I knew very little about raising children when I first became a mom.
I knew that babies cried and burped and needed to eat and were really cute and that you had to do a lot of things for them. But I definitely didn’t understand the exhaustion. I had no clue how the dynamics in my marriage would shift.
And when I made the decision to breastfeed, I 1,000,000% did not understand all the emotions and feelings involved in that choice.
I didn’t know that my baby wouldn’t just pop out knowing how to breastfeed. I didn’t know I’d have to meet with lactation counselors. I didn’t realize that a perfect latch wasn’t a given, that it was something the two of us would learn together. And that it would be painful and humbling to figure it all out.
I didn’t fully realize that I’d have to consider whether my boobs would be easily accessible or not in an outfit I’d put on because I would need to nurse my baby in it. I didn’t realize I’d live in nursing bras and tanks, all day every day.
I didn’t realize that nursing covers would just not be any of my three children’s cup of tea. And I also didn’t realize that after a while, I wouldn’t even care anyway. That I’d breastfeed in a restaurant, at a party, in a bathroom stall, while on the toilet, while walking around Target, in a dressing room, at an NBA game, on the floor, in church, in the car, on an airplane. (Oh, the places you’ll breastfeed!)
I didn’t fully understand how and when I’d need to pump. That I’d have to have milk available in the freezer if I was going to be gone for a few hours or more and that I’d have to pray she’d take the bottle while I was out.
I didn’t know that I would cry over spilled breast milk on the counter. I didn’t think about the fact that breastfeeding would feel a little bit like a leash at times and that I’d be hooked up to my baby during those girls weekends I had to decline because it was too overwhelming for me to pump enough milk to last my baby through the weekend.
I couldn’t fully comprehend just how primal those early weeks of breastfeeding would be until I was in them. That I would basically have at least one of my boobs out at all times. That I would feel connected to my baby in this magical, beautiful way. That I would feel connected to other mothers who came before me as well as the ones who walked alongside me in motherhood.
That my view of my breasts would change dramatically—from something sexual to something purposeful and amazing. My breasts produce food for my baby and my baby eats the food I produce. It’s kind of mind-blowing.
I couldn’t know what it was like to keep a human alive with my body before I had a baby. The responsibility that comes with making sure you are getting enough milk into your baby or taking the right precautions to supplement if you need to, is heavy.
I didn’t know how each well-visit at the doctor to check their weight could make me feel like I was being scored or judged in some way. I couldn’t feel the anxiety that came with this part of motherhood until it was sitting on my chest.
I didn’t get the fact that trio of pregnancy, getting older, and breastfeeding would alter the shape, size and look of my breasts. That they’d be bigger and fuller than they’d ever be in my entire life for those first few weeks. That they’d be lopsided when my baby nursed from one of my breasts in one sitting, but not the other. That, after a while, my breasts would feel and look a bit deflated and that I’d often miss their perkiness of my pre-mom self.
Related: A love letter to my boobs
I couldn’t understand the relief that comes with weaning when you’re ready to. When my two older children weaned between 17 and 18 months, it was very bittersweet. I missed the closeness we shared while nursing, but I had my body back to myself—which was a wonderful feeling after experiencing pregnancy paired with months and months of breastfeeding.
I wasn’t tethered to a pump or a baby’s mouth anymore. I was free.
I definitely didn’t know just how many hours I would log breastfeeding. I didn’t know that babies could eat for 40 minutes per breast in ONE SITTING. I remember sitting on the couch just nursing, nursing, nursing all day every day with my firstborn. (That’s why I binged so many shows while breastfeeding!)
I didn’t know that even as they grew and spaced out their nursing sessions, that they would go through phases where they would want to nurse (what feels like) a hundred times a day. Teething? More boob, please. Going through a leap? More boob, please. Have a cold? More boob, please. Sleep regression? More boob, please.
Related: Breastfeeding Is My Cardio
I’m breastfeeding my baby right now as I type this on my phone. She is drifting off to sleep for the night and I realize—that’s something else I didn’t think would happen. I didn’t think I would nurse each of my babies to sleep. I didn’t realize I’d come to love this little crutch I’d lean on and I’d look forward to being the special someone who could do this for them. That I’d be so grateful to finally be sitting after a long, busy day—in a quiet room, with my calm baby, doing something that made me just as happy as my baby.
I didn’t realize how much of a sacrifice breastfeeding would be.
I didn’t realize just how much of a commitment breastfeeding would be.
And, truthfully? I didn’t realize how much I would love breastfeeding.
No matter what it has done to the look of my breasts, no matter how it has affected my social calendar, and no matter how much effort I have had to put into it to make it work—I have loved breastfeeding each of my three babies. It has brought me joy, pride, and comfort.
Our journey hasn’t been perfect. And breastfeeding is not always the answer for everyone. Both of these things are okay.
What I have realized over the past 4.5 years I have been breastfeeding (on and off) is that it is part of the story of us. Part of me, part of my children, part of our family.
What I do understand now is that this is something that has taught me so much and given my children so much. It is a step on my motherhood path that I will honor and cherish for the rest of my days.
A version of this post was published July 31, 2018. It has been updated.