Hi, my name is Tammy and I hated breastfeeding.
I am a birth photographer and mom to three amazing kiddos.
I recently photographed a group of women to support World Breastfeeding Week and the common goal of normalizing public breastfeeding.
I sought to create an image of camaraderie and beauty; after the image began gaining attention, I wanted the world to better understand the incredible individuals who made up this group.
I shared their brave and inspiring stories and now I share my own.
My breasts have been a sensitive topic since I received my BRCA1 diagnosis back in 1999, but it wasn’t until I had finished nursing my 3rd child that I learned about D-MER, which explained the dread I felt regarding breastfeeding.
According to D-MER.org, “Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is a condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.”
This was me. How could a loving mother feel anger toward a helpless and hungry newborn? I felt like the worst mother alive! Maybe it was the guilt that kept me pushing through the ugliness, maybe it was because I refused to buy formula when I had the ability to grow a human being without spending a dime, maybe it was just pure determination…but, I did not give up and I’m proud of that. With each of my babies, there was a moment around 6 months old when I started feeding them solids that I looked at them and it hit me that I had grown this extraordinary life. Look at what I did!
So, here I was, this incredibly extroverted and loud person fighting the good fight, but STILL too uncomfortable to nurse in public. I kept covered, so I never got anything but annoyed looks in public, but I heard plenty of snide remarks made about others. My family criticized my oldest sister for not being modest enough when she nursed her children and I hate that I didn’t do a better job defending her. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to care what anyone else thought. She wasn’t pulling her boobs out for anyone but her babies and she was strong enough and bold enough to do it anywhere and anytime that her little ones needed food or comfort. I wish I had realized my admiration sooner because everything about nursing was hard for me and I should have ignored the cultural nonsense.
My now ten year old son, Nathan, struggled with latching until he was a couple months old, we both fought with my overactive letdowns, and my little man absolutely detested being covered up. Even as a newborn, anytime I threw a blanket over his head, he got mad. So, I hid. This is the only breastfeeding picture I could find of us.
Don’t get me wrong, I was never bothered by other women nursing their babies. I have always been able to carry on conversations while hanging out with my breastfeeding friends, but even when I brought my youngest to a La Leche League meeting when she was 6 months old, I still had a difficult time relaxing and nursing without trying to hide. Fortunately, neither of my girls minded being covered.
Here is one of only a few pictures I could find of me nursing my second baby. Annika was nearly 2 months old and I simply couldn’t resist the adorable nursing smile.I don’t think I’ve ever showed these breastfeeding pictures to anyone before.
By the time my little Leap Day baby came around, I was super excited about experiencing her labor and birth, but terrified about breastfeeding again. I’m so glad I have some sweet first nursing pictures of Kaia. And even better, my son was a proud, little helper.
I really appreciate being able to look back on both the very first moments and very last moments of this bonding time
with my sweet baby girl. Here we are on January 22, 2013, the last time I ever breastfed.
I nursed Nathan for 15 months, night weaning him around 9 months because he was in the habit of waking every 1.5-2 hours to eat 24/7…I had forgotten what deep sleep was. Annika has been the most independent girl ever since birth and it seemed that she didn’t want to be attached to me. She used to twist and pull, fighting between her basic instincts to feed and wanting to go do her own thing. She self-weaned after I had to introduce a bottle at 9 months old to keep her fed while I underwent a needed colonoscopy. I had to get a follow-up colonoscopy roughly 4 years later, which just so happened to be when Kaia was 9 months old…anyone want to guess how that ended up?
It was bittersweet when Kaia stopped nursing. I still didn’t enjoy nursing, but it was the end of this stage of my life. I had a hysterectomy when Kaia was only 5 months old to protect myself from ovarian cancer (my BRCA1 mutation gave me a 60% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer and I had known since 1999 that I’d get everything removed when I was done having babies). So, this was it. I would never feel this same closeness again. My babies would never need me the same way. I suddenly felt this suffocating realization that motherhood was whisking by too quickly.
Two years ago today, I was on my way for a routine breast MRI (my lovely BRCA1 mutation gave me a roughly 85% lifetime risk of breast cancer and I had chosen to monitor things closely). This routine MRI changed the pace of things drastically when a 9mm lump was discovered in my left breast with a corresponding enlarged and abnormally-shaped lymph node. I was terrified. Pretty much every mammogram I’d ever had revealed something of concern, but this was worse. If this was cancer, it most likely had already spread through my lymph nodes.
The biopsies were horrible, but fortunately there was no sign of cancer. I won’t go into detail, but I decided it was time to just get this over with. I was going to get a prophylactic mastectomy. You don’t fully understand the emotional attachment you have for a body part like these breasts who nourished three beautiful babies until you have to say goodbye. And if there ever was something sexual about my breasts, that was all over now.
The mastectomy and reconstruction process were an absolute nightmare. Finally, at a year and a half post op, I can sleep on my left side again with only mild discomfort. I still get shooting pain as nerves regenerate, I’ve got bony cavities where the implants have settled away from my chest wall, my chest looks ridiculous when I try to lift anything heavy, my nipples look like they are trying to smell my armpits, and worst of all, I can’t feel hugs. It’s like there is a pillow between me and anyone that I hug. My poor breasts!
As I continue to deal with this loss of my womanhood, I wish I could have enjoyed breastfeeding my babies more and at the very least, I wish I hadn’t been so ashamed to take care of them in public. I sat on bathroom floors, snuck away into dark rooms at parties, even covered up in my own house so that I wouldn’t risk offending anyone. Those were stolen moments and I want to do my part to end this stigma.
I care very much about helping in the breastfeeding movement and I would never want someone who couldn’t breastfeed (or even just didn’t want to) to feel badly. This isn’t some “breast is best” commentary. I realize the many benefits of breast milk, but I also realize that we are all different and our love is not defined by sticking to arbitrary rules and expectations. I sometimes wonder if resigning myself to bottle feeding might have been healthier for my relationships with my babies given the D-MER issues. I don’t regret my decisions as I was doing the best I could with what information I had at the time. And like every mom reading this, everything I did was with my children’s best interests at heart.
Anyhow, here we are.
I’m far from a perfect mom, but I sure do love these babies and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.
I have recently come back from a devastating depression brought on by the pain and hormonal changes caused by the mastectomy; it was the thought of hurting them and missing out on their lives that kept me going. I’m still here and I’m still fighting. Had I known how hard these surgeries would be on me and my family, I would never have gone through with it…I’m glad that I didn’t know. I beat breast cancer before she could find me and I get to enjoy my babies without the constant fear and disruptions to my life.