Marking The Breastfeeding Milestone I Almost Didn't Meet

How I commemorated reaching my six-month breastfeeding goal

A few years back, there was a jewellery trend focused on wearing a special ring on your right-hand ring finger. The idea was that unlike the left-hand ring finger, which was reserved exclusively for an engagement ring or wedding band, a right-hand ring could symbolize female strength, self-reliance, and well, not waiting around for Mr. Right. I always felt like the whole thing was a clever (and somewhat exploitative) ploy by marketers to sell more diamonds. Little did I know, before long, I would find myself wearing my very own right-hand ring finger ring, albeit for very different reasons.

When I got pregnant with my first child, my plan was instinctively to breastfeed—easy and natural, right? But the reality was that our nursing relationship was incredibly rocky for many months. It felt like we dealt with almost every breastfeeding issue under the sun. The first problem was a bad latch. Within hours of his birth, I was cracked and bleeding, and could barely stand to have my hospital gown touching me. The constant stream of nurses demanding to know when he’d last fed and that I feed him again now evoked a complex mix of feelings in me: exhaustion, helplessness (they wouldn’t request a lactation consultant for at least 24 hours), resentment (at both them and my baby), and frustration.

I look back at those first few days in the hospital and don’t remember a single positive thing, just a low-grade feeling of dread, of, “It’s only been a few days—how am I possibly going to survive this?” Worst of all, I didn’t feel any joy or happiness about my baby having arrived. It just felt awful, relentless. My only respite came in trying to sleep during those tiny windows between feedings.

Once we got home, we were truly grateful for the wonderful public health nurse who visited and called regularly to see how we were doing. Still, things didn’t get better. The latch was still awful, and though my milk had come in and the baby was gaining weight, I cringed just thinking about nursing. Wasn’t it NOT supposed to hurt? Or maybe even be enjoyable? I somehow became fixated on six months as my goal, I guess because of the credo to wait until six months to start solids. (In my sleep-deprived state, I’d overlooked the fact that babies still need milk once they start eating table food!) I needed to be able to work towards something, to be able to see the finish line.

Over the coming weeks things became a little more routine, but they still were not easy or pleasant. I also had a case of thrush and a foremilk-hindmilk imbalance (something my midwife told me during my second pregnancy is now thought to be a myth). I remember googling “not enjoying breastfeeding at 8 weeks”, desperately looking for some empathy, some assurance that I was not the only one. He never seemed happy at the breast, never seemed satisfied, and cried all the time.

Things hit a new low at two months in. After some false leads I discovered I had low supply. By taking herbal supplements and pumping I was eventually able to bring up my supply; still, I often wanted to quit. But something inside me told me just hang on one more feeding, one more day, one more week and amazingly, I did.

People often say the first six weeks, or the first three months, are the hardest, but it took us a lot longer than that. When we hit the three-month mark I still felt overwhelmed and disappointed that things hadn’t magically improved, as I’d heard they would so many times. Somehow, we managed to keep going. (I always have to remind myself that it was a team effort, even though one of us was a helpless infant!)

They say time heals all wounds. I’m not sure exactly when things started to get so much better, but slowly and surely, they did. By the time my son was six months old, the physical and emotional wounds that I’d suffered had healed enough that I didn’t even realize I’d hit the big milestone I’d set for myself. By then, breastfeeding was such a natural and normal part of life that I’d completely stopped counting down the days and weeks until I felt I could stop. (And although I didn't know it then, I would go on to nurse for an entire year more!)

The day after six months had passed, I was at the jewelry store getting my wedding rings cleaned. As I was killing time looking at the various display cases, I found myself drawn to a gorgeous ring with a shimmering, white, faceted stone. I’m not a huge jewelry person and after I got married I pretty much stopped wearing rings other than my band and engagement ring. But this ring was so stunning that I asked the salesperson if I could try it on, and what the stone was. “It’s mother of pearl,” the salesperson replied.

“Mother of pearl,” I thought. And just like that, things clicked into place in my head. I had survived by far the hardest part of mothering (for me) for a six entire months—half a year. I’d met my goal, one that seemed so unattainable for such a long time. I bought myself the ring that night to commemorate this milestone, a tiny treasured token of the seemingly impossible thing I’d survived. Though I don’t wear it every day, when I do, it goes on my right-hand ring finger. And when complimented on it, I’m always proud to share the story of its provenance. I know most people probably don’t appreciate the significance, but anyone who has dealt with breastfeeding challenges certainly does.

I’ve since learned that mother of pearl is known for its strength and resilience. That those are exactly the things that got me though the torrential waters of early breastfeeding makes me love the ring that much more.

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