Most mothers want to spend as much time as possible with their newborn, and working mothers are no exception. The demands of our lives often take away this choice from us. Read this personal account to know how one working mother felt when she made the painful decision to stop breastfeeding and how she eventually coped.
When you are a mum-to-be or even a new mum, you plan for breastfeeding, never for stopping breastfeeding. So when it happens abruptly, unexpectedly, it catches you off guard and can leave you emotionally wrecked. Here is my story.
As a student, I had always been driven and competitive. When I was 23, I had set up my own business. Even though I was in a stable long-term relationship, children were never really part of plan. When I found out I was pregnant at 27 though, I took it in my stride.
My then boyfriend and I got solemnized and I had Baby P shortly after.
During my entire pregnancy, I remained focused on my work. Truth be told, I worked right till she decided to make her grand entrance, having to call off a meeting in order to get to the hospital.
I had been too busy up till the time of delivery to really reflect on what her arrival would mean to me. But with her birth, I guess my maternal instincts took over and the emotions I felt for her were overwhelming.
To me, unexpectedly, Baby P’s birth has been quite possibly the best thing to have happened to me.
Struggle between work and motherhood tore me apart
As fulfilling as motherhood was, my business was still an integral part of my identity. I couldn’t just up and go.
Also, because this was my own business, “maternity leave” and “confinement” meant working from home as much as possible and going to the office approximately once a week. Breastfeeding meant pumping frequently, freezing the breastmilk in ziplock bags, and getting my domestic helper or my parents to feed my baby from the bottle at regular intervals.
As the weeks wore on, I had to go back to the office at an increased frequency. One day soon enough, I found myself working a normal full work week. Unintentionally, during those months my pump became my constant companion.
Although I had no problems providing sufficient amounts of breastmilk, pumping instead of direct latching was pretty time- and energy-draining. If I didn’t manage to pump regularly because of a long meeting that overran, I would start leaking, and sometimes soaked the front of my top, breast pads notwithstanding. Embarrassing, to say the least!
When I missed a date with my pump, I would literally feel my breasts start hardening up. If I would continue to ignore the reminders my breasts were sending to me, any small movements I made would send a jolt of pain in my chest!
Despite these problems, I persisted. After all, everyone called mother’s breast milk “liquid gold” and all the literature I had read on this topic waxed lyrical of its benefits.
The day I broke
One especially hectic day at work, I didn’t have time to pump. I didn’t even have time to eat. I was constantly on the move.
I ignored my hardening breasts—I would attend to them when I had gotten the urgent matters settled and out of the way. That time came only late into the evening and I had pretty much missed an entire day of pumping sessions.
When I could finally drain my poor, aching breasts of the liquid gold they had carried around the entire day, I could almost hear them letting out a long sigh of relief.
Sitting down on the toilet seat as I let my trusty “bestie” do the work it did best, I reflected on my day with a certain degree of moroseness. I reluctantly admitted to myself that perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew. Maybe, as a woman, I couldn’t really have it all—the best for my baby and the best for my business.
There was only one of me, and one “best” to give for one aspect of my life. But which one? By the end of the pump session, I still wasn’t sure which way I was going.
The following day, as I tried to go about my usual routine, I realised that my breasts had made the decision for me. They were no longer producing sufficient amounts of milk for the day.
That was the day I stopped.
As I set myself up on my usual toilet seat, I knew I was pumping my last bottle of milk for my baby girl.
It was a gut-wrenching experience. I bawled my eyes out right there on the by-then familiar toilet seat, clutching the pump to my almost empty breast, feeling like the worst mother in the universe.
It’s never an easy decision
Rationally, it was a choice I would probably have made before my biology decided to take it out of my hands. Rationally, it was a process every mother who has ever breastfed might have had to go through at some point in her life.
But there is something about providing sustenance for your little one that affirms your place in the world as her mother, even if you are not there with her. It is a mammal’s primal instinct built over centuries of evolution and something I could not rationalise my way out of.
That night, as I watched my daughter down my last bottle of expressed breastmilk, I could feel my heart break. When she she smacked her lips, I felt my eyes fill with tears again.
And then something almost magical happened.
My 4 month-old infant looked me directly in the eye, gave me her adorable toothless smile, and reached out her chubby hand to touch the tears streaming down my face. Then she cooed. It might have been my imagination, but I like to believe that she sensed my need for reassurance that night and was showing me she loved me, unconditionally, breast milk or not.
Learning to be kind to yourself
As modern women, we are conditioned to want to do it all. Often, it is not the pressure that others put on us that tears us apart, but the self-inflicted feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Breastfeeding is tough, it requires you to be there for your baby, all the time, every time. Technology might have made it possible to breastfeed and work at the same time, but certainly not easier.
5 years on, Baby P falls sick as often as the other children in her preschool. Sometimes, I catch myself falling into the guilt trap of blaming myself when sickness strikes her. A little bit of perspective is important for one’s sanity during these moments.
I have come to terms with my choices. Thanks to Baby P’s instinctive support, I never feel lacking as a mother. It takes a conscious effort to snap out of the guilt trap.
I try to focus on the positive and what I can do for her as a working mother. Prematurely weaning her off breast milk has had no negative effects on our mother-daughter bond or on her emotional development because I try to ensure she always has quality time with me. Now at 5, she understands Mummy needs to work and that makes all the time we have together even more precious.
I count myself tremendously blessed to have her as my daughter.
Mums, how long did you breastfeed for? And how did you feel when you stopped? Tell us in your comments.