Boobs. They fill up sweaters, bathing suits and bras and let's not forget the sheer joy that they bring to day laborers. Years ago, while running in college, I actually got the offensive "Hooray for boobies" yelled by a passing pickup truck. At the time, I felt violated and I feared for my life and hightailed it home but maybe, just maybe those two a-holes saw the potential success of my mammary glands in that sweaty and stained jog bra. Maybe. I'm feeling hopeful today.
I'm on week 7 of breastfeeding and I'm honestly shocked by the fact that my body actually makes what my child needs. How amazing is that? Not only did I grow a HUMAN BEING, but I can also nourish that human being from these globs of flesh on my chest that I had previously only viewed as strictly decorative. Breasts are like a surprise piece of furniture, like an ottoman, that doubles as a storage unit! Genius! Who knew?
Well, I guess the majority of the world knew this little fact. After all, as moms, we are drilled into repeating "Breast is Best," from that first prenatal visit. I tried with Bean. I really did. But let's be honest, the cards were kind of stacked against me. We had our first successful latch on day 7, and even that was brief. It's fairly cumbersome holding a newborn with a bazillion tubes attached her while sitting shirtless in a NICU. I wasn't comfortable. I'm sure she wasn't either. And yet, I soldiered on because that is what I was programmed to do. After that, she latched briefly again and then we were home and my nipple and giant boob seemed to send her into hysterics. At her first checkup, Bean's doctor sat next to me with ice cube on my nipple coaxing it out and into Bean's mouth. What might have been an erotic visual for my husband, was actually quite the opposite as he sat on across the room staring awkwardly at the floor. And he tried too, not breastfeeding per se, but he had the ice cube out for me or he'd stick my nipple in Bean's mouth and he'd refrigerate cabbage leaves for my sore breasts. We tried. All three of us, but her weight dropped continuously. I felt like failure. Wasn't I supposed to be able to feed my child? Wasn't this the way nature intended? And yet I couldn't.
The evidence was mounting. My cardiac kid nursed for 40 minutes to an hour at every feeding, and still her weight dropped. What was I doing wrong? I was supposed to be able to do this. The lactation consultant worked with me repeatedly in the hospital. I bought all the appropriate gear. I kept up the pumping after feeds. I pumped and pumped and pumped. I nursed and nursed and nursed. Still, her weight gain was slow. Finally, after three months of this, we introduced formula and then everything turned around. She gained weight and I continued to pump. But I still felt like a failure. And I saw the looks on NYC moms' faces when I whipped out a bottle of Enfamil. The disapproving looks. Inevitably, I was asked "Why aren't you breastfeeding?" Really, these strangers were already questioning my parenting and they didn't even know me. They'd hand out lactation consultant referrals like they were gracing me with gold, when they were only adding to my perceived shame.
I wish that someone, other than my husband, had suggested formula to me earlier. I wish that I hadn't associated formula with my own personal failure as a new mom. I wish that I had the confidence of second time mom back then. I know now, that formula was invented for a reason. It gives moms freedom. Everyone can feed your child as opposed to the mom bearing the bulk of feeding duties. It's a shared responsibility. You are not constantly monitoring your milk production, fearing that you don't have enough. Formula is there for babies like mine that didn't get on the breast immediately and never really latched well. But it's also there for any mom. It was invented to feed and to nourish and it does. Generations of people were raised on formula and we are not sociopaths with below average intelligence with terrible immune systems. We managed just fine without the breast.
Since my first experience breastfeeding was so awful, I doubted that I'd be able to do it with HT. I thought that I'd try, but I was also open to formula. I wasn't going to punish myself if HT couldn't find my nipple. I'd forgive myself if I had to pump breast milk or I had to buy formula. Imagine my shock when minutes after abdominal surgery, HT was on my breast. It was beautiful and amazing. This tiny, wet babe was on my chest nursing. I couldn't believe it.
Like any new mom, we struggled in the beginning. My nipples were cracked, bled and were sore. The nights were long as it was only me feeding her. We persevered and now I'm amazed that my breasts actually work to feed my child. I love that I don't have to worry about bottles, or sterilizing nipples or pumping constantly. HT might freak out grocery shopping, and boom there's my breast and she nurses and falls back to sleep. The whole process is miraculous to me, but then again so was that can of formula. Both served to fatten up my kids. So for now, I'll continue to nurse but if I have to stop, I won't torture myself or berate myself. I know that there are many paths up the mountain. And my kids are evidence of that.