Saturday, November 30, 2013

Settling In For the Long Haul

When you think of breastfeeding, what do you think of? Beautiful images of mothers cradling their babies, all soft and nurturing curves and love? That’s somewhere along the lines of what I came to mind for me. And I have friends who represent that to me. Selfless, pure love being provided for their babies. It is a beautiful thing.

But I’m going to come out and say it. It takes a goddamn lot out of me to be that pure, selfless mother. I’m not even sure I’m very good at it. Because, in order to breastfeed, you have to put yourself aside. You are never truly “alone” or “free,” because every moment is just a count down to the next feeding. Planning an outing requires planning it around feedings (or pumping). Planning an outfit requires the same. Because, damnit, your baby needs you. Which, remember, is a beautiful thing. Really, it is. I love being needed by him in order to keep him happy and healthy. And….at the same time, it’s fucking hard. The idea that, for the next year (?), my body will be so connected to his in such a physical and inescapable way is absolutely mind-blowing.

What am I saying? I guess I’m saying that, for me, breastfeeding has made me realize that my body, time, and life no longer belong to just me. And I know what you’re thinking…well, duh, that’s called being a mother. Yes, yes I know. But it’s more than that. If I want to run to the store without my baby, I better be back in time in order to feed him. Or be somewhere I can pump. If I want to drink a glass of wine, I better time it correctly or be prepared to give the baby a bottle. Etc, etc, etc. Everything is related back to the baby and my boobs. Because it’s not just about him. This is a symbiotic relationship. It’s not just him that needs to eat, it’s my breasts that need to feed him. Or else I could get physically sick. And then there are the trivialities…the sour milk smell always scenting my skin, the need to change milk-soaked shirts 3 times (or more) a day, the need to always wear a bra to support my sore breasts, the engorgement, the pain…not to mention how will my breasts ever be a fun part of foreplay again?

My husband and I are close. But this relationship takes things to an entirely new level. My baby needs me and I need him. Every three hours. I suppose you could argue that it is a lot more freedom than being pregnant. That is true. And yet…

I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m going with this. B keeps saying, But, didn’t you know?? Didn’t you think this through? I guess not. I knew breastfeeding would be hard. I knew it would put restrictions on me. But I don’t think I was prepared for the depth of the connection and need that would be required of me. Am I saying I’m selfish? Maybe. Maybe I am not one of those women who represents beautiful maternal nurturance. Or maybe this is just something others feel but don’t say.

The irony of this is that I’m writing this right as I’m settling into breastfeeding. I no longer have such terrible pain (although I’m still only exclusively pumping on my bad side – waiting to heal) and I no longer dread feedings. I’m happy to feed him now and it feels good to know I have what he needs and wants. I wake up with him, on the same rhythm, in order to feed him during the night. And, watching him feed? Amazing. The moments have become sweet and tender, as they’re supposed to be.

So. Again. What is the point of this post? I guess I’m just putting it out there. Breastfeeding requires more from a woman – from a mother – than I ever imagined. Once again, something that a man will not experience, possibly can’t even understand. Even for a mother who chooses not to breastfeed, this is still something that she is touched by. My mother, who could not breastfeed me, still feels sad about this. My mother-in-law still has regret for choosing not to breastfeed her three children. It touches us. Each of us. And, if you choose to do it, you are making a choice to give of yourself. And, by giving, you find a connection that is powerful, scary, and demanding. I suppose, that is love.


  1. AMEN SISTER. Seriously. Thank you for this post. I can't tell you how much I needed to read this right now, to know that I'm not alone in my feelings toward breastfeeding.

    Right now I'm just so done, and I oscillate between being angry about how much of my life breastfeeding has taken over and feeling despondent that it's so hard and that I'm failing at it so miserably. And then there is just the bone deep frustrating about what seems like little things (the constantly wet clothes that always need to be changed, as you mentioned above) that I realize are actually symbolic of much bigger things. But yeah, breastfeeding is a total bitch and it requires an insane commitment on the part of the mother and if you're not that into it it really, really sucks. It's fucking hard no matter what, but if it's also painful and frustrating and difficult, well then it can feel impossible. And there isn't nearly enough talk about how much it sucks, about why so many women choose not to do it. We need to have more honest conversations about it, so women are prepared going into it to know how difficult it could be. Unfortunately the only people who teach you about it are the ones who want you to keep doing it so they totally sugar coat it (or misrepresent it completely) and so honest conversations are not have, unless people like us speak up. So I'm glad you're put this out there. It's desperately needed.

    Good luck doing whatever it is that feels right for you when it comes to breastfeeding. I hope it becomes a more effortless, positive experience. I hope that for both of us.

  2. I'm not in a huge position to comment since I have only been doing this for a week, and am still in the rosy position of having the whole world (my husband and mum) pandering to my every feed-based whim, but I know the relentless cheerleading from my mum who fed all three of us for between 6 months to a year. She never sugar coats anything, laughs at me when I need it and tells me continually that it'll all be worth it. She made me brave enough to feed a 5 day old in the car so we could go out and keeps telling me how easy I am making life for future-Lorna. (You can borrow some of her motivational speaking on Wednesday!)

    I guess my point is agreeing with the comment above, the classes and support all seems to come from people who are so... into it. I found it really off-putting. Normal people do breastfeed too, though. And I'm blindly trusting mum that it's as worth it as she says it is!

  3. Breastfeeding is hard, you are absolutely right. In some ways, I think of it as harder than labor. At least with labor, you know it is a finite experience. And, although BF'ing is finite, it's a much longer task. There's the added issue that the length is all in your hands. That makes it so much harder psychologically. All of that to say, I'm glad it's getting better and praying that it becomes the dream-sequence kind of experience for you. Praying for you!

  4. It does get easier. At some point (for me it was after I went back to work) you can go longer between feeds, and so you aren't tied so close to him or a pump. But it still takes over your body - your body belongs to your child and not you as long as you're breast feeding. The benefits are huge, but it's hard work.

    And as hard as it is, I still miss nursing Finn. And I'm really looking forward to being able to nurse with my next one - it's a weird dichotomy.

  5. I think the answer to 'Didn't you think this through?' is all the amazing women we've seen who stuck with breastfeeding and are utterly confident about and at ease with it. I certainly have friends who don't/didn't hesitate to nurse in front of whomever, whenever, which makes it seem so easy. You never see the first months, when both mother and baby are uncoordinated and milk is going everywhere. I knew nursing was bound to hurt for a while, but I don't think I realized it would be difficult beyond that, and I certainly didn't realize I'd need to put a towel under the baby!

  6. With breastfeeding not far away for me (2 weeks? 3 weeks?), this was both good and hard to read. Thanks for being so candid. We're doing a lactation class later this week - though not sure how helpful that can be before I actually have a baby attached (or trying to attach?) to my boob. In any case, I think the lesson is that we should be kind to ourselves, realize how freakin hard this is and don't be afraid to ask for help. I hope I can remember those things in the throes of postpartum-chaos-and-hormones :)
    You're such a strong mama - I hope with each passing day this gets easier!

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