After suffering a miscarriage and many scary labor and delivery visits during pregnancy, the last thing I thought would be an issue was being able to breastfeed my children. I felt the pressure to breastfeed and felt like a failure when it didn’t come naturally. As traditional as my culture is, I felt defeated as I was trying to prove that I could do like my grandmothers and their grandmothers had done. Now, five years later, I still find it hard to cope when I hear negative comments from friends and family about women who have a hard time breastfeeding.
My journey with breastfeeding my son summed up to a starving baby, a distraught mother, and a lot of pain. It wasn’t just physical pain, but emotional pain too. Everything I had learned, everything I expected from breastfeeding didn’t happen for me, and soon I was feeling the pressure from nurses and even my extended Mexican family.
I supplied my baby with what milk I did produce for a total of one-and-a-half months. I walked around with my son latched on in public. I sat with him for hours on end, attached, in hopes of getting him full. I even pumped until I wasn’t able to supply any more. I don’t think I ever got more than 4 ounces of milk. The super expensive breast pump became my best friend as I tried to be the best mom for my son. We went from exclusively breast milk for a few weeks, to formula and some breast milk, to finally giving up on breastfeeding and exclusively formula-feeding my baby.
When I had my daughter, I promised I’d try harder and longer. I vowed to not give up, but my milk wasn’t coming in, and again I had a starving baby. Our visits to the doctor were constant and dreadful. I was asked to breastfeed and weigh my baby in the doctor’s office. I felt like my words were invalid even to doctors and nurses. I was willing to do anything I could for my baby. I endured painful breast exams, I tried tea, I tried drinking a beer, but the pain of the infected glands in my breast were causing me and baby to be unhappy. Again, I became a failure, or so it felt that way. I cried every time I attempted to feed her. I prayed that the pain would at least provide some milk for my baby.
And if that wasn’t enough to go through, I had extended family bring on the pressure. I had a few relatives who were not very supportive, and were very judgmental. I want to believe they had great intentions, but at that time I felt very hurt and criticized. When they’d visit and I wasn’t breastfeeding, they’d question me or make rude comments, like, “Maybe you’re not trying hard enough,” “You are not doing what Mother Nature intended,” “Your body is made to serve your baby,” and “You know it’s the best thing you could do for your baby.” I still remember visiting family in México to show off my gorgeous baby, only to feel depressed when attempting to feed my daughter a bottle and being asked if it was breast milk. I had my grandmother share how she breastfeed all of her children, and she had 12!
Hearing how breastfeeding came naturally to the other women in my family and how their babies were happy and healthy was hard. It all took a toll on me. I knew how important breastfeeding my baby was, so why couldn’t they understand I was trying? I felt like all the hours and pain I had already endured to provide the best milk for my baby meant nothing. As a new mom it was a scary situation. Thankfully, my parents were amazing and supportive in my decisions. I am happy that at least I was able to follow through in other traditions.
Now my kids are 4 and 5 years old. They are healthy and happy. I see friends post about their journey breastfeeding and I am happy for them, except when they continue the cycle of putting others who couldn’t breastfeed down. I quickly learned from other Latina bloggers that they too had similar experiences and that our community shouldn’t put each other down but support each other, whatever our breastfeeding journey is.
Here are a few words from other Latina bloggers who shared their thoughts on breastfeeding.
Have encouraging words for moms having a difficult breastfeeding journey?
How did your culture play a part in your breastfeeding journey?
Read more of Ruby’s writing at Growing Up Blackxican