“I wasn’t obsessed with breastfeeding, but I felt a real sense of defeat.”
I found out I was pregnant right before Paris fashion week. I had gotten really sick one night after the New York shows, but I assumed it was food poisoning from bad sushi. From that moment on, my pregnancy was not easy. I had severe nausea well beyond the first trimester. It was to the point where I had to go on medication, and I dealt with it the entire pregnancy. So I didn’t get a chance to spend too much time obsessing over breastfeeding because I was just trying to make it through the hour without getting sick.
I had always hoped to breastfeed. I acknowledged the pluses, everything that had been reported over the decades about why breastfeeding is awesome. But I didn’t want to get sucked in to all the mom-blogger thinking that you’re the devil if you don’t breastfeed and you’re cutting off your kid’s prospects.
And then the delivery happened, and it was not what we had planned. I unexpectedly had to have a C-section, and I hadn’t prepared for the recovery at all. After the surgery, a lactation nurse from the hospital told me that sometimes your milk doesn’t come forth as fast if you’ve had a C-section. I was physically exhausted, fatigued, and stressed, and the whole situation became very overwhelming. That night, they took my daughter into the NICU because she hadn’t had a wet diaper.
It felt as if the cards were stacked against me.
The nurses suggested I join a lactation class, so I shuffled down the hall with my husband. It felt like I was at some kind of work event but with strangers around me whipping out their breasts. This teacher had everyone sign in, and the vibes were just weird. The only woman who did have her baby there with her was clearly struggling, and I was getting more and more stressed just looking at her. (At one point, someone said, “I heard Guinness helps you lactate. Is that true?” That was the most awake anyone was the whole time.)
When I got back to my room, I asked for a consultant from the lactation team because I was starting to panic. Meanwhile, the NICU team came in and said, “We need you to sign off on formula.” I wasn’t obsessed with breastfeeding, but I felt a real sense of defeat. Just like, damn. Obviously, the baby’s health is paramount, but I had all these questions: If we start on formula, is she going to expect that taste? Will it be harder to get her to latch on after she’s had a bottle?
The first couple of weeks at home felt like I was in this dark forest, like you’re awake when all the other animals are asleep. It was a very draining, weird time. I still wasn’t producing as much breast milk as I needed to feed her. But I was doing my best to hydrate, watching all these videos, and trying all the advice. I remember the exact moment my milk really started flowing because it was the strangest sensation. I was in the shower, and as this warm water was washing over me, suddenly I had this warm liquid pouring out of me. I was like, I’m a fucking mammal. Wasn’t it just a little while ago that I was running around New York fashion week in my heels and going to after-parties and eating late-night sushi with my coworkers? In that moment, I felt a couple of star systems away from who I had been before I had the baby.
Going back to work and carting the pump back and forth was not for me. I had frozen a lot of reserves, but the fade-out began when I had to rely on pumping at the office. There was a pumping room, but it felt more like a stock room. (This was at a prior job.) By the second week, I wasn’t even bringing the pump to the office. I love my baby, but I was like, This is not for me. Would it have been nice to do it longer? Sure, but that didn’t fit the life I had. We found the system that worked for us. And most importantly, my daughter is growing into a beautiful, healthy dynamo of a little girl.
Simone Oliver is the global editor in chief of Refinery29. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.