Three Words.

“Are you nursing?”

There they were again -- those three words. A well-meaning (or probably just nosy) acquaintance raised her eyebrows and waited for my answer.

Inside, I was hysterical. It took all I had to remain calm as I tried to string together a few words to answer the question. A “yes” or “no” wouldn't do. It wasn’t that simple.

Breastfeeding had been great in the hospital. He latched right on, no problem. Each nurse that came in to check said the same thing: “You’re a natural. You make it look easy.”

There was no pain. No latching issues. No tongue ties. It was smooth sailing all around.

“Are you nursing?”

How do I explain that I’m trying? I’m trying so, so hard. We’d been home only a few days and suddenly my milk wasn’t enough.

I did all the things they told me to do—an endless cycle of feeding on each side, then pumping right after. Oh, and then it’s time to feed him again, but wait, I was supposed to sleep when he’s sleeping but there’s no time to do that with all the pumping.

This lactation nurse said to wake him every three hours. Feed him on both sides, then give him a bottle. Then pump. This other lactation nurse said don’t wake him. Just let him eat whenever he gets hungry. And one side is fine. And don’t even worry about trying to pump yet.

After all, my body will adjust when it learns how much is needed. My milk will come in soon. Stop stressing out, because stress won’t help. Just relax. Just relax. Just relax.

Meanwhile, my once nine-pound-two-ounce newborn had dropped under seven pounds and his pediatrician told me to supplement. We were in for weight checks every few days. Supplement this time. After a gain, it was safe to stop using formula and go back to nursing alone. Only a few days later, his weight had dropped again, so it was time to do it all over.

Back and forth I went.

“Are you nursing?”

Three words. Three words that meant another three words to me: You’re a failure.

I couldn’t feed my son alone. My body was supposed to do it, but it wouldn’t. It failed. I failed.

I had never given a second thought to seeing another woman feeding her child with a bottle. Yet every time I pulled out my formula and mixed it to feed my baby, I felt the eyeballs on me. I felt those knowing stares. I felt the judgments. In my head I heard, you’re not good enough.  

Even the formula container reminded me every time I mixed a bottle. “Pediatricians agree that breast milk is best.”

Thanks, formula container. I needed that.

“Are you nursing?”

I had friends who could do it. Three friends had given birth in the same month as me. Their babies didn’t need formula. They gave me their free samples. They were supportive. They answered my questions. They told me they were struggling, too.

“Just stick with it,” they said. “It will get better.”

I was so thankful for their support, but they still didn’t get it.

“Are you nursing?”

This time I was angry. How badly I wanted to answer, “My son is eating and he's healthy.” It was really nobody’s business how.

I never said it, though. I forced a small smile and tried again.

“Are you nursing?”

I heard the three words again and the tears started to form in my eyes. I tried to blink them away but I couldn’t.

The woman who had asked me embraced me. After a hug that lasted long enough for me to slightly compose myself, she took me by the shoulders. Her knowing brown eyes met mine and she said, “You’re doing great.”

Three words. 

Written by Lisa Hunter. Lisa lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband and their inquisitive 15-month-old. She is a working mother who likes photography, baking, running, and singing. You can see her photos here.  

Photo by Rebecca Hansen