Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Photos: Esther Edith
After a challenging, long labor of 40+ hours, I birthed my first daughter, Arielle, safely at home. She latched on well within minutes, and I was amazed at how she already knew what to do and somehow, my body did as well.
All went well for the first hours, but by the evening, she was frustrated. I ached intensely with her desperate cries for consolation. I felt like a complete failure at being unable to nourish her. She repeatedly tried to nurse and came off tongue-dry, parched, and screaming. There was nothing I could do to satisfy or calm her.
I called my midwife in tears feeling defeated and told her what was happening. She said, “You’ve just been through a challenging birth—you’re exhausted.” She suggested we try giving her formula. It was 3:00 in the morning. We had no idea where or how we would find any at this hour. I had planned to exclusively breastfeed right from the get-go and had never even considered the possibility that I might not be able to. I had heard numerous negative accounts about formula and how once you start using a bottle (especially so early), your breastfeeding days are numbered.
In hindsight, I wish I had had the courage to reach out to the mothers around me to ask if someone might donate a little breast milk to us but regrettably, I did not know this was an option at the time. I feared that this night marked the end of nursing my baby. I was frustrated with my body and overwhelmed with guilt and sadness.
I did what I could to calm my babe, while my husband ran to the store. By the time he finally came back (after trying several places and eventually finding a 24-hour convenience store), she had fallen asleep on me, but awoke moments later, hungry and crying again.
Our midwife had suggested that my husband do the bottle-feeding in the hope that we might continue breastfeeding if things improved. As my husband took Arielle to the living room and gave her the bottle, I wept in the bedroom, bewildered at what was happening, and feeling disconnected from my baby at a time when we most needed to connect. The bottle-feeding continued throughout the next day, but (as advised by my midwife) I kept trying to nurse in between, even though it seemed as if nothing was happening.
It’s amazing how three hours of sleep at one stretch can make you feel like a million bucks! Sleep had made me feel emotionally and physically better and rejuvenated me so I could nurse again. Standing over Arielle’s bassinet, about to pick her up, all of a sudden, I felt a strange sensation as my milk came in. I picked her up again, and within minutes she was nursing, contently! Relieved and overjoyed, I don’t have words to fully describe what I felt at the hope of being able to breastfeed my baby without the assistance of a bottle of formula.
The next few months continued to be a challenge, in which I dealt with common trials, as well as Raynaud’s phenomenon, oversupply, and blocked ducts, but it all amounted to little compared with the joy of being able to meet my baby’s needs through breastfeeding.
My heart goes out to the many mothers who have struggled to breastfeed. Know that no one can love and care for your baby the way that you do, and each of us does the best we can and that best is everything to our children.
I hoped to nurse Arielle for at least two years, in line with the World Health Organization recommendations, but when she was 18 months old, and I was six months pregnant with Chloie, my supply dried up and our nursing days came to an end. It was heartbreaking because she wanted to continue, but was repeatedly frustrated when I had so little to give. She didn’t seem ready and neither was I. We made the painful transition to cows’ milk, which she adjusted to surprisingly quickly.
When Chloie made her glorious appearance through a home water birth, she took to nursing very easily, and we continue to breastfeed successfully. After the previous challenge, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I am ever more grateful that all has gone smoothly so far and, what’s more, a few days after Chloie was born, Arielle showed interest again, and I have been tandem nursing twice a day for the last few weeks! Although we had a dip for a short while, I am thankful to “sort of” make it to two years with Arielle.
Having grown up in a conservative culture, in which, showing even your ankles or knees can be offensive, you might find my passion to encourage women to breastfeed confidently in public strange and unexpected. When I began breastfeeding, I repeatedly ran to a restroom (or if at home, to the privacy of our bedroom), to nurse my babe when she was hungry rather than breastfeed in front of guests. I kept this up for months until I eventually got tired of missing out on conversations, participation in church, or simply eating out at a restaurant. I realized the ridiculousness of having continually to hide ourselves in order to give my baby a meal. My hope is that we all get used to and support a mother who chooses to feed her hungry baby. When a child needs to eat, I believe she shouldn’t be expected to wait for the privacy of a stinky restroom, overheated car, or what-have-you, to hide this God-given act of nourishing
I enjoy capturing this phase of motherhood through my photographs for two reasons: first, to show my support for other mothers nursing in public and, secondly, to help mothers capture a small glimpse of this beautiful and somewhat fleeting phase of motherhood. My photos capture the special bond between a mother and her child, and it is my joy to help you capture and tell your own story.