Of the many real fears that can haunt a new parent on the cusp of bringing a child home for the first time, none felt quite as acute to me as the fear of not being able to feed our son. And so, during my pregnancy and in the hospital, I approached the subject of breastfeeding with all the zeal of an over-eager scholar tackling a complex theorem.

I took the classes, read the books, asked the experts, watched the videos, consulted the nursing staff, researched feeding schedules. But as we all know, with any new skill we’re trying to master in life—there are lessons that can’t be found exclusively in books.

The hard and worthy ones are just not that easily won.

Or, as one lactation consultant drily explained at the start of my third trimester breastfeeding course, the experience would be akin to “taking a class on riding a bicycle without having an actual bicycle.”

Weeks later, with our own beloved “bicycle” in my arms, we spent nearly five days in the hospital. Through the searing pain of almost instantly cracked nipples, I struggled to get this new skill down. To hold this fragile human being like a football, while reclining, in a cradle hold, in a cross-cradle. To relax. To try not to think about it too much.

Then I pumped. My husband and I fed our son with plastic syringes and tiny cups as if he were a bird. As his weight dropped, I recall tearfully giving him formula in what felt like, at the time, my first major failure as a mom. Why couldn’t I do this?

Arriving home, we moved furniture and pillows, worked with a lactation consultant, and kept a water bottle and snacks constantly at the ready. For the first several weeks, my very patient husband supported me through a majority of our nearly hourly nursing sessions. Nothing could have prepared me for the scale of the hunger, thirst, and exhaustion I felt.

With a firmer grip on the mechanics of breastfeeding, I nursed on demand for months, feeling like I was tethered to our couch. Without any way of establishing a schedule, I felt unmoored, lonely and at times, resentful of my lost autonomy.

This natural process, breastfeeding, did not come naturally to me at all. At the lowest points, I conflated my ability to breastfeed with my ability to be a good mom.

Looking back on it now, I would tell that tired, anxious mom that at some point her fear and worry and frustration would feel cheap. I would tell her that she would feel bigger more enduring things. I would tell her she would make a home in those more beautiful feelings.

No matter how we choose to feed our children, no matter what trials we endure in the process, I appreciate that these difficult moments are great teachers and infinitely worthy of our attention and admiration.

So to my body, my baby, and our breastfeeding journey together—I want to thank you.

Thank you for the wonder you’ve shown me.

Almost a year later, I marvel at the ways women’s bodies are able to produce and sustain life in such swift succession. Nursing our son, after everything my body had been through, still feels totally miraculous.

Thank you for the patience you’ve given me.

My son’s constant hunger and relentless nursing schedule, eventually taught me to take a deep breath, relax and submit to the wisdom of an essential process. It taught me that sometimes I need to let him guide me.

Thank you for the gift of presence.

As our son became more alert, it became too difficult to nurse him and watch TV or look at my phone or read a book. Nursing him allowed me to be truly present for these intimate moments.

Thank you for the warmth you’ve brought into my life.

The hunger to hold and touch our son has often felt overwhelming. Touching him, studying the folds of his ear or each crease on his chubby fingers, seems to give the world more depth. Holding and nursing him has made me cherish moments of loving touch.

Thank you for reminding me of my strength.

It’s doubtful that a mom nursing her son in Central Park is cause for attention, but it made me feel brave. Venturing out into the world to nurse has given me newfound strength, confidence and comfort in my own skin.

Thank you for this sense of connection.

Mistakenly, I thought I would be alone in breastfeeding our son. I was buoyed by the support of my husband, nurses and friends who had been through it. This experience has given me a newfound sense of community and a deeper appreciation for the ways we have to open ourselves up to receive help from others.

Thank you for helping me foster true compassion.

My breastfeeding experience has not been easy, and there are circumstances that are far more challenging than my own have been. I have so much admiration for all the moms who fight to figure out the best ways to feed their growing families. No matter how it’s done, it’s an incredible thing.