Friday, December 21, 2012

What no one told me about breastfeeding: Part One

Shira breastfeeding sometime last month.
Our first meeting.

This is me and Shira on May 11, 2007 2010*, her first day on the outside. After she was born in the water the midwives helped the two of us out of the tub (without grace I might add, as I had not yet delivered the placenta and we were still very much attached to one another) and into a welcoming queen-size bed. If I remember correctly Shira began nursing about 14 seconds after we settled into bed, and stopped only about six days ago. Two years, seven months, and four days is how long I breastfed my Shira Clementine. And no one told me just how sad I would feel.

I have been either pregnant or breastfeeding since February 2007. To say that my identity, my body, and my heart has been wrapped up in birth and breastfeeding barely touches how I'm feeling. You know how you stare at a mess of yarn or string that is so tangled in knots you don't even know where to begin to untangle it? You turn it around in your hands and try desperately to choose a  place to dig in, hoping to find that end you can begin to maneuver through and around and through again, using one strategy after another hoping to end up with one single, uncomplicated piece. That's a little bit how I feel looking at myself now, trying not just to figure out how to understand my new place in Shira's life, but to understand my own feelings in my own, seemingly new body.

So I give you a list (you know I like lists) of ten things no one tells you about breastfeeding. I'm offering this as a series in two parts, so check back next week for part two.

1. It's hard work. Ok, most people will tell you that now. In the weeks leading up to giving birth, many women begin to worry about breastfeeding. In the first days after birth, some women enter a state of complete anxiety about it. Is there enough milk? Why does this hurt so badly? Is she always going to nurse this much? Can I drink coffee? (The answers according to me are: usually, a bad latch, probably, and I did.) The moral of this story is that breastfeeding doesn't always happen the way you want it to, where you bring your baby to your breast, baby latches, and then baby drinks happily with the form of a gold medal breastfeeder that leaves your nipples happy and in one piece. Sometimes you have to try a hundred times to get a good latch; other times you try and try and you just can't seem to fill up your baby. But it's ok, I promise. However you figure out breastfeeding, whatever that looks like to you, it will get better. Alyce cried almost every time she tried to latch on for six months. We tried everything, visited lactation consultants, went to La Leche Meetings, cried to friends. Eventually, after some dedication on both our parts, it just worked. We got each other, settled into a rhythm that didn't stop until she was almost two, when I was pregnant with Shira.

Sometimes breastfeeding is just like breathing, and you can do other things while you feed you baby, like take ridiculous pictures of yourself. Or text your husband in the next room and ask him to bring you a glass of water. Done and done.

2. Sometimes it isn't hard work. Then Shira was born. She entered this world with one thing on her brain (milk) and continues each day motivated by the same thing (more milk). Sometimes breastfeeding isn't so complicated. Sometimes you don't need special pillows or pumps or covers for when you're out in public. Breastfeeding Shira was so uncomplicated and I an eternally grateful for her expertise, especially when I spent so much of her first year learning how to be a  mother to two children. I had other things to feel anxious about and Shira let me worry about those just as long as I had the time to lay next to her in bed with an open shirt.

Still nursing, two hours after birth.

3. iPhones were made so you could capture your child breastfeeding in digital forms as many as ten times a day. I didn't have an iPhone with Alyce and as a result I have about six photos of her at the breast, on account of those days I had enough forethought to sit down near an actual camera. But with my iphone always close by I was able to document Shira's most favourite past-time on a daily, if not hourly basis! Very little warms my heart more than a photo of Shira breastfeeding, cheeks rosy, eyes bright (or sleepily closed), relaxed in my arms. I will show Shira these photos throughout her life, and in between eye-rolls she will listen to me tell her that she was loved and held and adored so dearly that I never wanted to put her down.

Like this photo.

And this one.

4. Breastfeeding helps you steal time. I don't know what it's like to bottle feed a baby, and I hope it is clear from my writing on this blog that I care most about supporting parents no matter how they feed their babies, but I will tell you something about breastfeeding that I think is special. Because breastfeeding is often done privately, even for those of us (myself included) who are happy to breastfeed anywhere (synagogue, Target, the subway, in front of my nervous stepfather), you'll often find yourself alone when you breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding requires a certain kind of focus. Since a baby can't look around a room in quite the same way (though they, ahem, try as best they can), breastfeeding an older infant or toddler often means finding a quiet place to nurse. I have stolen the most magical of moments while feeding by daughters, like the time we were driving from Toronto to Delaware, late at night and Matt and Alyce we re grabbing some food inside the service centre. Shira and I sat together in a quiet, darkened car, breastfeeding and looking at the stars. Stolen, just like that.

In the car at Allentown, Pennsylvania.

5. If you plan it right, you can get a lot of reading done. Once Alyce was a year old I could start reading a book while we sat together and breastfeed before nap or bedtime. She was tired enough at those times that her arms didn't wander around too much and grab at my book. But with Shira I learned how to breastfeed her lying in bed from the first day, and this opened up endless reading possibilities. As long as it wasn't a heavy hardcover book I couldn't balance in one hand, I was able to read almost every time I breastfeed Shira for almost eighteen months. In fact, I read the entire Sookie Stackhouse series before she was four months old. Now don't tell Matt, but sometimes I would keep reading a fifteen few minutes after she was done nursing just to keep reading. Glorious development that was.

Sometimes Shira would read, too. That was less comfortable.

Other times she prefers to hold friends. Friends, how can you resist that chubby arm?

Check back next week when I share how breastfeeding didn't make me feel oppressed and how both Shira and I are dealing with weaning. I'll give you a hint on that last one: Shira is fine and I am a mess. No surprises here!

*Update: Thanks, Christina, for reminding me that Shira was not born in 2007. That was my other daughter. Weaning=general anxiety and forgetfulness.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post...nursing Norah and typing with one hand...
    I read Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series each time I have a baby...fond memories...just started it again!! :)