TV Moms Could Never Breastfeed

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On night 9 I fed my baby with a spoon. Desperate times call for middle of the night decisions like this one. I had been in pain for 204 hours, in some part of my body, without a break. I was not loving motherhood, or my child. It’s hard to separate the person from the pain they are causing you. Yes, rational thought says it’s not his fault, and that in fact his vigorous sucking is his only way of ensuring his own survival and it’s great that he’s so strong and healthy; I know. On some level I know this. But basic cause and effect rationalization says he is, in fact, the cause and I am the recipient and it’s very confusing. Pain pushes love to the side, at least a little, and maybe especially in the middle of a sleepless night. How could it not?

Sometime later, still in the throes of the ups and downs that was my many-week-long battle with getting breastfeeding ‘established’ (could there be a more wishy-washy, noncommittal term than established? When would I ever reach this elusive goal, and how on earth would I know I was there? I hoped, at least, it would hurt a whole lot less when I arrived.) I watched an episode of Modern Family in which Gloria drops baby Joe at Cam and Mitchell’s for the afternoon. Pumping was not mentioned. She did not visibly time it perfectly with her letdown, or when he last ate, and she certainly did not seem concerned about returning before he screamed for her after an indeterminate and ever changing length of time. Then she went to the spa FOR THE WHOLE DAY. Oooh how my blood boiled. I wanted to throw things at the TV. Weeks of pent up emotion boiled over at these scum of the earth, no good, stereotype perpetuating, compassionless writers. This is NOT what it’s like, and damn the world for making it seem so fucking easy.

Ok. That felt goooood.

The reality of breastfeeding, at least in my experience, though corroborated through about a million text messages of moral support, encouragement and commiseration, more often goes something like this:

  • You don’t do ANYTHING ELSE for quite some time. The truth of this was no more clear than on Friday, day 1, the day after my son was born. A day of which I spent every waking hour with my nipples out, texting La Leche League members, watching videos and reading articles online, trying anything and everything with a tiny, squishy, floppy stranger of a newborn. A couple of people came to see me, to see how they might help us latch or tell us it looked normal. The one consultant I knew how to reach was out of town, though her texts helped me feel a little supported. I don’t think I’ve ever been so worried about anything in my life. The broken record of my mind: Is he ok, is he getting what he needs, why does it hurt so much, what kind of lasting damage is being done, is he ok… ? Breastfeeding was an all-consuming action and thought. What did I do in the hours in between feedings? What hours? Or, I have no idea at all.
  • It is not beautiful or full of love, not at first. The baby is a stranger. He does not enjoy the time he spends with you.  He sucks to survive, and he sucks on you, over and over, and it hurts, and you are alone figuring it out, despite the best efforts of those who love and support you. Incidentally, there are many things a partner can do to help, written wonderfully if a little sarcastically here.
  • You are dependent on those around you. You are, as the above linked writer so wonderfully puts it, trapped under an infant. And it’s not all the time, but when you subtract the time you spend sleeping, peeing, brushing your teeth, picking her up and putting her down again, well, it’s the rest of the time. And during that time, if you want so much as a glass of water, there’s a good chance someone else will need to get it for you. At least until you master the art of gathering all the things you might need for an indeterminate amount of time while undressing half of your body with one hand while holding a baby – supporting his head – and taking so little time that he isn’t too frustrated or screaming too loudly to latch. Turns out, not an innate set of skills. And yes, you can get up to get things while nursing. Sure. But most likely not yet.
  • Showering hurts. I was so unprepared for this. Yet another coping mechanism down the drain. (Ha ha). Hot water on rock hard breasts sucks. I washed my hair several times those first weeks in lukewarm water without letting the water come anywhere near the front of my body. That’s talent.
  • Eating is one handed – all food, in a bowl, with a spoon, pre-made and delivered to the correct side of the body by above mentioned caregivers.
  • You may be lying down, with your shirt off, for 30+ days. I was. You will not go to the spa or the movies, as Gloria and Jay do. I tried to wear a shirt for meals, for the sake of I don’t know dignity? Respect for the farmers? If I got 5 minutes to eat with others, this feeling of cloth on nipple was temporarily endured and even in this I did not always succeed. My husband was kind enough to tell me he enjoyed the view, which at least caused a small and grateful smile.
  • While lying down, you are likely lying on wet sheets. The first time I leaked milk on my sheets I stripped the bed and washed it. It didn’t take me long to figure out how unsustainable a plan that is.
  • The day the 3-week growth spurts hits you will likely be unprepared. Maybe, you’ll have planned a visit to your old workplace, which may be a school full of children who want to see you and baby. When baby begins to stir in his carrier, you may find yourself waving quickly and dismissing dear old students so you can make your way to the storage closet at the back of the science lab, where 3 adults, including you, will work together to get baby out of carrier, calmed down, fed, changed and nursed again only to emerge 45 minutes later a stronger, though unsettled woman.
Which brings us to day 36, when I visit a doctor in my city. Fearing infection, having read every article ever published online about breastfeeding, I made an appointment with an OBGYN recommended by my son’s paediatrician. Without much hope or faith that anything great would come of it, imagining antibiotics prescribed without proper diagnosis, I felt like I had to go, had to keep turning over rocks, even though it was getting harder and harder to remember that finding nothing counted as progress. He pulled on my sore nipples, coaching me to do the same before every feeding. He told me the creams were making the skin soft, that I needed callouses. He diagnosed ‘no infection’ on sight, and told me to dip my nipples in cognac after every feeding for 30 seconds. In 24-48 hours he said, I would be stronger.
I left so so so annoyed. I was tired of being told, essentially, that I was too sensitive. I was tired of trying so hard, tired of worrying that any actions I take might have other, unseen consequences. Tired to spending hard earned money while remaining in pain. So so tired of breastfeeding being hard. The one piece of advice I decided to heed from that appointment: it was my cue to stop everything.
Now, 6 weeks after birth, I am just feeding my child. Sometimes it hurts but it’s not unbearable. Sometimes the latch is deeper, sometimes it’s more shallow. If it hurts a lot, we break the seal and start again. Otherwise, we try to just enjoy our time together. I have shifted my focus from making this perfect to just doing it. For weeks I have wanted so much for this not to be my only topic of conversation, not to be the central thought in my mind at all times. Finally, after a combination of trying everything I could think of and just deciding to let it be, running out of patience and him growing just enough to get a better grip it seems, we have arrived on the other side. Maybe I was trying too hard. Maybe, like doc cognac said, the creams and ointments and solutions were sort of canceling each other out. Maybe we just got lucky, at last, with our timing. Either way, here we go: breastfeeding as is until one of us decides to stop.
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