A pile of nursing paraphernalia sat on our bedroom floor for two weeks, before my husband noticed it (gasp) and questioned its lingering presence. How could I explain to him my reluctance to take it out? I surprised myself by the all the feels I felt at seeing it go. All that was left from this early stage of motherhood was in that slightly sour smelling bag of nursing shields, ugly milk-stained bras, and one trusty tube of Lanolin.
My tumultuous breastfeeding journey began a little over four years ago with the birth of my first son.
Following my naive attempt at a beautifully hippy homebirth which went absurdly awry, I was unflinchingly resolved to be a breastfeeding goddess. Cue images of a way more white, lumpy and decidedly less coordinated version of golden clad Queen Bey. Like many new mothers I suspect, I had no inkling of how insanely challenging breastfeeding would turn out. Beginning with my initial shock that milk was not pouring gracefully from a single source in my nipple, but rather coming out of me like a demented garden hose. How in thirty some odd years of life had NO ONE mentioned that to me?! I’ll attribute it to a combination of my own stupidity and a failure of public education. The male basketball coach who taught our sex ed class in high school was, shall we say, less than thorough. But where were you on that one, Coach Botone?!
What I envisioned from mama Ina’s* guide was this completely natural process that we were all designed to do; I thought breastfeeding was going to be nothing short of a spiritual love trip complete with glowing skin and a bonus 500 caloric freebie. (My body really needs this frozen margarita…) The reality, of course, is that despite being natural, breastfeeding can feel anything but in those early days. Waiting for your milk to come in and wondering if you’re starving this tiny alien creature you produced is a postpartum pressure cooker. And nursing hurts like hell those first few weeks.
Two words: bloody nipples.
The crazy thing is that I got off easy! Cracked and bloody nipples are child’s play (pun totally intended). Considering all the things that can go wrong with baby and mama in the wild world of nursing, including but not limited to tongue-ties, latch issues, low milk supply, mastitis, plugged ducts, etc., it’s easy to understand that when you finally hit that nursing stride, you feel like effing Wonder Woman!
It’s hard and it’s beautiful.
I pass a smile and knowing nod to the new mom struggling with the expensive-looking nursing cover at the doctor’s office. Inwardly I’m chuckling at the thought of seeing her six months from now, having given up the cover long ago after voracious piranha baby repeatedly bats it away preferring to have her milk with a view. I get it, I’ve been there. I too started with an attempt to be discreet and ended somewhere around a half second warning before whipping it out wherever my kid happened to be screaming.
I find I’m a little saddened to be completely done with nursing, as though I’ve handed in my badge and retired from a club where I’m no longer a member. Follow me, won’t you, for a brief breastfeeding highlight reel. Hands up if you’ve been there!
Oh the places you’ll nurse…
I’ve nursed on the beach and beside a rushing mountain stream. Nursing is what saved the day during many a take-off and landing, much to my relief and those seated next to me. Because who has time to put together plane ride gift bags for everyone around them? Not this girl. I’ve nursed while pushing a cart with the other hand through Target like it’s my job. I’ve nursed at a funeral and more than a few weddings. I made myself quite at home and nursed in a super chic nursery display at IKEA, because I would live there if I could. I’ve nursed whilst cooking, vacuuming, taping a voice over audition, and peeing (many, many times) and just once while doing the other. In my defense, it was an emergency. I have dropped countless bites of food on my kids’ heads while trying to feed myself as I was feeding them. And hell yes, I ate it anyway. Waste not, want not. But my favorite place of all is when I nursed my babies in the quiet of their rooms while softly singing ‘Once upon a dream’ more times than I can count.
I went through an interesting (as my husband generously puts it) phase where I genuinely believed breastmilk was the magical cure for everything. I used it for pimples and crows feet. I still swear that breastmilk is hands down, the BEST diaper rash cure of all time. Roll with me here. Though it may feel a little weird at first, not having to dig around for the Desitin was a life saver, and it always worked! Once I read that breastmilk could help clear up the common cold. So when my husband got sick that month, he gave me mad stink-eye when I handed over his morning coffee for weeks. I’ll never tell.
When we learned of our move across country, I cried and cried at the thought of throwing away a freezer full of pumped breastmilk which we couldn’t possibly take with us. After doing a quick internet search, I found the group Human Milk 4 Human Babies, which has a chapter in most states. In a matter of hours, I was in the car with four coolers and was able to donate a 3-4 month milk supply to a new mom of a beautiful three week old adopted son. It remains one of the most gratifying acts of my life.