Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Breastfeeding, An Illustration (Also - a post about confidence)

See all that chub?  The 4 segments of arm?  The giant ham-hock thigh? The delicious belly?  The cheeks? (Okay, those are her father's)  I did that. With my boobs.  Crazy, right?  The babies come out with this spindly little legs and soon enough, bam!, fattened like a Christmas goose.  Of course, you can get these results with any form of feeding, but I do take a certain pride - given the amount of time I spend nursing and pumping - in the results.

(Side note: No, Mom, you haven't seen that picture yet, no, you can't have it now, Shhh, just wait and be a little patient, yeah?)

Now the part about confidence . . . .

Moms who have given birth already - do you remember those early days?  I barely remember my kid actually being with me in the hospital, is that weird?  Was that the drugs? Anyway.... I do, however, remember the first night at home and those first few weeks.  I'd like to forget a lot of that, but I don't.  And what I remember most is nursing. And worrying about nursing. And being angry about nursing, and nursing some more, and trying to get a break from nursing, and eating food over the kid's head while she nursed. Nursing nursing NURSING nursing nursing. Argh, nursing.

I also remember sobbing on the couch one night because Fidg kept pulling of the breast, flailing about, crying, latching on and pulling off again.  This, some small corner of the internet warned me, meant she wasn't getting the flow she wanted. I was starving my child! I sobbed harder.  My husband paced the kitchen, continuously eyeing the can of formula we had used to supplement her when she was yellower than that blanket up there.  Just let me feed her, he pleaded. Give yourself a break, he urged. No, no, no! I cried a little more.  This only gets better if I nurse her more, I snapped tearfully.

Wouldn't it be easier if our boobs were transparent? Or if babies' bellies came with ounce marks on them.  Or if the kid could just be born with the ability to say "I'm hungry" and "Yum, milk" and "Okay, I'm full, don't worry about the fussing, that's just something I do right now."

Do you remember the madness of wondering if your baby was being fed?  The sheer, consuming belief that you could not possibly be making enough milk?  The comfort in using a bottle because you know how much goes into the bottle and then how much goes into her?  The absolute assurance that you couldn't possibly rely on your breasts alone?

I went through that.  I absolutely went through that.

Yesterday, I could hear that in the voice of a dear friend who's beautiful little girl is home from the hospital now. They're just starting out. And I could hear that fear and exhaustion and lack of confidence in her voice.  I don't know any mother who comes home from the hospital the first time and wakes up after the first night saying "nailed it!."  Maybe my sister, but she's a freak like that with her perfectly latching kids. (Love ya!)

Could anyone have told me, in those early days, not to worry, to give my breasts a chance?  Well, sure, they did. Did I believe it? Not quite. Did my husband? No way.

Parenting is this immense leap of faith.  Bigger than buying a home. Bigger than marriage even.  But it's the hardest thing to have faith in.  At least it was for me. "Was?" Hell, is.

After that particularly tear-stained night, I hot-footed it to the Lactation Station and had a supremely helpful session with a Lactation Consultant.   She weighed the baby. I fed the baby. She weighed the baby again. Two ounces in.  You have no supply problem, she told me. You're doing fine, she said.  Maybe your husband should've come with you to see this, she pondered.

That wasn't the end of my nursing woes - not by a long shot - but oh man, did it help tremendously to have some data to prove food was going in. (I wasn't believing the diapers, I guess. There were wet ones and dirty ones, but that didn't seem to matter to me. New mom!)

If I could give any gift to a new mom, I would give her faith in herself - and that would include in her breasts.  I would give her a break from that consuming fear that sets so many women on the path to bottle feeding* needlessly.  Because it's not about bottle feeding being good or bad for the baby.  It's not about what's in the bottle.  It's about women not having a chance to live without that fear on their exhausted, just-given-birth shoulders.  It's about women being able to enjoy their new babies instead of losing their minds with worry.

I'm not a model of someone so gifted, mind you.  I didn't enjoy much of those early weeks and months.  My faith was rocky and easily shaken.  And I know that hind-sight makes it really easy to say "chill out and give breasts a chance."

I wish I had a better way to comfort my friend. A way to promise her that things would run as smoothly as they could (maybe they can't, who can tell so soon? but you have to allow for some trying).  I know time is the only thing that conquers this fear, though. Every day emboldens you as you fine routines and balance and workable moments and methods.

*It really should go with out saying - but I'll say it again anyway - I don't want any of these posts to be read by my dearest friends who use bottles and formula (I used bottles and we did supplement with formula) as an indictment of your parenting or a judgment of your choices.  I know there are many medical reasons why breast feeding simply is not an option for some women. And calling formula poison is false and horrible to say to mothers.  All of my wishing-for-change is focused on the culture and public policy that makes it hard for people without medical problems to establish and maintain breast feeding when they want to do so.

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