Before becoming a mother, I had a film reel running in my head of the type of mom I would be. I would nurse. I would make organic baby food. I would set strict and loving boundaries: no screens before two, no co-sleeping, binky gone after the first birthday. I laugh as I type this up.
Our son is 14 months old now and he eats store-bought squeeze packs and goldfish crackers, he sleeps in our bed almost every night, he occasionally watches a show when I am overwhelmed and his binky is his best friend.
The mom I thought I would be in my head is not exactly the mom I am when the realities of life set in.
When it came to breastfeeding, this was something I assumed I would just do. I knew it would initially be something I would have to figure out and learn in the hospital, but after that I thought it would be natural and comfortable. I was not overly concerned. I didn't even take a breastfeeding class. I heard stories of the initial challenges and pains early breastfeeding brought on, but I wrongly assumed that proper latching and sore nipples would be my biggest obstacles to overcome.
I was absolutely unprepared for the anxiety that breastfeeding brought on.
To say I struggled with nursing my son is an understatement. It was a battle I faced every couple of hours. There were tears and frustrations on both of our ends. I blamed it on a lot of external things: tongue tie, nipple shape, extra milk supply. It was so easy for me to externally justify why this breastfeeding thing was so challenging for me.
While some of these reasons may have been true, there was a bigger issue: my own head. Especially when it came to nursing in public, it almost always ended in disaster. My heart rate would increase, my mind began to tell me all types of lies and he would become frantic. My great challenges when it came to nursing went far beyond latching issues. Even an experienced lactation consultant cannot fully diagnose an issue when it has to do with your internal fears and deep insecurities.
This is something that not enough people talk about. I felt extremely alone and isolated in my anxiety with nursing in public.
I frantically Googled all day long in hopes of finding more women that also struggled with feeling uncomfortable feeding their babies in public. But most of my research made me feel like there was something wrong with me. So much of what I read revolved around embracing nursing in public, not even worrying about using a cover, and the pride other moms had in the ability to nurse wherever.
I read these articles and my heart longed to be like them, but I was stuck still feeling incredibly shy when it came to nursing in front of anyone except my husband. What was wrong with me? This is a totally natural thing. All those other moms seem to nurse out in public with such grace and confidence. Why can't I be like them? Why do I have to get so awkward, insecure and unsure? These were my constant thoughts in the early days of nursing.
Breastfeeding, for me, was much more than just learning the basics of how to correctly feed my sweet baby. It was a lesson in confidence. Even more, it was a lesson in embracing the fact that I do things differently. I am a slow learner. It takes me a while to warm up. I need time. I am shy, modest and slightly insecure. I so wish I could go back and fill those early months with more grace and patience. I wish I could tell myself it would be okay and that I would get there.
I did get there, eventually. I went from needing to find a hiding place each time my baby became hungry to nursing with confidence wherever we were: the park, the beach, an airplane. Part of this growth came from my son's own development, but a large part of overcoming the deep anxiety I once had was learning to be confident as a mom.
It took me a while to fully feel like I was made to be a mom. I had so much self-doubt and insecurity, which ultimately got in the way of something as natural as feeding my baby. I felt like everyone's eyes were on me when I attempted to nurse in public. I made up so many lies about what they thought about me. It's sad to admit, but when I breastfed in public, I was more concerned with how others perceived me than just focusing on my baby.
As I gained confidence in motherhood, my care in how others perceived me slowly lessened. My focus was finally on where it needed to be: my baby.
Gaining the confidence to nurse in public definitely did not happen overnight. It was a long and slow process. There was not one thing that suddenly granted me with courage. It was many little wins that overtime allowed me to be the mother I pictured I would be. The one that nursed her baby with grace and confidence wherever she may be.