As pretty much anyone with a Facebook account knows, National Breastfeeding Week just wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. I meant to write a related post during that week, but I was too busy, probably because of all the breastfeeding. Anyway. This post (as you might be able to tell) is mostly about breastfeeding. I hope this is obvious so far. Please see this post for the standard disclaimer. It’s also a little more serious and poignant in parts, but hopefully mostly lighthearted. (Also, scroll to the fine print for some info on my thoughts about providing food for babies.)
Moving on. I’ve nursed a baby for a cumulative 14 months and counting — 9 months with J, and 5 months so far with C — and there have been a few instances during that/this time that have summed up the entire experience. So, I thought it might be fun to chat about them (for all 4 of you who stuck around after the disclaimer). This was longer than I originally intended, but once I decided to just share the TMI, it kept coming and coming and coming, and I had to follow through until I went dry. (heh. See what I did there?? went dry??)
I’ve come to the realization that there’s a reason you start nursing babies when they’re just a few hours old (in addition to the whole “keeping them alive” thing); it’s because you’re still too delirious from the pain and effort and exhaustion of pushing a human out of your body that you don’t even care that another person is sucking on you for sustenance. If this whole thing didn’t start happening until moms were showered and dressed and didn’t, as Donald Trump would say, “have blood coming from her… wherever,” we’d never agree to it. On a related note — I know it’s natural, but it’s not exactly something that comes naturally.
Vignette 1: Other than the weird factor, there was a bit of a learning curve when I had J. I had (obviously) never nursed a baby, just as he had (obviously) never nursed, so we both had some shit to learn. Anyway. When I was in the hospital with him, we only got a couple visits with a busy lactation consultant, so we mostly depended on the nurses in the mother/baby unit. A lot of them were really great, and then there was one that wasn’t so much. She was oddly adamant that I pump and then feed J through one of those syringes that come with baby Tylenol. As I mentioned, I was delirious, exhausted, and had no clue what I was doing, so I went along with the program, until at some point I was crying, and K realized how asinine the whole thing was: if we wanted the baby to learn how to nurse, why the hell would we be giving him expressed milk?? The next time the nurse came in the room, K told her that we would not be pumping anymore unless J was absolutely unable to latch. Annnnnd, after that, she never came into our room without another nurse or doctor. We weren’t exactly disappointed.
Vignette 2: My parents and brother came to visit when J was about 4 weeks old. We lived in a small apartment, so if I wanted join in the party, I had to nurse in the living room in front of God and everyone. The first day, I nursed J in my bed, but I could hear everyone quoting movies in the living room, which meant that I was missing out on the deepest conversations that happen in my family of origin. The next day, I decided to just suck it up (heh.) and nurse the babe in the living room. But, I was just inexperienced and uncomfortable enough that I really did not like the “normal” terms for feeding J: nursing, breastfeeding, etc., just sounded so awkward to me. It was then that I decided “put him on the teat” was an acceptable, if not amazing, turn of phrase. Awkward? Hell yes. Awkward enough to be the level of funny that makes something not awkward?? Sure. Let’s pretend that’s a thing.
Vignette 3: Eventually, I got to the point where I absolutely had to leave the house with J, but he still wasn’t overly predictable about when he would need to eat. Naturally, one of those unpredictable instances came right as I got to Target and ordered my iced tea. I had already gotten the cart, and was one of those crazies who puts the carseat on the cart, instead of carrying them in an overpriced sling like moms who actually love their kids. So, I barricaded myself in the corner of the food court/deli/Starbucks area: in the corner, with the cart angled in front of me, diaper bag strategically placed on the table, and a nursing cover for good measure. J didn’t really do the whole latch-on thing by himself, so there was a lot of positioning, pain, repositioning, crying (on both our parts), repositioning, cussing, and then finally a decent latch. (I really hope squeamish people heeded the disclaimer.) About 2 minutes after I finally got J latched on, some creepy middle-aged man approached me. He had white hair that hadn’t been combed since the days he spent playing guitar on the beach while getting high with kids half his age and blaring reggae from his wood-paneled van… which, to his credit, was probably within the previous 24 hours. His opening line was, “God bless you for feeding your baby the ‘right’ way.” And then went on to mention the controversial Time Magazine article about extended breastfeeding, and about how, he never gotten married (shocker) or had kids, but if he had, he would’ve “insisted” that his wife breastfeed. I tried to be as polite as possible, but the whole time I was thinking, “here I am in Target, with some creeper, and he won’t stop talking about my boobs.” And, also, “I wonder what he would think if I hadn’t pushed my neurologist for actual data, and had just been happy with his initial ‘you’re on anticonvulsants; you probably shouldn’t nurse the baby.'” And also, “maybe I shouldn’t have done this in public…”
Vignette 4: A couple of months later, I went to a sub wives’ meeting — mostly for the snacks, because I was always ravenous. I still wasn’t quite comfortable with the whole nursing-in-public thing (especially since The Target Incident) and J had stopped tolerating the nursing cover (can you blame him, though?? I wouldn’t want to eat my lunch under a heavy blanket), so I moved to the back of the room to try my best to nurse discreetly. I adjusted all of my clothes and removed a nursing pad, since I was still in the “hear any baby whimper, immediately squirt milk” stage, and placed it with my super awesome sunglasses. You know, so that I wouldn’t forget it there on the table at the sub wives’ meeting at the base chapel, because that would’ve been embarrassing (that’s called foreshadowing, by the way). After the meeting, I packed up my huge supply of baby paraphernalia, loaded J up in the car, and set off back home. Later that day, I noticed that I was missing a nursing pad (let’s leave those particular details out of this story), and realized that I had left it, of all awkward places, at the meeting that morning with my favorite sunnies. (Apparently I have a tendency to lose sunglasses…) And here’s the dilemma: I really wanted them back, but if I asked if anyone had spotted them, it would mean that I was the person that had left a used nursing pad. Gross. Answer to the dilemma? I went to Target and paid $20 for a similar pair… Which was a small price to pay for keeping any remnants of my dignity intact.
Vignette 5: By the time J was 6-7 months old, I had become pretty comfortable with the whole thing — I knew where the women’s lounges were (a shout out to Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus at Ala Moana mall), had become pretty good at nursing in the car, was able to run places in between J’s feeding schedule, and we were both much more adept with getting a good latch. About this time, I went to Target and bought a rug that somehow didn’t make it all the way home. So I called to see if I had left the item (that turns out I hadn’t actually purchased, but that’s a whole other story) at the register or in my cart. The rep I spoke with told me that she would check with Security and have them look at the video to see what happened. And then I said, “Oh, will they really be able to see things that clearly?” And she said, “Absolutely — they could see a speck of dirt on your nose.” And I said, “Well…. I guess I won’t be nursing my baby in the shoe section any more.” And she laughed, probably because she knew the Security guys.
Basically, that was the extent of breastfeeding (aka putting the kid on the teat) the first time around: figuring out the mechanics, learning to stick up for myself as a new mom, getting used to the awkwardness, trying to find places in civilization that I was comfortable enough to whip out the mammaries, and, eventually, cutting that kid off when he discovered teeth.
The second time around: both easier and more complicated at the same time. Part 2 is coming up, kids… maybe just in time for next year’s National Breastfeeding week.
Fine print: I think nursing is great. It’s been a great way for me to bond with both of our kids, and I love that the baby has to come back to me after a while of being passed around. Oh, and it’s way cheaper. That being said… nursing isn’t a good option for a lot of people, and I totally get that. Whether it’s because of potential side effects from medication that the mom needs (as I mentioned in vignette #3), or mom doesn’t produce enough milk, or pumping at work isn’t feasible, or even just plain “I had a really hard time with it and decided it wasn’t for us,” we should all feed our babies in whatever way works for us. If that’s formula, great. If that’s exclusive breastfeeding until 12 months, great. If that’s getting milk from a donation center, great. If it’s some combo of the above, great. Basically, you do you, ladies, and don’t have even one second of mother guilt. You’re feeding your baby? Good job.