Her nipples are bleeding, her 5 day old baby is hungry and she's crying because she has had to offer some bottles of expressed milk because she couldn't bare the pain of feeding. She cries and asks if this is the end. All she wanted was to breastfeed, but she can't and she's so upset she isn't breastfeeding like she'd planned to.
This isn't the account of any one mother, but the account of so many mothers that I have sat with. They had a plan that they were going to breastfeed, but their plan looked a bit like what we've idealised breastfeeding to look like, instead of what breastfeeding really is. Her plan involved her sitting relaxed on a sofa with her baby at the breast, staring lovingly down at him, both of them bonding. Because this hasn't happened then she feels she hasn't succeeded at breastfeeding.
But what if she is breastfeeding? What if I said that this, or any of the varied versions of a mother crying and feeling a sense of failure at reaching obstacles so early on, is pretty normal for breastfeeding? I always think of breastfeeding a bit like this... After years of saving money, I've finally taken the leap to leave my job and pack up my car and hit the road for a year long adventure. I have absolutely no plan other than to enjoy this year of travelling, where I intend to take everything as it comes. A friend said they'd done it previously and it was the best thing they'd ever done, so here I go. I get in the car and drive. I get as far as the edge of my town and I'm faced with my first big decision; I have two options. I could take a turn which takes me the scenic route, but then it might take me a bit longer and I don't know what to expect. It's possible it may have nicer views? Or I could go the other way which will get me on the motorway and I'll be able to get farther faster, but includes a toll road. I don't want to spend that money just yet, and I'm not entirely sure it's necessary, so I take the longer unknown route.
About an hour later I find myself on a single lane country track that is flooded with rain water from the day before. I hadn't anticipated it and I was really hoping to get down this road. To turn around would take me longer to get to a pub I was hoping to eat & rest at. I sit in the road for a while and debate whether I can risk driving through it or whether I'd flood my engine. In the end I think it too risky, so I reverse back up and find another way. Only, now even more annoyingly I'm stopped by a road closure going the other way!
I'm forced to go the only way that I didn't want to go, which was through a heavily trafficked road with lights and little scenery. I had expected that my adventure would involve lots of beautiful sites, not busy towns. With no other choice left, I take the detour and after many hours sitting in traffic I finally get to that country pub where I can take a break to stretch my legs, eat some food, and appreciate the local area.
A few days pass and things are uneventful and I begin to settle and become comfortable with the travel; I begin to enjoy things...until...my check engine light comes on. What?! How am I supposed to deal with this? It's going to cost a fortune and I had so many plans on how I was going to spend this money I'd saved for my year of travel. I'm so upset and decide maybe I should just throw in the towel. This is so frustrating and I feel like everything I worked so hard for is now going to be lost and I'll have to go home and tell all my friends (who had all been really excited for me and threw me a leaving party) that I was a complete failure and couldn't manage it. Before I make such a final decision, I find a local garage to see if they can help. They check my car over and it turns out that because I'd gone in as soon as I had noticed something was wrong, they were able to fix it by replacing only one part and I only had to pay £100 out of my savings. I suddenly felt a huge relief that I was able to carry on with my plans.
The rest of the year carried on much the same, only I became more proficient at dealing with the detours and unwelcome surprises. I relaxed more and was able to enjoy the scenery a bit more without worrying about all the problems that might arise and how I'd deal with them. I began to enjoy the journey.
We start out breastfeeding with this idea that it's something that we will achieve at some point and that until we get to that point of proficiency, we aren't yet safe to say that we are breastfeeding. However, breastfeeding is not an end point, it is not a destination. Breastfeeding is a journey. You will start out and hit many obstacles and road blocks that mean you will need to make choices. Do you drive through the water; do you grin and bear it and see if you can make it through the painful nipples? Maybe you need to find another way, maybe you end up using nipple shields until you can get help and correct the latch, maybe you take a detour and end up expressing and feeding for a while, maybe you decide you don't want to do it and you go back home. Those choices are yours, and not everyone will make the same choice. The person coming down the road after you may have a truck that can make it through the flooded road, but only to find there's a low bridge they can't pass. Their journey might look slightly different, but it won't be without their own struggles; we shouldn't watch them sail through that puddle and think, "They have it easier."
There may be times when you need to find your local garage, or a professional that knows a bit more to help you get back on the road you were travelling, thinks doesn't mean that you couldn't breastfeed, it just means that may be part of your breastfeeding journey.
You'll have periods where you relax into things and begin to enjoy it and you may even feel like you'll journey for longer than the year you initially planned, who knows? You just know you feel more confident to take it as it comes and deal with obstacle as they arise. You begin to recognise that in the moment you're a breastfeeding mother, but maybe one day that journey will end and that will be okay, too, because you have made some memories to cherish for a lifetime. Everything about your travels will be completely different from that of another breastfeeding mother, but they are two individual journeys that are different in as many ways as you are two different people with two different babies.
So, if you're reading this and you're the mother that has found herself at the flooded road, just remember that this is your journey and you can make the decisions. You can phone someone and talk through your options and see what might work best for getting you to the other side of that obstacle, but that doesn't mean that you are failing or that you are no longer able to continue your journey, it just means that your journey isn't going to be what you expected. But then when is life ever going to go to plan?
Here are a list contacts you may want to phone when you need a bit of help:
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers National Helpline: 0300 330 5453
National Childbirth Trust National Helpline: 0300 330 0700
The Breastfeeding Network National Helpline: 0300 100 0212