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Motherhood brings along with it a whole new set of expectations, experiences, challenges and priorities. When I became a mother for the first time, I remember having to stay in the hospital for a whole week because my daughter had infant jaundice. I, along with my husband, cried when we saw the little one under the UV lights in just her diaper and a mask covering her eyes. We hoped we could just take her home and everything would fall in place. Little did I know the emotional roller coaster ride that I had signed up for. The first day at home had relatives visiting the baby and giving me friendly advice on baby care. It wasn’t even preaching or finding fault in anything I did, but listening to the easy manual to ideal parenting made me so overwhelmed that I cried on my husband’s shoulder for an unreasonably long time. I knew I was a disaster mom in the making.
I expected breastfeeding to be a challenge for me. But, my daughter got the knack of it from day one and she got into the habit of sleeping off while feeding. Sure there were days when she would keep on crying despite the feeds and I had to walk around to shush her, but feeding was the easiest method to make her sleep. I used to get a good night’s sleep because we practised co-sleeping (like every other Indian household). Little did I know that this dependence on breastfeeding will bite me in the ass soon. We had these grand plans of shifting abroad within 3 months of our child‘s birth. It didn’t work out as per the schedule and I had to join back work when my daughter was six months old. She had just started on solid foods and refused to drink anything other than breast milk. She hated the bottle and didn’t know how to sleep without latching on to my breast. To say we had a disastrous few weeks, would be a gross understatement.
Fast forward to around when my daughter was two years old. She was still dependent on breastfeeding to go to sleep. So, the number of feeds had gone to just two (one before the afternoon nap and one in the night). Theoretically, she was weaned off the breast but practically, I couldn’t stay away from her even for a day as she wouldn’t sleep without being fed. I started taking long walks in the afternoon with her on her pram and she started to sleep in the afternoon without feeding. But night feeding was still an issue. I used to sit with her watching TV for hours into the night to make her sleep off due to tiredness. Never worked! I used to let her cry to sleep to avoid feeding, but that too didn’t make much difference. Lots of nights were spent holding her and walking around before she finally decided she was done with breastfeeding. I had expected it to be a relief of sorts but instead, I ended up becoming an emotional wreck as I felt my baby was no longer dependent on me and that somehow would make her grow apart from me. Although I missed the closeness we had, I was finally relieved that I didn’t need to dress to feed while going out.
Breastfeeding in public places had always been an issue for me. People look at you like you are doing some crime by choosing to feed your child out of your home (men and women alike). Even if you are wearing a nursing bra which covers most of your breast and cover yourself with a shawl (even at the inconvenience of causing suffocation to the baby), there seems to be this disgust in people’s eyes for someone daring to feed where other people could see. The primary function of a female breast is nourishing her offspring. But the sight of a bit of skin on a mother’s breast is embarrassing for everyone while the same breasts in a skimpy bikini are ogled at openly by even the so-called ‘sanskaris’. Of course, there are designated feeding areas in some places, in case women feel uncomfortable to feed in public. But, what if I am not uncomfortable and choose to sit along with my family and enjoy their company and feed my little one simultaneously? Is that something to be frowned upon? Breastfeeding mothers face a lot of problems owing to their choice to breastfeed instead of depending on the bottle. Leaking breasts, engorgement pains, mastitis, absent or irregular periods and breast soreness all take a toll on a breastfeeding mom at some point or the other. A supportive environment would go a long way in making this journey easier for her.
My journey of breastfeeding took a totally different turn with the birth of my second child. She didn’t immediately take to breastfeeding like my older one. Two weeks of birth and she still couldn’t latch on properly. She lost almost half a kilo from her birth weight. Pumping and feeding by spoon was the only option I had. It was taking a toll on my sleep and thereby, my emotional well-being. I broke down in front of the paediatrician, feeling helpless. I was a second time mom and I was expected to master these issues the second time around. But, there I was bawling like a 2-year-old in front of a doctor, who I guess was younger than me, about something that really wasn’t under my control, but made me feel like a bad mother all the same. My gynaecologist prescribed me some anxiety medicines considering my worrisome nature. I even suspected that I was going into postpartum depression. Thankfully after two weeks of struggling with her technique, she finally started sucking and drinking till her stomach was full. But, even at 15 months, there are days when she decides that breastfeeding to sleep is a boring thing to do and cries for an hour or two to let us know who the boss is. Although she has mostly maintained a peaceful symbiosis with my breasts, I would have preferred to not have myself chomped just after she turned three months old, with her teeth erupting earlier than expected. Slowly but surely I had entered the second phase of “feeding the baby to sleep”.
You would think I learnt my lessons on the banes of making the child dependent on your breast for sleeping. But I am basically a lazy ass who chose to have a good night’s sleep instead of spending it on making the baby sleep by alternative methods. So, at 15 months, she still sleeps only when breastfed. She absolutely hates eating solids because her walking milk dairy is always around. I am again in a situation where I can’t stay away from home for more than a day. Keeping my fingers crossed for a better weaning experience this time around. Taking long walks is out of the question in Mumbai. So, I have to be a bit more innovative in my second war of weaning. I have never regretted my decision to breastfeed both my babies but at some point, I have asked myself if I should have got them used to formula simultaneously to aid the process of weaning. My heart goes out to the mothers who find it difficult to feed because of supply issues. I also support women who choose to bottle feed on their own accord. The reasons for the same are known to you and as long as you are convinced that it is what you want for yourself and your child, I would be the first to stand in your defence if someone questions your choice.
Motherhood is a challenge: you can make it good by trusting your instincts and acting accordingly; you can make it bad by doubting yourself and second-guessing your choices; you could even make it ugly by allowing yourself to be guided by what the society thinks is right for you, and you decide to be a perfect mother as per industry standards (read society). Unlike any other job, there are no perfect mothers. You make mistakes and try not to make those mistakes again. You learn from your peers and use those lessons to improve yourself. And, you do your best, say your “Hail Marys” and pray you didn’t mess up.
P. S. I have heard of people donating/selling their excess breast milk to agencies who collect it and sell it to mothers/caregivers who have supply issues. Some might see it as commercialization of a noble aspect of motherhood. But breasts (or tits or boobs, if you prefer) have always been commercialized for public display requirements. So, why not use it’s by-product for a bit of commerce if you have it in excess (no pun intended ?)?