My mind has been very focused on breastfeeding lately. I cannot help hoping I have an easier time of it with this next baby. I really want to be one of those blissful women who easily nurse to the one year mark and beyond without thinking about it. Do those women really exist? I don’t know. I think those women must be tough. I don’t need to be the perfect nursing mother with the perfect nursing relationship with my baby. I don’t care for perfection. All I ask for is OK.
When Lucky was born, he didn’t know how to nurse. We couldn’t get him to unclench his jaw and open his mouth. Luckily, one of the nurses at my hospital actually knew what she was doing and was a great help. She showed me how to get my finger into his mouth and massage his tongue forward. She smiled at me and claimed “he just didn’t get the manual when he was born!”. For days I worked on bringing his tongue forward for his “suck therapy”. He was a good eater, but never did open his mouth wide enough. He remained a chomper until the end.
I was bleeding and in constant pain. People said it would get better after six weeks. It most definitely did not.
I was clueless about nursing. I had no support beyond my husband. While he is a great husband and father, he isn’t a breastfeeding expert. My family was Not supportive. My mother and grandmother did not breastfeed. For my grandmother it wasn’t en vogue at the time. And my own mother could never feel that, as she put it, “tied down” to a baby. I respect their choices. However, neither knew anything about breast milk or the whole supply and demand issue. They encouraged me to quit at every turn. They never said it was “OK“.
The one female pediatrician at our clinic who even addressed breastfeeding was adamant about me pumping and foisting the baby off to other people as soon as possible. I didn’t understand how that was supposed to help our latch problems. She admonished me for not getting Lucky to open his mouth big enough. She lectured me on being engorged and encouraged pumping. I wasn’t even engorged or full at that time and pumping more was the last thing my oversupply needed. I stopped even bringing nursing up at his wellness visits anymore.
The pediatrician we ended up using all of the time is great and pro-nursing, but I didn’t ask him anything aside from nutrition concerns. I just did not feel OK.
At four months old, Lucky stopped gaining much weight. By six months he had dropped from the 90th percentile to the 25th. Everyone including myself blamed breastfeeding. Never mind that I had no problem getting 10 ounces in one pumping session, and Lucky filled plenty of diapers. Well, the new ped did not blame the nursing. He left supplementing as a choice completely up to me. Despite the fact that Lucky’s head measurement was always in the 25th percentile, and it was actually normal for his body to even out, I assumed he was slimming down too much because of me. So I started formula. By seven months I ran out of milk both frozen and from “the tap”.
He never gained back to his original growth curve. No one told me this was OK.
He had no desire for solids until 10 months. Then, when he started eating solid food and milk, he still did not gain much. For the past year he has been steadily in the 25th percentile for weight, height, and head circumference. Turns out, falling off of his growth curve had nothing to do with me or my milk. It was just him developing into his body’s natural build. Supplementing made no difference. I could have continued nursing just fine. My little Lucky has a voracious appetite and remains petite. He simply takes after Mr.JustAddCloth, but we didn’t know that at the time. He was A-Okay.
I have mixed feelings about this. I hated breastfeeding until toward the end. At around six months it had finally settled into something that was mildly painful instead of excruciatingly so. My milk supply had calmed down to the point where I couldn’t go out and have lunch, but I could go out for an hour or so. I never was able to figure out how to nurse in a baby carrier, but I generally had no trouble finding a park bench and holding him to nurse. I rarely nursed in public unless I could find a very private place. For the most part, this wasn’t a problem. I am very introverted so I didn’t feel the need to get away from my home or neighborhood. I didn’t mind a quiet life of just me and Lucky at home or strolling around the lake. It was other people’s perceptions of how I should have felt causing problems. That was not OK.
Another issue was exposure. Nursing bras that claimed they offered discreet nursing always revealed my entire chest, which was out of proportion on my scrawny body at the time. It still is despite my being anything but scrawny right now. I still don’t understand why there cannot be a bra with a small hole in a full sling instead of an eight inch gap that lets everything flop out. A larger cup size does not need a larger gap. A 32GG does not need the sling gap to be the same proportion as the 32AA. I spent hundreds of dollars on nursing bras. Some were very expensive. None of them worked. They were all too big across the back and about four cup sizes too small. They all exposed my entire chest when nursing. Even so called full sling bras. And with the need to breastfeed every hour, I really needed something for public nursing. Adding a pumping bra over a nursing bra gives more coverage, but layers get very warm when it is 98 Degrees out. I have luckily purchased a sewing machine since then and can now alter my nursing bras to work better.
I also made the mistake of using cheap, flannel nursing pads. Now, I’m aware nothing could have lasted more than an hour with my oversupply, but my cheap nursing pads didn’t help. They were ugly and bulky. It became clear I needed something else, but I never bothered buying more. I slept with prefolds stuffed in my shirt and woke up with them soaked through. This is normal in the beginning, but most women can move down to nursing pads after a few months. I continued to need the prefolds and also had to sleep on a towel.
These inconveniences and obstacles made people think breastfeeding was too difficult to be OK.
I was so conflicted when I stopped nursing. I felt the guilt of not educating myself more and not trying harder. But I also felt sweet relief. I finally bonded with my baby. Instead of dread, I could feel joy when holding him. In some ways I feel breastfeeding ruined my first six months as a mother. I wasn’t able to truly enjoy my baby until the physical pain stopped. Once the constantly soaked through shirts and pain were no more, we began having fun. Long walks. Lunches in the park. Dinners out with the stroller. None of which I could do while breastfeeding. Other women can. I just can’t. For the same reasons I can’t wear sundresses. I need a certain level of modesty in my clothing. I don’t hate my body, I just know its limitations due to my strange proportions and my desire not to have a wardrobe malfunction. I didn’t have the tools to make it all work OK last time.
But I hope this time will be different. Just a little bit. If it could be just 20% easier I might make it. I know more now. I know what I need. And what I don’t. And I have more confidence. Well, not really confidence but a new indifference toward what others think. I consider it one of the few superpowers I gained recently. It is easier to let unsupportive comments roll down my back. I know when to completely ignore the helpful “advice” from ignorant medical staff. I know when to brush off comments from family. And I know my limits. I know what is acceptable to ask of a new mother and what is not. It is OK to turn other people down and let breastfeeding take center stage for a while.
I can say no.
And that is a magic word so many women have a hard time saying. No.
“Sorry, I can’t. I have to nurse.”
That one line has the power to solve so many problems and dilemmas.
The second half of those dilemmas would be solved if the answer to that line was an appropriate “OK”.
The biggest OK. Because it is OK. Breastfeeding is better than OK. But if we could just get OK, it would make life easier for so many of us.
I am not asking for everyone in my life to become a breastfeeding advocate. I simply ask for OK.
Please be OK with it, so that I can be OK.