My Breastfeeding Story: Elisa Donovan
by Elisa Donovan
If you’ve ever breastfed, I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to tell you how... complicated it can be. And if you know me personally at all, you know I’m breaking into a cold sweat and feel some hives coming on just recalling the utter misery I endured for the mere 7 LONG days that I breastfed.
Just for some background: I’ve been an organic and non-processed-food- eating, eastern-medicine-practicing, zen-yogi for almost 20 years. So when I became pregnant, breastfeeding wasn’t even a question for me— I was 100% certain that I wanted my baby to get all of the best nutrients, all of the healthy things that I was eating myself. So I was utterly and completely unprepared for the reality that I couldn’t do it. Not only was it not working, and excruciatingly painful for me beyond anything I had ever experienced (yes, even beyond the pain of labor), I also realized that (wait for it, this is gonna be a doozy) ... I HATED IT. There. I said it. I did not like it one bit.
Now perhaps this had something to do with the fact that everything I had read on breastfeeding made it sound like in no time I would be an elated fairy-goddess, with my baby happily hanging from my boob, as beautiful jewels of milk spilled from my bosom while I smiled in maternal ecstasy; but when it came to actually doing it, the pain was so severe I felt like I was entering a medieval torture chamber every 2 hours and made to stay there for another hour, and then repeat the process... ALL DAY, EACH DAY.
"Every individual woman should have the choice, without judgment,
to feed her baby in the way that works for her."
On top of my physical troubles, I had the misfortune of being assigned a lactation specialist who told me I should get used to the pain, that this was “just how it was going to be” for me, that I was “a mother now” and that this was just something I had to tolerate. (Let me stop right here and say “lactation specialist” is a really generous term for this particular person. I can only assume that she was not an accurate reflection of that title. So for the purposes of this blog, I will call her “Mean Boob Lady”) Mean Boob Lady even went on to scold me with stories of how she had breastfed her three kids with no help at all, and that maybe there was something wrong with my generation and our desire to just be handed everything. Then when she asked my husband if he had any questions (that he wasn’t now terrified into submission from asking), she interrupted him before he could finish, excusing herself to go get a latte. “I’ve had a long night,” she said, “And I need my caffeine.” Mean Boob Lady left the room and never came back. (In her defense, she did go get that coffee herself. She sure wasn’t going to “wait for someone to hand it to her” like I probably would
After 3 visits to the pediatrician in as many days, non-stop tears, and pain that was indescribable, I finally had to accept that breastfeeding might not be for me. So within the week, we took another trip to the ped to discuss stopping. My guilt was so enormous and so complete, that I literally felt like I would spontaneously combust and be catapulted into the special place in hell reserved for bad mommies who don’t breastfeed. I was such a wreck I couldn’t bring myself to even verbalize it. So my husband told her, as I stared at the marble floor and watched my tears land on my shoes.
Then, like the fairy-Godmother I had been hoping for all along, the doctor put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Many, many children grow up to be healthy, successful and smart adults, and they were never breastfed.” And then she added with a wink, “Even many pediatricians’ kids...” I thought I would kiss her. I mean, I literally could have just jumped into her arms and hugged her like a lemur.
The bottom line is: Every individual woman should have the choice, without judgment, to feed her baby in the way that works for her. We put enough relentless pressure on ourselves as moms about absolutely everything, we really don’t need anything or anyone additional to coax us into a guilt spiral with the hopes of inducing some sort of action deemed to be “best”. And if you really want to get down to it, proper lactation specialists aside, someone else’s boobs really aren’t any of our business anyway. (Unless you happen to be a boob doctor, and said woman happens to be in your office. Then I guess it’s probably in the realm of your business, literally.) But otherwise (and this is a special shout out to the complete stranger who told me that she saw a lot of “failure as a parent” in my future when I said I had stopped breastfeeding), it is the kinder, more human route to let women make their own decisions on this. Parenting is a never ending clown car of challenges so if we could be just a little more empathetic to our fellow comrades navigating this course of life, it might make us all breathe a little easier.
Even with my personal struggles, I know that breastfeeding is 100% natural and a very normal, healthy (and optimal) way to feed your baby. But I also know that my daughter Scarlett is now 6 years old, and she is a thriving, independent, wildly creative, smart, strong-willed, hilarious, healthy, kind, sensitive, and fully functioning little human— after being almost entirely formula-fed as a baby. I look back on that time now, how I fought so crazily to do what I thought was best and right... how I was so afraid of making some insurmountable mistake that would impair my child’s life forever (I know— I always trend toward the dramatic, it’s in my DNA)... I look back on all of that and I think Oh sweet sister, you’re doing great. Just great. It’s okay. Let it be... and I have such compassion for myself.
In general, those first few weeks and months as a new parent are like what I imagine being shot out of a canon or airdropped in the middle of paintball war might feel like, only you don’t have a safety net and you aren’t allowed to sleep, and the paint in those capsules is replaced with poop and other bodily functions and you don’t even have one of those cool hazmat looking suits to protect you. So the additional challenge of breastfeeding only reiterated to me a more general lesson in parenting: All of our planning and preparation and attempts at control will only take us so far. Aside from a fierce, unconditional, and complete dose of love— along with a robust sense of humor— there is no recipe for perfection in parenting. We arm ourselves with as much knowledge and support as we can, then we let go and take it moment to moment. And hopefully, that becomes our wisdom.
I do find a lot of peace in remembering that existence is a divine thing, so I try to trust that I’m being taken care of.
And that sometimes nothing will go as planned, but it will always be perfect.
For over 20 years, Elisa Donovan has been a part of iconic pop culture phenomenons. From her role as Amber in the Paramount Pictures comedy film Clueless and its subsequent TV series, to playing bad girl Ginger LaMonica on the pop culture sensation Beverly Hills, 90210, to her role as the ditsy Morgan Cavanaugh on the hit series Sabrina The Teenage Witch. Elisa also co-starred in Paramount/ SNL Films comedy film A Night At The Roxbury, as well as the franchise of family films The Dog Who Saved... (7th installment released 2015). She has had recurring roles on multiple other TV series and starred in numerous telefilms, including Your Love Never Fails, Eve’s Christmas, 12 Wishes Of Christmas and It Was One Of Us, and can be seen in the upcoming gritty indie drama, MDMA. Elisa is also the voice of the audiobooks of Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling books Option B and Lean In. Elisa was also a “Reader Favorite” in People Magazine for her Celebrity Mom Blog.
Currently, Elisa’s feature film Wake Me When You Leave is in development and will mark her screenwriting and directorial debuts.
Elisa lives in San Francisco with her husband and six year old daughter.