This post was written as part of Mothering’s “Blog about breastfeeding” event in celebration of World Breastfeeding week, August 1-7. You can read more stories here. And stay tuned here (on this blog!) all week for more posts about breastfeeding by yours truly.
Before I had a child, I thought of breastfeeding in fairytale terms. I imagined white, glowing light surrounding me as I cradled my fictitious babe. We would stare lovingly into one another’s eyes as I sang lullabies and birds chirped outside the window. It would be effortless, sweet and the most natural thing in the world.
After giving birth to my first child, I kept this fantasy alive for exactly one feeding. That first latch was textbook perfect, and thrilling in a new, beautiful way. But shortly thereafter, the fantasy began to unwind and reality showed itself as cracked nipples, painful hours of feeding, and constant demands.
While still in the hospital with my new baby, I pushed the call button at 15-minute intervals, desperate for the help of a nurse. My baby would fuss and want milk, but I couldn’t get her to latch on. I fumbled with my own breasts, which now felt like completely foreign objects I had no idea how to operate. I couldn’t remember how to execute any one of the countless positions the nurses taught me over and over….and over again, let alone successfully hand express even a drop of milk.
The day I left the hospital, my milk came in. And I hoped that some magical mama powers would come in along with it. Instead, I continued to struggle. Even after several visits from my homebirth midwives and my doula, I continued to struggle. I would layer two different kinds of nipple salves on my cracked, bleeding nipples after every feeding. Twelve to fifteen applications every day. It was so bad, at times, that I had to use my birth visualization and deep breathing techniques to get though a feeding. But, I kept going and prayed that someday it would feel like a natural, normal experience, because there was an exchange of love underneath all that pain.
There were times I wanted to give up. There were tears and frustration, and late night phone calls to the pediatrician, because my newborn refused to eat.
Then, on a day I can’t quite remember, in a way I can’t explain, there was a shift. Somewhere amidst a sea of soaked breast pads and little birdie lips, everything was fine. It didn’t look like my fantasy, but it was beautiful and real.
And that’s just the thing. Breastfeeding doesn’t always look the way you’d expect. It’s imperfect, and sometimes surprising. It’s getting lost beneath eight support pillows or unintentionally spraying your child (or husband) in the eye. It’s having a foot in your face for twenty minutes or a tiny acrobat on your lap who can somehow revolve around 360 degrees without ever unlatching. It’s hiding behind a bookshelf in the children’s section of the library, leaning over a car seat on the side of the highway to calm a screaming child, or out in the open at a Mexican restaurant. It’s in the shower, on the slide at the playground, or under a black cape at the hair salon.
Sometimes, there is heart-warming eye contact, a tiny hand running through your hair, and a feeling of “this is the stuff of life and I never want it to end.” And sometimes, there is nipple biting, not enough time alone with your own body, and sleep deprivation. But there is one thing you can count on to be there all of the time—the relationship and bond only you and your babe can know. There is the part of the fantasy that is real, and that makes it all worth it.
Stay tuned this week for more on breastfeeding.
Up next: Breastfeeding a toddler