Breasts, don’t fail me now

Over at Kovixen, my thoughts are echoed exactly.

I had never felt so encouraged to breastfeed as when I was in the breastfeeding class. There was a doll to practice on. A doll, mind you, who didn’t chew on your nipple and then plant his fist on your chest to brace himself as he pushes away from your body, nipple in tow. But in that class, breastfeeding came easy as breathing. Everyone was on a happy cloud, raving about the benefits and cost-effectiveness. The instructor told us that the World Health Organization suggests women breastfeed until the child is two years old. I can do that, my stupid gung-ho self thought. They’ll have to wrench my son off me by the time it’s over! I have a Boppy pillow! I’m an Honors student! How hard can it really be?

I’ve had flashbacks of the hospital days. The nurses had asked if I wanted to feed him right away and I nodded as much as my epidural allowed. When Nathan was plopped into my arms, the nurse manhandled my breast and shoved it into his mouth. I had forgotten everything about positioning my child and getting a good latch because the pain had begun to distort my thinking. It’s hard to think straight when you’ve been through massive physical trauma as pushing almost two feet of baby out of your body.

What they didn’t talk about in the breastfeeding class was the what if. What if you’re not overflowing with this liquid gold? What if your son screams because your breasts are as full as a flattened penny? What if you want to feed him a bottle so you don’t throw yourself off the balcony?

When I took Nathan to his first appointment, the doctor told me that he wasn’t gaining enough weight. “But how is that possible?” I asked. “I’ve been feeding him all. day. long. That’s all I do.” She scheduled a weight check for the next week. I envied the fat babies in the waiting room, whose mothers obviously had advanced breasts which spouted milk like a geyser. I left that office with an anvil in my stomach.

My uncle in Florida died of cancer during that time and my mom was going to fly out there for the funeral to comfort my aunt. I called Expedia to cancel a flight my mom previously booked and apply the credit to the Florida trip. The woman on the phone was being so difficult, feeding scripted answers and telling me it would cost $1200. I started crying with the Expedia woman on the phone. “My uncle just died,” I explained. She began saying I hadn’t said that someone died and had I done that she would have offered a compassion fare, but I could tell she was covering her ass in case her manager was going to review the call for quality assurance. The strange part is I wasn’t crying about my uncle; the stress had raised my other worries about my child’s weight and my inadequate breast milk. All it took was for her to spout off exorbitant prices and poof! I was a bad mother.

I love this quote: “Women are thrown into this whole breastfeeding thing head first and expected to do fine…” No one ever talks about the difficulties of learning to become a human being’s sole source of food. The women who have had troubles have all overcome it because anyone who has failed has been silenced. No woman is given the space to say, “Breastfeeding didn’t work for me.” There isn’t room to talk about the emotional flux of motherhood as if having a child lands you in a Bob Ross landscape. It’s not all happy clouds. There are the dark, draining times when no amount of Baby Einstein or cups of tea can soothe the physical and emotional ache.

I am often asked if I am breastfeeding. I answer that I am and the response is always an excited, “That’s great! That’s the best thing.” As if breastfeeding will magically eliminate the stress and anxiety. Of course, that’s if you’re doing it right, and by God woman, why aren’t you doing it right?

And as much as the government advocates breastfeeding, most businesses don’t make it an viable option. There are the wall-planted changing stations, but the boxes of liners are empty and the only sitting option is an open-faced toilet. IKEA is the only place I’ve been to that gives not only family parking but a family care room with a comfy nursing chair, and actual changing table and toys in the room in case you’ve brought older children with you. Why can’t we have more places like that? You’d think malls would cater to moms with the amount of stroller traffic I’ve seen, but they’re pathetic. There is only one expectant mother parking spot and many mistake it for a handicapped spot.

And don’t get me started on the baby-haters who scoff at women breastfeeding outside the realm of microbial-infested bathrooms and (gasp!) the confines of their homes.

Today I bought a large tub of powdered Enfamil on sale at Target. I bought it guilt-free. I would rather be a sane and functioning mother than endure unecessary torture just to join a club full of frontier women who said no to the epidural and never considered once giving formula to their little ones. It’s 2006, folks. It’s no time to be a cowboy.

I ask: if a woman has the right to choose and she chooses to have a baby, then isn’t also her choice as to how to feed her baby?

There are times when I love feeding my son. I laugh at how he shakes his head when he’s latching on or when I wake up and using my boob as a pillow. But then there are other more challenging moments when I feel like I’m just a pair of breasts that come into and out of focus.

I still breastfeed, but I’m going to keep the formula ready to answer my own what if questions. I know the answer: make a bottle.

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