How My Breastfeeding Failure Was My Biggest Win
Let's talk about breastfeeding! I was planning on making a video about the 10 Best Breastfeeding Practices and How To Increase Your Milk Supply Quickly. While those will be great videos that will help lots of women, I decided to share something more personal with you. Today, I want to share my breastfeeding story of failure, self-shame, comparison, lack of confidence, and poor body image. Watch today's Episode of Apothecary Wisdom to hear my personal breastfeeding journey of failing and how that was the best thing that ever happened to me!
My name is Maria Chowdhury; I'm a mother, midwife, and herbalist. As a mother, I breastfeed my baby for 3 years. As a midwife, I've helped hundreds of families have safe home births, and as an herbalist, my company Birth Song Botanicals has supported over 30 thousand women breastfeed.
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My Breastfeeding Failure Story
Rather than giving you a list of facts about breastfeeding, I want to tell this story because I want you to know how much I loved nursing my baby. And I'm not exaggerating when I say it was by far one of the most challenging things I've ever done!
Let me set the scene, there I was an apprentice midwife; I attended 67 births before it was my turn to give birth. I was well prepared for birth, and I thought I was ready for breastfeeding too! I read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and the Complete Guide to Breastfeeding. I went to La Leche League meetings. I helped other women perfect their latch and figure out their breastfeeding challenges. I knew it was hard, and I knew the benefits of breastfeeding for moms and babies. Heck, I grew up watching my mom and her friends nurse their babies. Breastfeeding was my only viable option.
To this day, I'm so glad that I had such deep and wide roots in the natural birth and parenting community because I needed every bit of that support when it was my turn.
Let's start this story by comparing:
I have a friend from high school. She is my frienemy - Actually I love her dearly. But you have a friend like her too. Admit it. You have a friend that you think that you are better than her. In fact, you know your better than her in so many ways. When things get hard, she quits. You don't!
When we were younger, we both started massage school together. She decided it wasn't right for her pretty early on; she dropped out. Later, we both started karate. She stopped at a white belt, and I have a second-degree black belt. We took a long hiking trip. In the first week, she went home, and I completed all 256 miles carrying a 60 lb. backpack. We both wanted to travel. She traveled in the US with her boyfriend, and I traveled to Central America alone for 3 years. We gave birth a few months apart. I gave birth in July. I had a long hard 3 day labor and pushed out my tiny 5 1/2 pound baby in my back yard in the water birth pool. She had a long hard labor and needed a very necessary Caesarean Birth for her nearly 11-pound baby!
Every 2 hours, when I nursed, my baby cried and lost weight. When I pumped, I could not even pump an ounce of milk. I took herbs. I read the books, had lactation consultants, changed my diet, did breast massages, whatever it took, I did it.
On the other hand, she could nurse her happy fat buddha baby every 3-4-6 hours, and when she squeezed her breast, milk would shoot and spray across the room. She pumped bottles and bottles full of milk. She never read a book, never changed her diet or anything. Without even trying, she defeated me on every level.
I mean, who cares if I had a career, hiked hundreds of miles, learned a new language, or had a black belt if I couldn't nurse my baby. I felt like such an utter failure. Failing on this level was such a blow to the very fabric of my being as a woman and as a midwife.
Let's talk about failing. Here we'll compare men failing at something versus women failing at something. When a man fails, he thinks to himself; maybe he needed more effort, time, discipline, or a different tool or strategy. Essentially, when a man fails, it is a reflection of his performance.
However, when women fail, we think that we are bad, that we are not good enough, not valuable enough, not capable. We believe we failed because of who we are. It's not about the amount of effort we put into it. We are failures. It's not a reflection of our performance; it's a reflection of us.
Pause for a minute and do something with me. Listen to my words and see how they feel in your body.
Women feel like we fail because of who we are, not what we do.
How does that feel in your body? What sensations are coming up? I'm not sure how you feel. But I feel a sinking feeling—a constriction in my chest and belly. I feel more and more isolated and depressed.
We can't leave you here like this! This is not failing powerfully. We need to build back up your confidence. Breastfeeding takes confidence. Mothering takes confidence. Shoot making your baby; you felt confident or some kind of way.
Confidence is trust and seeing a clear pathway to success. Confidence is cultivated and grown. We simultaneously overestimate our selves and underestimate ourselves.
For example, breastfeeding will be easy for me because I'm Maria, and I want to do it. Or, I'm failing at breastfeeding and can't nurse my baby because I'm Maria and I’m inadequate and suck.
In order to cultivate confidence, we need to tap into our resources. We have seen and obvious resources and hidden internal resources.
Ask Your Self:
What resources do I already have to be successful at breastfeeding?
You have breasts. You have a baby. You have already done hard things. You have life experience even if you're 16 you have life experience. You are a part of a global group of billions of women past present and future who have nursed their babies despite challenges. You have breastfeeding books, videos. I suggest watching all my breastfeeding videos, on Youtube, especially the sore nipple video, even if you don't have sore nipples because I share pretty much all the reasons for most breastfeeding problems.
See how you have resources. Now look at your breastfeeding challenge and try to determine what resources you need in order to be successful. It might be to drink more water, call the lactation consultant, evaluate the lip tie, treat the thrush, take herbs to increase your supply, believe in yourself, and know you are capable?
When you start to see the resources you have and recognize the ones you need, it becomes more clear. When you have a clear path, you can make the decisions you need to make.
You are not perfect. You are POWERFUL! You do not have to know all the answers or have the next ten years all figured out. All you need to do is be able to grow, learn, and keep your eyes on the horizon. Take it one step at a time.
Learning to trust that voice inside you, that impulse that you have in your clearest moments. Is how you cultivate confidence and intuition. As a mother, you need to be able to differentiate between the voice that makes you feel small, separate, and depressed from the one that makes you feel clear, expanded, connected, and confident.
As a mother, you are the primary decision-maker for your body and your baby. Yes, some of you are in partnerships, and others are single. Those of you who are in partnerships, I'm not saying to not listen to your partner. Of course, you two need to make choices together as a couple. Yet it happens all the time that powerful women defer to men to make decisions.
Let me illustrate one more difference between men and women here: When it comes to defending a point or an opinion. Women need to be 80% confident that they know what they are talking about before arguing her point. On the other hand, men need to be about 35% confident before they argue their point. I'm bringing this up because just because your partner expresses strong feelings about something does not mean that they are deeply rooted in the facts of the situation like you are. Trust your voice and your self. It is possible that with your communication skills, you can help them see where you are coming from and change their perspective.
If you want to know more about how to include your partner in your breastfeeding and have better communication with them, I suggest watching the video called: How to include your partner in birth and postpartum.
Sensuality, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding are wonderful opportunities for us to embody the paradox of being simultaneously the most powerful and the most vulnerable we can ever be.
I have a theory that the origins of phrases like well, at least you tried. And at least you have a healthy baby. Come from men being supportive and seeing how hard we take our failures.
Pritam was sweet and supportive, but he couldn't understand why I couldn't just give him a bottle. I mean, he was bottle-fed. He's fine. Millions of babies are bottle-fed, they are fine.
I want to walk lightly here because this is a delicate topic. When we don't have realistic expectations about breastfeeding and are not devoutly committed to nursing our babies, and we lack confidence we can be swayed to give bottles and formulas before we really need to.
This is why I love midwifery books and breastfeeding books that were written in the 1970s. Perhaps it's because those women were my mentors. And I learned my art with their guidance. Also, I think it is because it is refreshing to hear tough love written on the pages.
Modern women don't hear their care providers making them make their own decisions and doing the hard work. They don't get a healthy dose of, you can do it! Of course, it's hard. It's supposed to be hard. It's not called a picnic! Let's figure it out together!
It is not normal! It's not natural. It's not biological. I'm very aware of the life-saving contributions that formula has made. Yes, it can be/ and is life-saving. However, lots of babies die all over the world from diarrhea and formula. From my perspective, it is the last step when nothing else is working. You have tried everything else first.
My comment is not about what's best for everyone else; it's about what's best for me and my baby. And It's about my concern that healthy, capable women are choosing not to breastfeed, and they think they are making empowered and informed choices. Instead, they are giving away their power, money and risking their health and trust in their bodies and their babies. And the ripple out affects all other areas of their lives.
Having deep roots in knowing about breastfeeding is what kept me going in the darkest days.
Back To My Story
In the meantime, being the herbalist I am, I decided I'd make my own blend to increase my milk supply! I got all the most potent galactagogues I knew and started perfecting my Let There Be Milk! formula. I clearly remember mixing goats rue, blessed thistle, and marshmallow root in a tea! Let me tell you! It is not for the faint of heart. The bitter snot-like consistency is intolerable. I had to find another way, so pulling out the coffee grinder, I ground the herbs and placed them into capsules. Let me tell you that that is quite a task in and of itself. Being a breastfeeding mom of a crying baby that nursed every two hours was hard for me to pull it off, even though it was more pleasant to take. Finally, I made a tincture of the herbs. And they worked! Little by little, I could tell my breast were filling up with more milk, and his demeanor seemed to shift. Everything seemed to be going in the right direction.
Every day got a little easier. So easy, in fact, that around 4-6 weeks postpartum, I decided I could go out to the health food store. Remember, this is my first time out of the house to a public place other than the midwife's office. I used to work at the coop, and I knew lots of people there. Getting dressed, I remembered breastfeeding moms should wear a button-up blouse so you can easily access your breast to nurse when you have to.
We are at the coop, and Sequoyah needs to nurse. Fortunately, I'm already in the dining area, outside, and visiting with my friend, a customer at the store.
Imagine the school bus driver with the long hair on the Simpsons. That's who I'm talking to. We are outside, talking, Sequoyah needs to nurse. Without thinking of anyone else other than myself and Sequoyah, I start to unbutton my shirt, pull my boob out, and begin to nurse. Looking up, after a moment, I realize that this sweet metalhead, man is not sure what to do. Does he keep looking at me, look away, does he run away? He's all awkward. Now, I'm awkward. Sequoyah starts crying.
Lesson 1 and catch 22 from this experience. Unbutton your shirt from the bottom to the top. That way, your breasts are covered, and you can still nurse without flashing the innocent bystander that is not expecting you to pull your breast out suddenly.
Catch 22: Now, instead of your beautiful full breast revealed, it's your fat roll hanging out. When I gave birth, I weighed over 200 pounds. Needless to say, I had quite a roll that was hard to hide with my shirt pulled up. Now, I had to choose what part of your body I wanted to show. I'd rather show my breast, but society wants me to show my belly.
At the time, we did not have nursing tank tops or fancy nursing clothes. You are so fortunate that they make tons of cute clothes for breastfeeding now!
As the story unfolds, my friend with all the milk and I make a deal. We both have something the other wants. I want her thick fat baby making breastmilk, and she wants a massage because her back hurts from all her gallons of milk she carries around all day. So, we devised a mutual exchange where I would massage her once a week in exchange for her breastmilk.
When I first gave Sequoyah a bottle of her milk, my soul was crushed, and I cried and cried because it wasn't my milk. Yet, I was proud of our ability to take care of each other as good friends do. Of course, I wanted my baby to get all big and fat like hers.
Eventually, after several bottles of milk, I realized that he was not any more chill, fat, or happy than he was before, my heart rejoiced in the fact that he did not need her milk! My milk was enough for him. I was enough for him. I could do it! I was doing it! Even though I could not pump any milk! Even though my baby was tiny, he was fit and healthy! He still is!
Everyone except my midwife and my mom told me to get over it and give him formula, or goats milk, or my friends' milk, anything other than just my milk because it's not enough. (you're not enough) You are putting too much meaning into this Maria, why do you care so much?
He was so small he did not even register on the growth chart. Yet, he had regular bowel movements, bright eyes, and skin, he was not lethargic, no jaundice, and was gaining weight little by little.
I say everyone, but that's not true. I didn't reach out to people for help. Hardly anyone knew I was going through such a hard time. I let everyone believe that I was okay and that I didn't have any problems or needs. I was too afraid to show my vulnerabilities with my peers. Because I was the expert, I'm the one people come to help solve their problems. I don't have issues of my own.
Actually, I'm still learning how to share vulnerabilities and needs. It does not come easy for me, that's for sure.
In the end, when Sequoyah was around 6 months old, when I went back to births, he got some of her milk and some goat milk. When I was home, he nursed all the time. We had a weaning party when he turned 3. He was a big boy who went to "school" and knew how to use the potty, so he was ready. Of course, the day after we officially weaned, he got a mild cold, and I questioned if I should really stop or not. We were both ready.
I'm sharing this story with you for a few reasons. One is because I want you to know first hand just because something is normal and natural doesn't mean it's easy. At the same time, just because it's hard doesn't mean you should quit.
Like me, you may be surrounded by loving people, but they do not realize how much they are not supporting your deepest goals of nursing your baby. That feeling of wanting to feed your baby is a strong generational pull. It is in your biology to want to nurse your baby. And the feelings of failure are painful. Other people may not understand why you care so much, why you need to do it.
What I don't want this post to do is to put extra pressure or judgment on you. You will put that on your self you don't need that from me. I'm here to show you that in the right circumstances, you can forge your own way with confidence. It is a struggle, but in the end, you will be so proud of yourself that you ultimately chose how you on your own terms how to feed your baby, rather than giving in to the pressures of society and your family. Learning to trust yourself is one of the most empowering gifts and skills available to us!
Remember, you are a good mom! You are powerful, and you are doing all the right things!
Golden Nuggets From This Experience:
- Support your friends and don’t compare your self to each other or you will lose your joy.
- You either win or learn. You don’t fail. If you feel like a failure ask yourself what is the deeper truth of the situation and what are you learning? What support do you need? Why is this showing up in your life?
- Confidence is cultivating trust so you can have a clear path to success.
- Trust and act on your inner knowing when you are in your clearest moments. This skill will carry you through life.
- You are enough for your baby!
Hugs, my friend, I'll see you in the next video!
Remember to let your love and your milk flow!