To Boob or Not to Boob…

Breastfeeding. It’s the new-old hotness for all new moms. Back in the day, breastfeeding had a negative stigma. Formula was all the rage. It had everything a baby needed, just add water! Only dirt poor women who couldn’t afford formula breastfed. It almost became a third-world concept. I don’t know a lot of people my age that were breastfed, but then again, it’s not something I go asking about during dinner parties.

I don’t claim to be an authority on breastfeeding, although there are thousands of professional and amateur experts on the matter. I only have my own experience to go on. Mommies are just going to have to make up their own damn mind. If you can’t make up your mind, I’m sure there is a sanctimommy somewhere close that will make up your mind for you.

So, when I was pregnant, I understood breastfeeding on a basic, almost neanderthal level: Boob + Baby = Happily Fed Baby. I didn’t remember a whole lot about it from my nursing school days, so I signed up for a class about it offered at ACME Hospital. It was free, and only demanded a few hours one Saturday morning.

(Log, deciding that this was something he didn’t need a lot of info about, opted not to go. Regret would set in later when I told him about all the naked boobs they had in the video.)

I can’t say that I felt enlightened after the class was over, but I did feel a little more comfortable with the idea. After all, breastfeeding is the only way to go to be a successful mom, right?? If you are don’t breastfeeding your baby, they will grow into sick adults that have the intellect of a Republican Presidential candidate. Right??  Truth be told, I probably felt more pressure after the class than before it.

The pressure to breastfeed is almost borderline ridiculous. I don’t think I ever experienced so much stress since boards. After I had Lil G, my job was to present her boob, and her job was to suck. Turns out, we both were not very good at our responsibilities. Lil G tried to suck my nipple off, to a boob that wasn’t producing much milk. Meanwhile, I’m on a floor where the walls are literally covered with pictures of breastfeeding women from around the globe! There’s even posters in my room in both English and Spanish preaching the merits of breastfeeding. I felt like an absolute failure, and Lil G was barely 24 hours old.

They even had the lactation consultant come in and help. So, this woman I just met, is manhandling my boob, while trying to show me what a successful latch is. All that comes out is a few droplets of precious colostrum, which I am told is all the baby needs. But Lil G’s cries makes me think she’s still hungry.

My milk finally decides to show up 3 days later, but it’s not smooth sailing. My nipples look like bleeding meatballs, and pain that comes with every 2 hour feeding is immense. We bust out the pump to save my anguish and Lil G from having to drink pink milk. Lil G is getting a little nourishment, but she is still loosing weight.

I met with the lactation specialist at my pediatrician’s office. She brought out the Boppy pillow and we had many meetings about being a champion breastfeeder. I’d say that I didn’t get the hang of it until week three. For my lactation specialist, breastfeeding was the ONLY option. I even asked about supplementing with formula, and she strongly vetoed the idea. I even got “the look” for asking.

My pediatrician, however, was a bit more sympathetic. She didn’t subscribe to the Exclusive Boob Club, knowing that every mom is unique in her experience. Some can do it, some can’t, and both are perfectly fine options. She made me feel like less of a failure.

Before birth, my plan was to breastfeed Lil G for at least a year. A full year of my life as a food source. It’s funny how life happens. I threw in the towel, along with the breast pump, at the 3 month mark. At 2 months, Lil G went on a combination of formula and breast milk, with me pumping as much supplemental reserves as I could. I returned to work after 12 weeks, and I knew I realistically couldn’t continue breastfeeding. I barely got a lunch break as it was, how was I going to squeeze in a couple 15 minute pumping sessions???

The switch to formula was seamless. Formula readily available, plus I have a small reserve on hand for sick days when Lil G plays “Pass the Binky” with her daycare cohorts and catches the Germ of the Day.

When I decided to stop pumping, I remember feeling anxiety, and a sense of loss. Which was stupid, but a feeling nonetheless. I had already bonded with my baby, more time on boob was not going to enhance it. She was developing like a normal baby. She was healthy and strong. It wasn’t until I packed away some clothes that she had outgrown that I realized it wasn’t the breastfeeding I would miss, but it was the passing of a milestone that I was mourning. She was growing up. I was experiencing “The Last..”

I don’t begrudge the Mommies who still breastfeed, that is their choice as much as my choice to stop was mine to make. I just wish the pressure wasn’t there. From pre-birth, to birth and recovery, and the months that follow…the pressure is everywhere. From the specialists, both real and imagined. From sanctimommies that look at you like you are some dimwit when you bust out the formula. Screw that noise! My Lil G is happy and healthy, and I wouldn’t change a damn thing about it. Besides, that singular sharp tooth she has sprouted has made me grateful that she is now bottle-fed.

Anyone who judges me for it, will probably get boob-punched.

The Things New Moms Don’t Talk About

Being a new mom, I tend to read a lot of articles about babies. Not that I am looking for instruction, but more to see if other people have experienced what I have experienced. Some articles are helpful. Some…not so much. Like the story about the mom who’s 3 month old died during their first day in a daycare. I happened to read that the night before Lil G was to go to her first day in daycare.

One article I read, spoke of the secrets that new mothers don’t talk about. One of which stuck out was the myth that moms experience an outpouring of love the second the baby pops out of the birth canal. I can’t speak for all moms, but this simply wasn’t the case for me. Oh, I love her now with a love that defies any description. I would do anything for her, but it took me a while to get there.

When I delivered my baby, I didn’t feel a rush of anything, unless you refer to the placenta and all the leftovers from the birthing process. When she cried, I didn’t feel some emotional release, or some magical bond that suddenly appeared, stretching across the room from me to her tiny body. I didn’t feel the ache in my breast that told me that suddenly, this child should attach to it.

They handed me this tiny, pink being. Head full of the softest hair. I stared down at her, taking in her little features, amazed that I just expelled this from my body. That this was the final product of 9 months of wait and worry.

After I was moved to my room, and I convinced my husband that he would be best served going home to sleep instead of trying to sleep on the shitty fold-out chair the hospital had, I sat in my equally uncomfortable bed. The nurse had parked Lil G alongside me, in her own little bed. I simply stared at this baby that shared my DNA. And stared. And stared. Equal parts shock and curiosity. I would be leaving the hospital in a couple of days, and I would have to take her with me. I knew nothing about babies, and caring for babies, and what the hell was I thinking that I could this?

Occasionally, she would open her eyes and stare at me, a blurry face to newborn eyes. She seemed ambivalent about me, and I didn’t know how I felt about that either.

Soon, we go home, and still find myself just staring at this baby. Still shocked that she is mine. Curious about who she is. But did I love her? I only met her a few days prior. I knew she was mine, and I had to take care of her. I didn’t really feel anything beyond a sense of duty. Then, I felt like I was a shitty mom. After all, I had heard countless times at how moms were overcome with so much love the minute their baby was born. I felt broken, like something was wrong with me. Had I made a mistake? Was I not Mommy material after all?

As time went on, I grew to like her. She was cute. Had a cute little cry. Tiny hands and feet. I liked the way she curled against my body when she snuggled. I liked the way she smelled. How soft her hair felt when it brushed against my cheek  or how her skin felt when I kissed her. The way she would look at me with a quizzical look when I would feed her. It was almost like she felt the same way I did. I know I belong to you. I know you are important. Let’s just see how this plays out.

Then one evening, weeks later, I was holding her while sitting on the couch. We stared at each other, which is what we often did, and then it happened. We finally recognized each other. She smiled. There you are, Mommy! I love you!

I smiled back and fell hopelessly in love with her.

My daughter.