My Breastfeeding Journey: Unexpected Hurdles and Carrying My Mother With Me

Jessica and her mother

Jessica Tudor Elliott, Sacramento, California

Becoming a mother is a profound experience. When I entered the journey to motherhood, I honestly had no idea how profound this experience would be for me.

My mother was a La Leche League Leader in her small community in Maine as a young mother of three. Even when she had me almost a decade later, she spoke proudly of her journey with breastfeeding and building support for it in a time when most new mothers turned to formula. Her strength and determination inspired me in ways I never realized until she was diagnosed with a very advanced form of leukemia, and I saw her presence begin to slip away. Suddenly, I realized just how much I still had to learn from her and share with her, and just how much she was likely to miss.

Despite a 14-month battle fought with more fervor than I ever imagined my mother could contain, she passed away. One month later, I learned I was four weeks pregnant. I had always envisioned my mother being there to help me through labor and delivery and to guide me with breastfeeding, doting on her new grandchildren. I was determined to follow my mother’s example and breastfeed my first child. I assumed this would be relatively easy because of my mother’s history of exclusively breastfeeding four babies.

Unfortunately, within a few days of going home after a particularly difficult cesarean delivery, my son was rapidly losing weight despite constantly nursing. We visited the lactation consultant provided by my insurance many times. They set me up with a medical grade pump, and they taught me alternative ways to nurse. Despite all of my efforts, we soon learned that the problem wasn’t latch, or technique, or length of feed. I just wasn’t producing enough.

After much debate, I started to supplement with formula. It was like I had an entirely new baby! Finally, he was content! I pumped between nursing sessions and leaned hard on my family to help care for the baby so that I could pump. Unfortunately, my milk production never consistently increased. Nothing helped in any noticeable way. Eventually, my son decided that the bottle was easier and he wanted nothing to do with the breast.

Jessica and her son

This was heartbreaking for me. At three months postpartum, I felt like I was experiencing the grief of losing my mother all over again. I had failed to live up to her vision. I couldn’t provide for my baby. I was a failure. Logically, I knew this feeling was due to the hormones my body was producing and that I needed to let go.

I went to an LLL meeting and joined the Facebook group for my local LLL chapter. I was able to hear the experiences of other mothers and see the network of local breastfeeding mothers helping each other out. I realized that I was not alone, and that even those who were blessed with enough milk ran into problems at some point in their breastfeeding journey.

I thought about what my mother would say if she was with me. I know she would have been so proud of the effort I put into this, and that sometimes things are just out of your control. She would have told me that my love was the only thing my baby really needed.

I continued to pump until my son was nine months old, and my breast milk made up about 30 to 40 percent of his intake. Though this was not at all the breastfeeding journey I had imagined, I am glad I had this experience because now I know why my mother chose to work with other new mothers and encourage them not to give up at the first sign of a problem. I learned that I inherited a good dose of my mother’s determination and strength, and I finally found peace.

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