Just because it’s natural, it doesn’t mean it can’t be awkward.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided to breastfeed. It was free, it was natural, it was portable, plentiful, and a no-brainer. Plus, friends of mine clued me into not only its health benefits for the child, but that it was an awesome natural liposuction regimen for the mother. I was sold.
I would grace the book racks at thrift stores as a pregnant woman, and stock up on baby-rearing books that have mostly remained unread and lonely in my bookcase. I couldn’t understand why there were books on breastfeeding. Multiple books, with multiple chapters. Wasn’t breastfeeding a basic practice among mothers that was comprised of a single step: lift your hungry baby to your breast? It reminds me of when I dated a man who subscribed to a running magazine. Both running and breastfeeding seem to be such primitive practices and pertinent acts of survival that require little-to-no study. I found the abundance of books on breastfeeding to be puzzling.
However, my daughter arrived a month early, and I had to hit the ground running.
She didn’t latch. Not for eight whole weeks. I didn’t know that could be an issue. My sweet, tiny, premature infant lacked the natural instincts to feed. And I, a mother and special education teacher, struggled to teach the very first practice in life and couldn’t break it down any further than gently rubbing her face on my nipple.
I had an intense, high maintenance relationship with a breast pump. My husband and I purchased it immediately after I was discharged from the hospital. “Eight to twelve times a day,” the doctor said. I set an alarm on the noon-3–6–9 cycle, and eight times a day I would coach her to breastfeed (aka rub her face on my nipples), bottle-feed her, pump for twenty minutes, and wash the pump pieces. I have memories of feeling like a cow on a feeding schedule. Once, I played a song on YouTube as I pumped and noticed that the back-beat was identical to the rhythmic whir of the pump. From thenceforth, that song was all I heard with each milking.
Then one day, she latched. Miraculously, she latched. It was on her terms, and though I don’t know her reasons, she latched. I got a raise in motherhood, and was given a decrease in my workload. Never again, did I exhaustedly knock over a container of freshly squeezed me milk, only to watch it spill to the floor and be consumed by the family dog.
I had spent my whole life having lazy breasts who sat latent in bras and were only expected to fill sweaters nicely. And now, they had a sense of purpose. Intellectually, I knew what their function was. They give women a very defining characteristic that places us in the mammalia class. But in the beginning, my new lactating lifestyle was weird to me. Feeding my child with my breasts was about as awkward as feeding her with my elbows.
The Lactation consultant described mamma’s milk to be a precious liquid gold. I discovered that Lactation consultants can be some of the oddest, most intense people. Its value may be less in my household, for my daughter would allow it to dribble out of the corner of her mouth, and my breasts would drip at the most inopportune times. I learned of the feeling of fire ants inhabiting my breasts during the periods of let-down. My breasts would inefficiently spritz my body with milk as I’d exit a hot shower. They didn’t discriminate between my crying infant and my sister-in-law’s whimpering puppy when trickling milk to offer comfort.
When the milk first came in, I experienced engorgement. All of the discomfort and swelling was a poor trade-off for my breast’s increase in size. The milk was backed up and I couldn’t get it to release through my nipples. I felt like a sucker who should have picked up one of those breastfeeding books from the thrift store during my pregnancy. In a pinch, I perused online Lactation threads and tried all of the remedies that made sense to me. I iced. I heated. I massaged. And when the obvious treatments were of no help, I opened my mind. I found a single blurb that recommended that I wrap my breasts in cabbage. Taking the ‘what the hell’ attitude, I decided to give it a go. After I let my nipples marinade in a veggie wrap, I watched my breasts express drops of milky goodness into my pump.
My daughter weaned herself at five-and-a-half months. She cried and was downright offended when I’d offer my breast to her. I was ready to welcome formula into my daughter’s life.
I immediately became pregnant after that with my son. Whereas my daughter didn’t take to my breast at first, my son was determined to find and utilize it. It was though he was studying up on it for nine months and was determined to excel at the top of his class. He was rooting for it in the air when he was brought to me for the first time. I spent most of his first year of life tethered to my couch. He would dabble in different techniques like a cultured wine connoisseur. He would pounce on them in National Geographic wildlife style. While gaining sustenance from one, he would beat the ever-loving snot out of the other. Sometimes, he would rhythmically teeter from one to the other like a metronome. He refused to be bottle-fed early on and gave me a crash course in attachment parenting. After twenty-five months of breastfeeding, he weaned himself just in time for my third child to take over.
I could write books on my experiences with breastfeeding, now. However, I envision them collecting dust on the shelves of thrift stores.
Originally published at medium.com