I'm Not a Hippie
Grove City OH
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 3, May-June 2007, pp. 109-110
I never wanted to breastfeed. First and foremost, I was not what I thought was the breastfeeding type. In my mind, I pictured earthy, braless women nursing their children in the back of a Volkswagen van. That was not me. I was young and athletic. I had a career that I needed to return to six weeks postpartum, and the breast pump I saw in the store looked very similar to a medieval torture device. I was a marathon runner with no desire to stop and breastfeed my child at mile marker 19. In addition, I was a proud "you-came-home-from-the-hospital-on-cow's-milk-and-turned-out-just-fine" child of the 70s. Breastfeeding just was not going to be my thing.
My baby was breech and had to come out by cesarean. I went into labor eight hours before the scheduled surgery and ended up with a perfect little boy on Labor Day of 2006. As you can imagine, I was more shocked than anyone that I'd decided to try breastfeeding. Because of complications after the surgery, I was not able to nurse him immediately, and I allowed the nursing staff to give him formula to get his blood glucose level up. Later that day, I got a visit from the hospital lactation consultant. My new "mommy friends" had warned me about "them." I was ready.
However, from the very start, the lactation consultant never pressured me. I told her I would like to give breastfeeding a try and see what happens. I knew it would be the healthy choice for my little guy, and, frankly, I had done the math and knew that those cans of formula were going to make a serious dent in our monthly food bill.
The next couple of days were a bit of a blur. My little one had a really hard time latching on, and when he did, the "well was dry." Every couple of hours a lactation consultant would come in to help us. I was pumping to try to get things flowing, and my husband was putting drops of milk on a nipple shield as if it was part of his normal daily routine. I tried every nursing position, and even made up a few of my own. I was trying to recover from major surgery while this strange lady was trying to get my son to latch on by taping what looked like a miniature beer bong to my nipple. On the second night, at 3:45 am, I cried in frustration, as I had to give my son another bottle of formula. My nipples were sore, my baby was crying in hunger, and my husband looked me in the eyes and asked me why I was working so hard at this. "I'm not sure. It just feels like the right thing to do."
My difficulties with breastfeeding continued after we were released from the hospital. I put the hospital's women's health center on my speed dial and talked to "them" more than my own mother in that first week. I went for a consultation, rented a breast pump, and worked harder than I had in any marathon I had ever run. Eventually, my son and I learned together what we needed to do. He began nursing at the breast and I started to relax. My breasts and nipples didn't hurt as much, and I began to see what all of the fuss was about. Every day was easier than the last, and within five weeks, we were breastfeeding pros. I was so proud.
I don't think anyone can put into words what it is like to sustain the life of another. For some, it is just that: a healthy thing to do for a child. For me, and many others, breastfeeding goes beyond simply nourishing my child. Nursing slowed me down. It gave me timeouts several times a day to really look at my baby and get to know him. And it was in the middle of the night during those first few weeks of life that I fell madly in love with him.
I got a breast infection in the middle of month four. I was near hysterics when the nurse practitioner handed me an antibiotic prescription. "It will feel better in a day or two," she said. I replied, "I don't care about that. Please don't tell me that I have to stop breastfeeding. I was just starting to like it."
My son is now six months old, and to say that breastfeeding gets easier with time is an understatement. It becomes second nature…like breathing. I still call on "them," my breastfeeding support people, for the occasional plugged duct, but the breastfeeding problems are nothing compared to those first few days.
I wish someone had told me before that I didn't have to be a hippie to breastfeed, or that I could still do all of the things I love to do, like running. I wish I would have known how happy I would be to come home and nurse my son after a hard day at work, or how great it feels to soothe him when no one else can. And I really wish I would have known about how I would feel when my baby looks up at me from nursing and gives me a big toothless grin, as if to say, "Thanks, momma." It melts me. And I have never melted before.
You're welcome, baby. You're so worth it.