All the Best Things in Life
Sarah Jones -- Huckaba
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25 No. 4, 2008, pp. 20-21
Recently I've assisted several new mothers with some common breastfeeding difficulties. Numerous times I've heard, "But it was so easy for you and your son."
My mom did not breastfeed my brother or me. I do not have anyone in my family of whom I can ask questions or who can reassure me. I have no friends who have breastfed for very long -- well, before I had my son I didn't. I have lots of friends now, thanks to my local La Leche League!
I knew when I was pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed my son. I assumed it would be very hard because I had not seen anyone succeed at breastfeeding. This scared me, so I sought out a breastfeeding class at our local hospital. A nurse gave us outdated brochures and told us that the lactation consultant was there to help us after we had given birth. She showed us a brief and uninformative video produced in the 1970s, and sent us on our way with this final thought: only 15 percent of us would make it to the US Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics recommended minimum of one year of breastfeeding. Um, thanks!
I stocked up on nursing pads and ultra purified lanolin, and refused to let any formula into the house before my son was born, despite the cans already being sent by the baby food companies. I was stubborn; I refused to acknowledge the fact that perhaps I would not be able to breastfeed. As my due date loomed near and the ultrasounds showed my (breech) son's enormous head growing bigger and bigger, I accepted that I would probably be having a cesarean birth and my resolve to breastfeed did waver slightly. On the day of my induction and surgery, I told the nurses not to give my baby a pacifier or formula under any circumstances.
Following the birth, I was not able to hold my baby until more than three hours had passed. I was still drugged and the epidural was firmly in place. I sent all my family, except for my husband, away and asked for the lactation consultant to help with my first breastfeed only to be told, "She is sick." Sick lactation consultant was not in my birth plan, not even the revised cesarean birth plan! The nurse on duty showed me how to latch this sleeping little bundle on to my breast and left.
He actually did pretty well that first day; but by the next day my poor nipples became blistered. My son cried constantly. I was miserable. I was so conflicted and confused and thought we might be looking to formula after all. My stubbornness won out. According to some misguided family members and friends, I was letting my tiny baby starve. We rejected pacifiers or bottles and listened to him scream. His birth weight was falling rapidly. They released us four days later. His lips were getting parched and, like many new moms, I was afraid that my colostrum was doing nothing. It was without a doubt the hardest, least fun, and non-magical time of my life. The second day home, I told my husband that if my milk had not come in by that evening we were going to high tail it to the store and buy some formula. I took a nap and felt like such a failure. I wondered if I would stink at all of motherhood as much as I did at this. I fell asleep in tears and could hear my son crying in his daddy's arms.
When I woke up my milk had come in! Whether it had arrived on the last train from Clarksville, or the Mammary Fairy had visited in my sleep, I had huge, engorged, useful breasts -- and all my son wanted to do was sleep.
After working through some difficulties with getting my son to the breast, his weight slowly but surely crept up. I had to wake us all up to nurse every two hours. I was depressed, in pain, and weeping from exhaustion.
When my son was about four weeks old my mom spent the night and I pumped enough with my new electric double-barreled blessing from above to sleep for more than an hour at a time. I got two sessions of four hours of continuous sleep. My husband slept for nine hours. We all three woke up renewed. My nipples healed. The nursing continued, and got so much better that it did become magical and wondrous, a gift I felt like I had earned.
There have been a few more bumps along the road but, overall, after that first month it was easy coasting. We switched to nursing on cue, and our own version of cosleeping. Even if it's not easy, breastfeeding is worth it. It's my passion. I think if more mothers shared the sometimes harsh realities of new motherhood, there would be better breastfeeding success rates, less postpartum depression, and happier, healthier babies. I do have a wonderful relationship with my nursling, but I paid my dues for it. And I really believe all the best things in life are the ones that you work for the hardest.