This piece was written by my Mary Hawkins, a former birth class client turned friend turned birth educator who enjoyed her simple, fast birth. She then struggled deeply with breastfeeding. She is the mother of one and another making its way to her. Here she offers us a beautiful, raw look at how it feels to survive the struggles.
We wear invisible badges of honor as parents. Or rather, we earn these measures of our strength and fortitude, and we earn them in ways that do not come up in typical daily conversation. Not everyone can get a badge for the same thing, because for one parent a milestone might be easy while for another it requires Herculean force. Our badges say things like "I survived going back to work at 6 weeks when my FLMA was up and sometimes I still feel guilty" or "No one in our house slept through the night until a month ago" or "3 years of fertility treatments".
Not all our invisible accomplishments become badges. I don't even think we wear badges for those things we survive that make us feel like better people afterward. Those challenges that clearly benefited our relationships and ourselves are absorbed into the body as new assets, glowing quietly within us. We feel proud when we think about those times, and can look back on our hardship with compassion, love, and gratitude for the experience. I feel this way about my husband's deployment. It was hard, but we came out with so much insight and tenderness, I'm happy when I remember it. I don't have to wear deployment as a badge.
Badges are for trials we haven't quite recovered from yet. My badge says "Breastfeeding."
Maybe it should really say "Breastfeeding with insufficient glandular tissue," but I didn't know that while it was happening. Truly, I don't even know that for sure now. But what I know, I know after nursing, syringe feeding, finger feeding, feeding with an SNS on the breast, paced bottle feeding, pumping, pumping after nursing, pumping after bottle feeding after nursing, cleaning bottles when I should have been sleeping, meeting with two International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, appointments with my doctor, my pediatrician, my midwife, and an endocrinologist, an invaluable but overwhelming online support group, and a battery of tests done in one day that included at least 10 blood draws (was it more like 14?) and that glucose drink everyone loves. I know that my breasts do not make a full milk supply, no matter what I do. So in the end, there's "nothing wrong with me".
Nothing was wrong! It was time for celebration, but perhaps more so, grief. The irony was not lost on myself or my family-'nothing wrong with me' meant freedom from my struggle, it meant I had received my diagnosis of exclusion for IGT. It meant I had done all the right things in search of my milk supply. But it also meant that it was time to pry my fingers off the steering wheel and live with the fact that there was nothing more to do at this time. I did allow the tests to affirm all the hard choices I have made in the last ten years to prioritize my health. I did soak in the confirmation of how much I had done during my pregnancy to care for myself and my baby. Those things glow within me, they travel with me invisibly on the inside.
But "Breastfeeding" still reads clearly on my badge. My badge is my yearning to tell my story, to honor my grief, to embrace my truth, to heal myself and those also affected by this thing that looking back, I don't really know how I survived. But I did, one moment at a time. So, until I reveal my hurt in words so many times that the words stop hurting-until I glow instead of suffer-I will wear my badge. And I will try to listen closely, to see if you want to talk about your badge, too.
Do you want to talk about your badge? Tell us about it below.
Or contact Mary, who teaches birth classes in the Chicago area, at her website here.
Image credits: PROrabble and Kelly Sue DeConnick via Flickr/CC