This story is powered by Elvie. To us, our partnerships with brands are about so much more than business. We endeavor to carve out relationships with brands whose values reflect our own and those of our members, and work together to thoughtfully tell stories and create experiences that speak to moms’ real lives and real interests. We’re thrilled to work with them to bring stories like this to our community.
For a majority of my adult life, I purposefully avoided motherhood. After witnessing the ways in which my own mother’s identity was whittled down to “caregiver,” and realizing society paints all moms with a single brush, the idea that my complex and multifaceted identity would be replaced with “mom” was truly terrifying.
That fear didn’t go away when I found out I was pregnant, either. It certainly didn’t dissolve when my son was born and I was face-to-face with any number of difficulties that often occur during the postpartum period. As a new mom and the first of my friend group to have a baby, I felt as though my fear of being seen and treated as “just a mom” came to fruition. But as I began my breastfeeding journey with my newborn, and in doing so was exposed to a wide variety of moms with a plethora of experiences, I realized that my fears, while valid, were ultimately unfounded.
Moms are not a monolith, and we certainly are not one-dimensional. We cannot be encapsulated in a single word, and as mothers we do not approach every situation in the same way. And breastfeeding proves it.
Initially, I experienced some difficulties breastfeeding — in particular, getting my son to properly latch and then stay latched. Flustered, I turned to online forums, mom groups, and social media for help. What I assumed would be a one-time moment of support and solidarity turned into an ongoing relationship with a growing community of moms from various walks of life. I spoke to moms who had successfully breastfed their babies for years — until they were 4 or 5 — and moms who decided to stop breastfeeding weeks after their babies were born. I talked to moms who didn’t breastfeed at all, and were willing to discuss the confusion, guilt, empowerment, and relief they felt when they were able to successfully rely on formula to feed their newborns.
Some moms thought I should try a number of potential solutions, from nipple shields to a supplemental nursing system, power pumping, and self-expressing. They encouraged me to never give up, no matter what and promised that in the end, my continued efforts would be worth it. Others told me not to lean too strongly into my breastfeeding attempts, especially if they were negatively impacting my mental health. That it’s OK to change your nursing plan if that plan is working for you and your baby. They reminded me that through every parenting experience, I needed to find ways to be kind to myself.
Moms shared their favorite breast pumps — some hospital-grade, some lightweight, some complicated, and some simple. I heard stories of moms wrestling with their pumps, trying to find a setting that wouldn’t cause them pain or a travel version they could plug into their car. Some moms had the time to sit attached to a pump, and were happy to do so — those moments of pumping doubling as a way to recharge and get back to neutral. Other moms needed a pump as innovative as they are, and relied on the Elvie, a silent, hands-free, wearable breast pump that didn’t slow them down while they simultaneously pumped and worked or cooked dinner for their family or enjoyed a quiet cuddle session with their baby.
I spoke to moms who struggled to find a way to maintain breastfeeding after they returned to work, and other moms who couldn’t wait to stop breastfeeding so they could feel some semblance of ownership over their bodies. Plenty of moms shared that they didn’t feel sexy during the period in which they were breastfeeding, often abstaining from sex with their partners while they used their breasts to sustain human life. Others had no problem embracing both the sexual and maternal ways in which we use our breasts, and didn’t feel the need to desexualize this part of their body in order to nurse.
Six years and another child later, as a mom of two I still rely on this community of moms to remind me that we are not shallow vessels built to bring life into the world and nothing else. As moms, we’re working and pumping and breastfeeding and using formula and taking care of our children and starting businesses and running for office. We’re not one-issue voters; we are not distracted employees who should be “mommy tracked”; we are not incapable of thinking about literally anything else but our children.
We are multifarious in both our experiences and our mindsets. We are a motley crew of entrepreneurs, stay-at-home moms, business owners, CEOs, doctors, nannies, politicians, innovators, thought leaders, and caregivers. To know one of us is to know nothing about the rest of us, because we are all different in our complexities and our multiplicities.
Breastfeeding taught me that because moms are not a monolith, we need more than what is offered to us by cookie-cutter support systems that treat us as if we’re all the same. What we require on day-to-day basis changes as often as we do, so products, people, and institutions meant to help us should meet us where we are and evolve with us as we enter the next phases of our lives. Like a wearable breast pump that works with us while we work for ourselves, what us moms truly need — and deserve — is the opportunity to continue to be who we are as we parent our children. Because we are so much more than “mom.”