On Running Marathons, or Something Like That

Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) I feel like people look for excuses to walk instead of run in the marathon of life. When the going gets tough, it seems easier to find a way not to challenge yourself. Perhaps it’s because we grow up with distorted messages about how easy it is to attain our goals. The misconception in society is if you want something, you’ll magically get it. Characters on TV or in movies don’t seem to have to work hard for what they have. Sure, you get the contrived conflict and tension the character must overcome, but generally speaking they jump through those hoops and then they get their prize and they live happily ever after. Rarely do we see a character who keeps falling down and has to keep getting right back up, even when it seems like success is nowhere in their future. In real life we have to stumble and fall more times than we can count before we begin to make real progress toward our goals.

I was reading an online string of conversation today about breastfeeding. I try not to go into that realm on this blog because this is mostly my writer blog and I don’t want to bore you with my experiences with motherhood, which often feels like a dime a dozen, but the truth is I’m a female writer who is also a mother and I feel it’s my responsibility to share with my fellow females what I’ve learned in life. You know, sort of a village obligation. We seriously lack the village-feel in our lives–the female elders who can help guide us in the most basic human tasks we must succeed in. In today’s globalized, busy, detached world, we often find ourselves lacking the female elders with experience who can give us that guidance.

Anyway, a new mother was complaining she was having difficulty breastfeeding. After piecing together her story, it looked like she mistakenly thought her large baby was automatically not going to get enough milk from her. Mistake #1: not trusting our bodies. I’ve learned as a woman to trust my body and not to think of myself as an exception. Sure, there are woman with legitimate medical conditions that prevent them from successfully breastfeeding, but why are so many woman quick to discount their bodies as ineffective, broken, or incapable of doing something extremely basic in nature?

Mistake #2 was this mother thought that since she was going back to work, she’d have to immediately (as in day 1) start training the baby to use a bottle and pumping. No time to bond, no time to let the baby get used to a real nipple vs. a fake one, just a whole lot of pressure about needing to produce and fretting over how much liquid gold gets inside the bottle (which creates more stress, which in turn has a negative impact on milk production). I was getting stressed just reading about it. I wanted to scream “who is helping you? Isn’t there any experienced mamas to let you know that it’s ok to relax and focus on bonding before everything else??”

Mistake #3: getting a lot of shitty advice from well-meaning friends. Lots of rooting for the formula and reassurances that formula is just as good and don’t worry if she can’t produce enough. No advice about how to stress less or reassurances that this new mom’s body was probably fine, just a lot of consolation that if she quits she shouldn’t feel bad, that most of them had to too.

Look, I know it isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for me. My firstborn came unexpectedly at 29 weeks and spent 53 days in the NICU. I had to sit back in horror as nurses gave him his feeds through a tube in his nose. I used to dream about what his face would look like without the tube taped to his tiny face.

I endured painful every-1-hour pumping sessions as I desperately tried to trigger milk production for my 2 lb 15 oz preemie. Twice a day I would deliver small bottles of milk that had been pumped, labeled with my son’s name and a tiny trademark heart I would scrawl on the label in my feeble attempts to be as involved with my son as somebody possibly could in my situation. I tried to feel content with the fact that I was giving him the good stuff, no matter how painful or hard or sad it was that we couldn’t go the natural route. I watched moms and their babies come and go as they got discharged while I was still relegated to my bonding time in a crowded nursery, pumping milk behind a curtain as I watched the rise and fall of my son’s chest as he slept in an incubator.  I had to have my son “practice” nursing, which took weeks, and then we graduated to using a nipple shield. I had to worry about producing enough milk and held my breath whenever I inquired as to what my son’s weight game was that day. And later on, I had to worry about pumping when I went back to work.

Nobody said it’s easy. It’s hard work. But in my mind I’ve never been a quitter, so I was determined to make it work. I sought out information and armed myself with as much knowledge as possible. I tried to trust my body and rely on my instincts even though I was a new mother. Most importantly, I was determined to keep going even when everything seemed stacked against me.

It’s not just about breastfeeding. It’s about everything in life.

I’m not perfect. I’ve had my share of personal struggles. I do, however, believe it is so absolutely vital to open up to strangers and friends and whoever will listen about our trials and tribulations so that we can learn from each other. Instead of telling each other it’s okay to quit, why don’t we start helping each other plan to succeed.

I know it’s hard running that marathon, but with practice and skill and determination we can make it happen, and that journey is so much better when we have people at our side rooting for us.

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