WARNING : This post is about boobies. And probably not the kind you like.
Edit: Before reading you need to know, 10 out of 10 would definitely breastfeed again!
“I can’t wait until I have my body back to myself!” -Me, 38 weeks pregnant
You fool. You poor, unsuspecting lamb.
With hindsight at a full 20/20, I now realize the pathetic naivety of such a statement. Such a statement that I repeated multiple times to multiple people (because let’s face it, by 38 weeks you are so sick of talking about your pregnancy that you start to autopilot through those conversations. Pregnancy turns you into one big, walking, talking uterus). I repeated such a statement to many female colleagues and friends who had been down the same road. And none of them told me. None of them told me how wrong I really was. That’s why I’m sitting here sipping offensively ill-tasting lactation tea and eating bland oatmeal. I’m sitting here typing what may become a novel with one hand on a cellphone instead of a laptop. Laptops sit on laps and my lap is occupied. Squatter’s rights. I’m here to tell you what others won’t: Breastfeeding sucks.
Now I don’t want that first pessimistic tirade to deter you in any way. But I have to tell the truth. That whole “I can’t wait to have my body back” phrase I slung around for an entire trimester? It is complete BS. While my precious little bundle did in fact exit my body in an epic fashion, leaving me feeling like a deflated balloon, since I chose to breastfeed my body has never belonged to me less.
Fast forward to the present. Because I know these things now, I’m here to share my experiences and far from expert opinion on the challenges of breastfeeding. I’m here to tell you about the things that happened to me so that when it happens to you, you’ll know you’re not alone. Postpartum isolation is a real b, but I’m here for you.
So where do we begin? The beginning, I guess.
Pop the champagne, you did it. You pushed a watermelon out of a keyhole, or perhaps your watermelon was forcibly removed through by creating yet another hole in your already porous body. Whatever the method, you’ve successfully evicted the tiny tenant that occupied your womb for around 40 weeks. The hardest part is over right?! WRONG.
What felt like only a minute or two after bringing my sweet daughter into this world, the nurse asked a question that, at the time, did not seem as Earth-shatteringly important as it really was: “Would you like to try to nurse her?” She’s been alive maybe one hundred seconds, can she really be hungry already? (The answer is yes – from the moment your child is born on, yes, they are hungry). Anyways, this nurse, bless her soul, posed this question as if it were an option. A word from the “wise”: It’s not. Don’t skip it. Oh, you’re tired because you labored for a day or two in agonizing pain before caving and asking (begging) for an epidural? That’s nice. Guess who doesn’t care? Your seven pounds and thirteen ounces of ferociously suckling joy. Your life is not your own anymore. Neither is your body. Just let that thought go or you’re gonna have a bad time.
Would I like to try to nurse her? Sure, let’s give this a go. It’s natural after all, right? Wrong again. I slowly brought my baby up to my breast with a crowd of spectators watching. All I really knew was that the nipple goes in the baby’s mouth. I was nervous and tried to stall as long as I could. Then out of left field, like an unseen tiger pouncing on her prey, another nurse grabbed my boob in its entirety and shoved it into this little stranger’s mouth. Next thing I know, this ravenous micro-person is full on feasting on ole right boob and then – Nothing happened. Are you kidding me Mother Nature? My boobs had leaked inconveniently for the last 20 weeks of my pregnancy and now you’re leaving me high – and quite literally – dry? It was a half an hour into my little girl’s life and I was already failing her as a mother. I apologized to her over and over again, but those big grey eyes were unforgiving. My daughter is and always has been the embodiment and living definition of hanger. The lactation specialist came in now and again to talk through the process. Some advice: Write that shit down. You will be so tired from the days prior that it’s likely you’ll remember jack from those conversations and your nipples will end up pillaged and destroyed by a bad latch.
Before I knew it, it was Friday just before noon and time to go home. The hospital sent me, my husband, and our new baby home with enormous pads, empty boobs, and no idea what was to come. “Good luck,” the nurse wished us with a smile as she helped me with my seatbelt. A car door closed, and about 20 minutes later an apartment door opened. Our first few nights were a blur of exhaustion, tears (not just the baby’s), and complete and utter chaos. My boobs were up to my chin and nothing would come out. The simple act of drying off after a shower sent me through the roof in pain. What did I do to deserve this?!
This is the thing that no one told me. You aren’t going to be the Niagra Falls of mothers from day one. Maybe not day six either. Or day 25. I’m here to tell you what no one told me; Breastfeeding is not automatic. Natural Geographic has made it look easy but I’m here to give you the honest scoop. To my surprise, my baby did not flip a magical lactation switch as she coasted down the birth canal. The baby was here and the girls did not get the memo.
I wanted to wait to share this writing until my breastfeeding story had a happy ending. I’m posting it now accepting the fact that it didn’t. My baby is now six months old and our breastfeeding relationship has ended. I was grasping at straws trying to hold on for weeks, then finally realized it was time to call it quits.
Around 6 weeks old, we’d finally gotten it right. I could feed her and actually fill her belly! Bonus that it didn’t even hurt anymore. I felt like Superwoman. My body could do amazing things. Around 12 weeks old, I returned to work. Not by choice, but my time home had run out. That was the beginning of the end. I had been hanging in there the best I could for about two months, but pumping at work is a skill I was never able to master. I got the idea in my head that I was staunchly against formula for my own baby, and that’s what she ended up eating exclusively.
I’m here to tell you that it broke my heart. Pumping became a source of actual depression – measuring my worth (or lack thereof) in ounces weighed me down so heavily that my husband actually asked me to stop.
I’m also here to tell you that I tried. I know that 20 years from now, my daughter will not remember nor care whether she was breast fed or bottle fed. She will care about the things I’ve taught her and person I’ve helped her become. The lesson she can learn from this is that nothing can beat failure but trying.
Finally, I’m here to tell you that if you are reading this and you are trying too, you are a badass mama. And nobody’s better than you.