Maybe I was set-up to fail from the beginning. My mother never breastfed her four children. My husband was born just over 10 pounds. How’s it humanly possible for a human to produce enough milk for a toddler
who just popped out of the womb?

Does anyone really want anything sucking the daylights out of their nipple? My body had never been utilized to sustain any life but my own. I battled internally between selflessness and selfishness and continued to consider what’s natural and what’s right (for me).

I pumped for various amounts of time for all my boys. For every birth, I told myself that I’d give the most valiant effort to make this happen. I told myself that I wanted it! The first go, I borrowed a pump from a close friend. I used Pinterest to learn the ins-and-outs and made sure I set-up “pumping stations” throughout our tiny starter home. If there were rules or a how-to out there, I read them.

And then, 26 hours of labor happened. The euphoria of his tiny little body escaping me was brief and relieving, and then the pain came on fast. I had a fourth degree tear and so the doctor and midwife were busy sewing me back together while I held my new babe on my chest. I wondered immediately how this whole nursing thing was going to go. Against my wants, we had many visitors in and out of our room that night while I waited for the pharmacy to send up some Tylenol for my pain. I could tell my good-size baby was getting hungry and all of these folks were hanging around in our room. Zach had ordered pizza which I had thought I wanted desperately only to find that there was no way I could eat after the events of the past 24 hours. Soon, we decided the baby needed to go to the nursery so that I could get just a bit of rest. Begrudgingly, I gave the nurse the o.k. to supplement while I rested and that-was-that.

After a few hours, she returned. She made a comment about this little guy being a hungry one. Story of my life! These boys are HUNGRY.

When the lactation consultant came by, she brought with her the Medela. She explained the tubes and attachments and provided a brief how-to. There was a pause as if she wanted me to open my robe and let her literally hook-me-up. I know I was just spread eagle and split open less than 24 hours before this moment, but I really didn’t want another woman grabbing my ta-tas and attaching various instruments to my boobs while the machine pulled and tugged and sucked me dryly (because I wasn’t even producing milk yet). The initial awkwardness of breast feeding really isn’t too conducive to a successful outcome, ya know?

Needless to say, Jimmy and Mommy tried the nursing thing a few times but the stars did not align. He needed four ounce feeds before he left the hospital, and I hardly produced that when I pumped. One cracked, bloody nipple and then that was the end of that.

Halfway into my seven week maternity leave, I had a grapefruit size dermoid cyst removed along with my right ovary. Between the anesthesia and the antibiotic, I did a lot of pumping and dumping and my small supply all but dried up. Plus, I went back to work just two weeks after this.

I decided Jimmy was going to be o.k. in life as a bottle-fed boy and I accepted my limitations (sort of). I still had a hard time accepting the judgements, though, so you better believe I came back swingin’ with Gabe. I utilized our insurance to purchase a Medela of my own and with all of the attachments. I learned about nipple guards (which do nothing, by the way) and watched videos featuring thousands of nipples of all shapes and sizes and colors finding their ways into the rooting and expectant mouths of well-nourished babies. The lovely images made it seem like a simple, natural thing. But again, no matter how much I did to prepare, nothing seemed to help me instantly allow my baby to latch. How I longed to bond the way our United States Breastfeeding Committee said I should. I’ve been there when any of my girlfriends would sneak out their boobs and appease their hungry babies and children or they’d discuss, at length, how long they made it breast-feeding: 6 months, 1 year, still doing it . . .

But, here’s the thing. I DID feel close to my boys. I DID enjoy bottle feeding them. My boys were very healthy and, from what I had heard, they seemed to be less sickly than many I had known to have been breastfed. So, what was I missing?

When we were expecting for the third time, I had a much clearer mind about it all. And, I was a much stronger woman. I had made it through a rough bout of postpartum depression and anxiety. I had undergone two surgeries, one to remove the ovary I mentioned and another to remove the build-up of endometriosis. I knew I could deal with bloody nipples and hemorrhoids and enduring the stomach bug while caring for my family and while working full-time. This time, I was going to give it a real shot.

Before we left the hospital, I allowed the lactation consultants to handle my breasts while they gave me “proper technique.” For something that is supposed to be so natural, there sure is a lot of technique and cultivation of all of the right circumstances to make each 20-40 minute feeding session work well every two to four hours . . .

I am very, very proud of my calm approach the third time around. I am also very glad that I got to experience breast feeding with one of our three. But I don’t wear that like a badge of honor like so many seem to.

Let’s face it, breastfeeding has become a polarizing issue stemming from the social, medical, and political opinions of women. We are in the 21st Century folks and God has put some amazing people on this planet. Maybe they invented formula and ended the need for malnourished babies! Maybe they are skilled marketers telling us that “breast is best.” When that was debunked, they came up with “fed is best.” Maybe the next step is realizing it really doesn’t matter. Mind your own business. Have enough respect for yourself to say, “this is my baby, I am going to do what is best for me and for him.”

Your experience is going to be just that: yours. It’s different for everyone, and that is a great thing. Truly, there is no how-to that is going to tell you exactly what your baby needs. We’re human. We’re uniquely, and wonderfully made. Let’s celebrate the fact that we can breastfeed and/or bottle feed our babies and nothing — not the cost-savings nor the hassle or our ability to bond with them – can tell us exactly how we are going
to have to bend to be able to care for them.

A graduate of The Ohio State University with a Strategic Communications degree, Ashley Barger resides in Findlay, Ohio where she is currently the Director of Communications for a $30 million office supplier, FriendsOffice. In addition to raising her three boys alongside her husband, she serves on three local boards of directors and manages her blog, Ashley Working on Purpose. Instagram: @ashleyworkingonpurpose @mrsashleybarger