Saturday, October 22, 2005

My Breasts, or, When Are You Going to Stop ... THAT?

I entered motherhood committed to the idea of breastfeeding, and fully prepared for how much it can, well, suck. I knew it would be difficult and painful -- never mind what some rabid BF advocates say, I'd seen enough women go into it with the best attitude and support possible reduced to cringing, weeping wrecks to know that it can be really, really hard.

And it was. First the (unfounded) terror that my milk would never come in and my baby would shrivel away -- or that I would weaken and give in to the evil, evil formula supplementation and prevent my milk from coming in.

Next the (well-founded) fear of the pain. I hoarded the Percocets prescribed after my "crotch c-section" and used them prior to evening nursing sessions, which for some reason were the most painful. (Yes, I exposed my baby to narcotics. Also to alcohol, caffeine, cow's milk, and cabbage. And he's fine. Well, crabby and tiny, but fine.) I remember TrophyHusband holding the baby until he got fussy, then suggesting timidly, maybe he was hungry? He can't be hungry! I just nursed him! Figure out a way to calm him down! Sometimes I felt like I was constantly being chased around the house by my husband, the squalling baby held out in front of him like the masthead of a ship.

Then came the WWF breast-wrestling matches -- it took weeks for my "let-down" to get coordinated, during which period of time each feeding session began with the baby latching on, then letting go and howling in frustration, latching on, howling, over and over and over ... I timed it, and the average length of time it took for him to start really nursing was 20 minutes. Average. Sometimes it was 40 minutes. Including middle of the night feedings. And each feeding lasted about 45 minutes, which meant I was nursing or trying to nurse approximately 26.5 hours per day.

Finally it all clicked, stopped hurting, went smoothly and efficiently.

It was right around this time that people started asking, "How long do you plan to keep doing ... THAT?"

Geez, people. I just finally got the hang of it! Was what I wanted to say. What I really said was something along the lines of, well, it's recommended for the first six to twelve months, yadda yadda. But really I had no clue. I sort of figured it would, as we say in medicine, declare itself. He'd wean himself, or he'd start biting, or I'd get sick of it.

None of which occurred. And once the early hurdles were over, the rest didn't really bother me. Breastfeeding in public was never even the slightest issue. I've never been shy when it comes to exposing body parts, and it certainly didn't bother me to haul out a boob for a crying baby. And I've never noticed anyone appear to be bothered by it. Once when I was sitting in a public park I realized that several people were staring at me, but then I looked behind me and realized that it was a cute cat pouncing on leaves that was drawing everyone's attention. It didn't even faze me to do it in front of TrophyHusband's 80-year-old grandfather. I figure, if it makes someone uncomfortable, they can look away, and if someone gets off on it, well, I'm glad to spread some happiness in the world. There was one episode at TH's work Christmas party where AngelBaby kept popping off to look around, causing me to spray milk onto adjacent guests, but mostly it was all good.

Well, I'm remembering now, pumping at work was occasionally a hassle. I have my own office with a door that locks and my mornings are flexible, so usually it was ok (though time-consuming and messy), but one night I had to stay late so I pumped an extra time, and suddenly I heard a key turn and the door flew open and there I was, breasts laid bare, the two trumpet-like pump flanges protruding from my chest and the machine going runk-runk-runk, facing the kid who cleans the offices at night. He still averts his eyes and won't return my greeting when I pass him in the hall.

Then AngelBaby turned one and I found myself wandering around in the world of Extended Breastfeeding. It appears that without realizing it, I have become an official member of the wacko-hippie-crunchy-holier than thou CULT. At least according to some of those who stopped breastfeeding earlier. And my mother. AB is small for his age, so it's not always obvious that I'm nursing a walking, talking child, but when he toddles over, climbs into my lap, straddles my legs, yanks up my shirt and bra yelling "NUR! NUR! NUR!" and displaying his mouthful of teeth, it can cause quite a stir.

So how long am I going to keep doing ... THAT?

I still have no clue. It's so easy, and so useful -- nothing fixes a pissy mood or a smashed finger faster, and when he's being HellBoy, my boobs are the only weapons I've really got. There's no up-side to giving that up.

So how bad would it be, really, to send breastmilk care packages to my son at college? I know FedEx can ship frozen stuff.


B.E.C.K. said...

Alas, my son and I never got the hang of nursing. He couldn't latch on properly and lost over 20% of his body weight in the first week, so we hired a lactation consultant, got the silicone "sombrero" (nipple shield intended to help baby latch on), purchased all sorts of herbal tinctures (gross!), and I pumped and went in for "lessons." Nothing worked, and it didn't help that my son's dad nagged me about taking those nasty herbs. (On the flip side, our next-door neighbor wrote me a very comforting note when I was feeling like a failure for not being able to nurse, and I still have her note in my son's baby box.) So, yes, my son was a formula baby -- syringe-fed for the first couple of weeks -- and I have no regrets because he's healthier and stronger than a lot of kids. I think it's really nice that you were able to figure out nursing, though, and I say more power to you. That's such a special time, and I envy you just a little bit. :-)

DoctorMama said...

Nursing is hard as hell, for new mothers AND new babies -- I hate it when people insist it isn't, because it just instills extra unwarranted guilt. Just look at the popularity of wetnurses before bottle-feeding became the norm -- the formula companies couldn't have been behind that!

Congratulations on your happy & healthy son, and please don't feel like a failure. For all we know I have all kinds of environmental toxins in my breastmilk that we won't find out about until much later!

Orange said...

My son and I had enough nursing complications to fill four separate chapters of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which sucked royally but involved precious little productive sucking. I finally gave up at 2 1/2 months and no longer felt like maybe I had postpartum depression and maybe I was a failure as a woman and a mammal. I had, of course, intended to nurse him for 18 months. So much for that. Tell you what—you can supplement your intended 6 to 12 months with my 15 1/2/ unused months of nursing, okay? If you don't use them all, just pass them on to someone else.

I've got a blogger friend with twins who turned 1 in June, who sort of meant to wean but hasn't. She's posted a lovely photo of her nursing the girls that might amuse you.

bihari said...

After a total of 27 months of nursing (19 with number one, whom I couldn't seem to wean because nursing is just so darn convenient when it's working, 8 so far with number two), I am running into a problem I've never had before, namely my milk supply is running low. I'm just not making much right now, and it's the strangest thing, when I'm usually a cow. So I guess the problems can hit any time.

Problems or no, I agree with all of y'all: guilt has no place with nursing, or not-nursing, or weaning, or not-weaning. Bottle-feed from day one, nurse until they're twenty; who cares! If there was only one way to raise and nourish a child, not many would survive.

Though I don't know about my toddler. Can a child live on Wheat Thins, soy milk, brown rice, and Annie's cheese rabbits?

Feral Mom said...

Thanks for the plug, Orange. I think "lovely" might be a bit of a stretch, though. Yes, it's month 16 and the girls are still very much into nursing. Of course, I am an easy touch--if it's screaming vs. sucking, the jahoobies invariably come out. It's also the only way we can get them to take medications, consent to fingernail clipping, etc. To all who had or are having difficulties breastfeeding, I must add my assurances to the "don't sweat it" pile--after a horrendous birth, my booby prize (ha ha) was (from what I gather) an unusually smooth transition to nursing. It had absolutely nothing to do with my skill or, for that matter, operating brain cells.

Amber Lawbyrd said...

I read somewhere, I think in "Mothering a Nursing Toddler" by Norma Jean Baumgarten, that nursing a toddler that can communicate with you is especially nice. I think she was referring to 4 year olds. It's true! Once I made it through those super-high-needs-two-year-old times (tandem nursing with an infant), and got to the point where I could converse with my children about nursing, it really did get easier (i.e., bargaining about waiting until dinner was done or I finished something for work). I am so not granola-y or crunchy in any way, shape, or fashion, but the extended nursing-tandem nursing thing worked out well for our family. Why bother with something that works? I had such a hard start with nursing the first, it was such a struggle (even wrote a story about it in the LLLI magazine), that once we got going, I figured I'd let the child figure out the weaning part on his own. Nursing got us thorugh some rough spots (the RSV episode of 2000), helped my milk supply when latter-born kid(s) were in the NICU. In January, I will have been nursing for seven straight years (through three kids). Ohmigoodgod, that sounds insane, but the baby is only 6.75 months. I figure if she's like her brothers, it'll be another 3 or 4 years of nursing. Shouldn't my breast cancer chances be nearly negative at that point? And the lactational amenorhhea is wonderful, 16 months after number 1, 14 months after number 2, hopefully a good long while with this baby.

Honestly, though, beside the ease of it, I've always felt so conflicted and guilty about being a working mom. Somehow having all those bottles of EBM to pack for the caregiver (currently, their dad) has assuaged some ofmy own guilt and helped me to feel like I'm doing something for these guys even when I'm gone. I am not someone who has figured out (yet) exactly how to reconcile the working and the mommying. Other people seem so much better at it!

Anonymous said...

Forget the care package. Just go with tricks, bonding...he'll be a hit...great job working out the whole BF thing. You're my idol.

Val said...

Great post! & great job, don't sweat the weaning part, he'll figure it out...
Myself, I cried heartbrokenly when DS weaned himself at 20 mos. Too much disruption in his life I guess.
Best wishes from a fellow dr-mama of a different persuasion,

DoctorMama said...

I love the picture of feral mom. It is lovely!

Seven years, wow. Wow. But I could see how it could happen.

I almost wish I could say I was conflicted about working ... It's just so good for me, and it seems so good for him. But it does make me an easy touch when I'm with him, too.

Wheat Thins, soy milk, brown rice, and Annie's? That diet is better than mine.

Ms. Sheila Whotiger said...

I have thought about maybe going over to my son's dorm room between classes.

My first two were almost three when they weaned, and my youngest is 21 months, and is still nursing. And there was blood, sweat, tears getting all three through the newborn phase.