The other night I was sitting around with some girlfriends and some wine and we were talking about breastfeeding. I have two sort of distinct groups of friends who have very distinct ideas about babies and breastfeeding, and this is the group that thinks it’s weird to nurse past like, 6 months old and also that it’s kind of weird to make eye contact with your baby while nursing. They are some of my favorite girls and we can laugh easily at each other’s differing opinions, but I’m definitely the weird one to them. To be honest, I couldn’t care less how other people feed their babies. I love the makers of baby formula the way I love the makers of neonatal incubators and infant CPR training courses. If it’s keeping babies alive, then guess what: I like it. I nurse my babies because I can and because I like it, and that’s that. If I needed or wanted to use formula, I would, no questions asked. And that’s that.
All that being said, I gotta tell you, nursing baby Sam has been hard. Feeding him has been difficult since day one and I have fought mightily to make it work.
A strange commitment for me to make, because I was nervous to breastfeed a boy.
I didn’t really want a boy at all, in fact.
I always imagined myself with a gaggle of little daughters, their straight hair cut long with a swish of bangs and their fighting driving me crazy until one day they were suddenly all best friends and we lived happily ever after in a Little Women kind of complicated utopia (except none of them die from a weakened constitution, God bless poor Beth.)
So when I found out a BOY was growing inside me, it really kind of grossed me out. It seemed so unnatural. I am a woman. How could my body be making a MAN? How could a penis, an actual pair of testicles be growing INSIDE MY UTERUS and COME OUT MY VAGINA? It made no sense.
But grow he did and out he came and now, all these months later, I have joined the ranks of all those moms I used to make fun of, the ones who loved their sons with some sort of weird adoration cut from Oedipus’s school of thinking, and OK OK I totally get it. It’s adorable. Boys are adorable. They are sweet and cute and they think their moms spin the world in their soft, mothering arms and yes, it’s different than my relationship with Clara. Not better. Not closer. Just different. I’m sure a lot of that is personality, but I am also sure that a large portion of his personality came way of his chromosome count, so. Yeah. I like him. He’s one of the best people I know and he’s barely been a person as long as one season of Parenthood.
And breastfeeding him was not weird, it turned out. When he was born, all 4 pounds 7 ounces of him, he nuzzled himself right into my chest and wanted to eat. We happily nursed together, his latch coming and going as he sputtered his way through those first few hours of eating. But then as the night went on, his blood sugar kept dropping and dropping, into the 20’s at the worst of it (60 is the lowest acceptable number in our hospital nursery) and suddenly I was being asked to feed him a bottle of formula. To get his sugars up, they told me. Because prolonged low sugar levels can cause brain damage in infants, and other serious maladies. His sugars would not stabilize and soon he was put in the NICU, and thus began my long journey with feeding my son.
I hated nursing him in the beginning. It was like holding a bag of bones, all elbows and pelvic cavity and teeny, tiny head. Nursing Clara was easy, joyful from the start, and nursing Sam was scary. I was scared to drop him, scared to juggle all the tubes and cords attached to his skin, scared that my milk was not giving him the nutrients he needed. Every day in the hospital he was fed formula along with being nursed, and every day in the hospital I pumped 4 times a day, bagging up all that golden colostrum he wasn’t able to drink. It was exhausting, it was draining, and it was not what I had imagined. Mind you, he was only in the NICU for a week. I cannot imagine the moms doing this for MONTHS, doing whatever it takes to keep their babies healthy and alive. Being quiet, unsung, exhausted heroes. Being life savers.
Moms are incredible. Especially Moms with sick kids. I stand amazed at their sacrifices, truly.
When we finally went home, my milk came in and the painful week of engorgement passed slowly. Sam was gaining weight and eating fine, but nursing hurt. Like, wince my way through every dreaded feeding, hurt. And then I got a clogged milk duct. Did you know that milk doesn’t come out through one spot on a nipple, like a hose? It comes out through a lot of different holes, like a shower head. You’re welcome for that picture. It’s common for a duct to get clogged (I didn’t know that) and as a result I got mastitis, which is basically an infected breast. Which is mostly like dying a slow death and then coming back to life because, while lying comatose in bed with your two kids because your husband is gone at work, your toddler climbs on your engorged and infected breasts to demand another episode of Bubble Guppies and her knobby knees bring you back to life. You are not thankful. You would rather die.
After the mastitis healed, it took me a few weeks to realize that it still hurt way too much to feed Samuel. I held my breath every time he latched on and couldn’t even talk while he ate, it was so painful. I decided to visit the lactation consultants at the hospital, those angels in their quiet office with snacks and water bottles and helpful hints galore. Sam was a few months old by this point and they were surprised to see such an “old” baby needing help, but they spotted the problem immediately (a bad latch because my milk was coming out too fast and he was trying not to choke), adjusted his jaw for me, and it never hurt to nurse again.
NOTE: If you are a nursing mother and ever have any questions or concerns, or you know a nursing mother who is discouraged or in pain or needs any help at all, GO SEE THE LACTATION NURSES. They are a gift from God and know everything about everything when it comes to breastfeeding and babies. Stop googling. Stop asking your dumb friends. Go see the nurses.
So, nine months later, and here’s the crazy thing: Sam is still exclusively breast fed. He has some weird stomach problems and hasn’t ever been able to keep solid food down. We are seeing specialists about it and I’m really hoping it’s something that he will outgrow by the time he’s one, but for now I am still his sole source of food and life. I nursed Clara until I was too pregnant with her little brother to make enough milk, but she was eating solid food three meals a day as well. All of this nursing is strange, and a little hard on my body to be honest. I drink Fenugreek tea five times a day, my appetite is really off, and my boobs are, in a word, sad.
But you know what?
I like breastfeeding my son.
I like to feel his fat, capable body, 15 pounds of limbs and rolls, climbing all over me in search of a place to eat. I feel like Jane Goodall, watching this intelligent being coming into his own, becoming acquainted with his mind and perceptions and behavioral ticks.
I like his fat neck. I like his fat knees. I like to feed him and watch him grow, an invisible trail of nutrients straight from my body into his, a strange and perfect food chain that has miraculously kept him alive for 9 months and counting. I like that he eats in four minutes flat, but lingers in my arms and plays with my hair. I like that we have to figure all of this out together, that he has been as patient with me as I haven’t been with myself, and that we’re doing ok.
I like my son,
this boy that grew in my womb and now lights up the world with his smile.
It’s been a pleasure, buddy, and you are worth every second.
I love you so!
I love you so.
|in his miniature hospital gown during a test last month.
the doctor said she’s never ever had a baby laughing during the procedure before 🙂
|all day every day, folks.|