help.
We must reach out.
Mothers are often afraid to ask for help. Breastfeeding should not be suffering. Ideally it is an enjoyable experience for both mom and her baby.
But moms don’t want to trouble anyone. They don’t want to admit that they are having a hard time. They don’t want to own up to their own vulnerability or perceived failures. They fear that help indicates failure.
Sadly, sometimes when women DO reach out they get some very bad or negative feedback. And sometimes there doesn’t seem to be anyone around who can help.
Sometimes we are in a place in life where we can reach out, sometimes we are at a place where we have the strength to reach. You know where you are.
Here are some truths about breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding can be hard.
Breastfeeding is often exhausting.
Sometimes the things that are best for our children are hard for us.
Sometimes we are tempted to give up.
Here are some falsehoods about breastfeeding:
There is shame is seeking help.
There is shame in admitting we are struggling.
You must continue doing something that is painful forever and without help or risk being a bad mother.
The balance between suffering and sacrifice is found in community, vulnerability, and seeking help.
I think our independence sometimes gets in the way of our sanity. It sounds simple, but there is great power in community. There is great power in vulnerability. There is great power in asking for and accepting help.
If you are struggling with breastfeeding or mothering or any aspect therein, I am not saying to give up and take a spa day. That isn’t necessarily the answer. I am saying to reach out. Think of a friend. Think of a trusted professional. Ask for help. Find necessary breastfeeding resources. They exist.
Don’t wait until you are suffering. Don’t wait until your nipples are cracked and bleeding and you feel like punching a wall. The relationship of breastfeeding DOES have a learning curve and can have challenges. But it is not meant to be suffering. It should not leave lasting scars.
Tell someone what is going on.
I know this can be hard and I know it can feel like failure, but it isn’t. It is how we are meant to survive.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to raise healthy children in a vacuum. Healthy children thrive when raised by healthy mothers – emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically healthy mothers. Children need a community of support and so do their mothers.
Find community groups. (I know it’s hard to go out.) Call a friend. Call a loved relative. Ask a trusted professional for help. Find out if there are options.
It sounds like a cheesy punch line or cat poster, but it isn’t.
We need each other.