Before the birth of my first daughter, Matilda, a few years ago, I remember being enormously pregnant and reading up on the "womanly art of breastfeeding" as it's so endearingly referred to. I read and read and even took a private lactation class to try and absorb as much info as I could before actually jumping into the act myself. I had studied so long and hard about labor and birth that it wasn't until the last few weeks of my pregnancy that I started to realize I was about to encounter a whole new world that would disrupt my life and my body: breastfeeding.
I'll tell you right up front that, while this post is certainly "pro-breast" I'm going to go ahead and already assume you are "for breastfeeding". There's just about a bazillion reasons (most of which you probably know already) for breastfeeding babies, and certainly there are valid and legitimate reasons that mothers can't or choose not too. But, there's no denying that in an ideal setting for a typical baby and a healthy mother, breastfeeding is best - and so, we'll leave it at that.
That being said, I had always assumed I would breastfeed. It seemed cheap and logical and convenient, above all the other health reasons that just seemed to make sense. But, I had NO IDEA how to do it. It's not exactly something one can practice beforehand (and trust me, it's already awkward enough to football hold a doll and pretend-put-it-up-to your boob) and so it remained an enormous mystery to me right up until it actually happened.
I'll say this - it all just seemed so awkward. When I tried to imagine it or conceptualize what it might be like, I couldn't imagine it being anything but awkward. How could it not hurt? How could it ever become "normal"? How will the baby know what to do? What does "let down" mean and will it hurt? How will it affect my marriage? How long should I do it? How hard will it be?
|Can you believe this was for real?|
And then I had a baby. I held my baby for the first time. I saw her and I wept with what could only be described as indescribable joy. My heart suddenly caved in and my breath was stopped short by the sheer awe and wonder of how part of me could be existing on the outside of my body, and suddenly I felt and overwhelming urge to unite myself back to this creature whom I had held inside for so long. I physiologically needed to nourish her, comfort her, provide for her...and my body impulsively longed to do so. She latched on, right there in the recovery room (after a 20 hour labor and sudden c-section) and suddenly there I was, breastfeeding my infant as if I had always known how.
The following weeks were less magical. I was, however, blessed with a record-breaking milk supply and a chunky baby who required much attention. I am eternally grateful for the gift of an easily-nursed baby. I know that many mothers out there have had brutal experiences coping with latching technique and sore nipples and milk that took weeks to come in...but, I was one of the lucky ones (feel free to punch me in the face now if you weren't...I'm so sorry). However, no matter how "easy" it was...it was NOT easy.
Babies are demanding. Babies are needy. Babies are also irrational and uncommunicative apart from wailing and screaming. Meanwhile, as I was trying to get used to my recovering-from-birth body, and waiting on my milk supply to regulate, my breasts seemed to take on a life of their own - being called upon every couple hours for who-knows-how-long and all in private sessions that kept me away from all other people or priorities. Sometimes this was glorious. I loved to stare into my baby's eyes and see her so happily nurse and feel comfort and love and nourishment all at the same time. Sometimes, however, this was burdensome. I would hear my husband and friends laughing in the living room as the movie continued on without me so I could nurse the baby back to sleep...I would let dinner burn on the stove as I forgot to turn down the heat as I held my child...I would drift off in the middle of the night as my exhaustion got the better of me. And still, I did my best to remain grateful for the experience, even in the loneliest of moments.
Rarely do mothers talk about the lonely side of breastfeeding. Rarely do you hear advice to new mothers about how it will be challenging and sad at times (though, yes, oh-so-worthwhile). It's hard to feel like you are missing out because your baby needs you - and THAT'S OKAY to admit...but, it's also an enormous step towards the selflessness that parenthood demands you engage in - and that's a remarkably beautiful gift that I could never have anticipated. Breastfeeding helped teach me that.
Above all, no one ever told me how many times I might find myself perched in the back seat of my car with a blanket clumsily laid across my shoulder as I urgently nurse my child and haphazardly spray breastmilk across the floorboard...because, when baby's hungry, everything else waits. Friends wait, dinners wait, movies wait, shopping waits...and so do you. And waiting is hard. And while I waited I couldn't help but ask myself again and again "Is THIS what mothers DO? Is this what moms have been doing all along and never said - this is what I do - I sit in the back of my car and try not to spray milk all over my backseat windows before spending too much money at Target a mere fifteen minutes later. Wow." True story.
While I didn't experience the hardship of latching or milk production, I did experience challenge in another area of breastfeeding: work. With Matilda, I went back to work three months after her birth. This came with a host of emotional challenges, but very near the top of the list was my new responsibility in becoming an expert breast-pumper...something I'd never considered being excellent at. It was a scary contraption that looked like something out of a Men In Black movie, and I was pretty sure that I would be the first woman in history to somehow make the evening news headlines due to some battle I would encounter with this particular device. Nevertheless, it was me against the breastpump and I rose to the challenge.
How long will it take to pump? How often do I need to? Where do I go? Will people notice? Again, a new string of questions rattled my brain with fears as I walked back into my cubicle. I worked almost exclusively with men on a daily basis, and so it felt like a foreign land where no one would sympathize with my amount of baggage I had to travel with. But, after a few awkward conversations and a few days of carrying an extra sweater around in my purse "just in case" my breasts exploded at my desk...I began to get into a rhythm that accomplished what my baby and I both needed.
A few weeks into this new routine, and I had become a super-spy on a mission for milk. With only 30 minutes for lunch, I had gotten the womanly art down to a science, and felt like a CIA agent - sneaking into the code-locked "nursing closet", quickly changing out of my attire and hooking up my pump, acquiring the assets, slipping back into my garments, and back out on the street in a flash as if nothing had ever occurred. My sleek, black, messenger bag pump left no one the wiser to my whereabouts, and that's pretty much how I liked it.
A full year of this routine took place. My dedication to breastfeeding impressed even myself, and I still look back on that time as one of privilege more than sacrifice. Besides, it gave me some of the quietest moment of my entire life...just me, my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and the lulling whir of my breast pump...how can I not be grateful for that kind of simplistic moment? But, it wasn't easy. So - for all those mothers making it work at work...kudos, bravo, and keep it up! Do your best to savor those quiet moments, they surely don't last forever.
And neither did breastfeeding. That first year of Matilda flew by in a flash, even with each glorious and burdensome feeding. My breastfeeding Matilda came to a sudden halt (for a variety of reasons) when I became pregnant with my second daughter. And new questions arose as I approached a new phase of life (literally) as I instantly grieved the loss of breastfeeding while excitedly anticipated the coming of a new baby.
Come back tomorrow to find out what challenges breastfeeding brought the second time around...and how I dealt with saying goodbye to this wonderful phase of motherhood...
READERS: Share your breastfeeding stories! What has your experience been? How did you feel supported in your journey in breastfeeding?