Someone back home recently welcomed her first baby, or rather she expelled a little human being and lived to tell. At times like these I feel the distance between Vancouver and Scotland. I often reach out to friends who are new mommies to make sure they know I’m praying for them, their babes, and their boobs.
“How are you holding up? How are your nipples?” I asked my friend Kailey cheekily.
“I’m taking each day (more like three-hour cycle) at a time…As for my nipples, well they’re learning to put their big girl panties on and deal with it.”
Sounds about right. I can still feel that toe-curling pain.
Nearly two years ago I began writing a memoir about my breastfeeding experience. I never completely finished because, you know, I kind of had my hands full at the time. I’m finally getting around to pinning down all my thoughts for friends like Kailey. You have my word. I will finish this time.
Here is the first installment.
Hold on to your nursing bras. I’m writing a three-part memoir of my experience as a two-time breastfeeding mother.
Let me begin by saying what this reflection is and what it is not. This is personal. It is a record of emotions, thoughts, and decisions. It is to share with friends who are expecting little ones. It is to document the details I wish I knew before I became a mother, before I had to decide for myself how I was going to feed my babies.
This memoir is not intended to educate readers on the pros and cons of either method of feeding. Many people who are far more qualified than me have already taken that on. This is neither an endorsement for nor a slam against either formula feeding or breastfeeding. Both are terrific choices. Both get the job done.
If I’m perfectly honest, this is a therapeutic exercise to help me laugh about the time I spent crying over feeding both Isaac and Lucy. If it benefits anyone besides me, bonus. Enjoy.
I vividly remember the nights I lay in bed gripping “What to Expect.” Like many first-time moms, I was eager to meet the little person growing inside. I was eager to feed it, burp it, change it, bathe it, dress it, and change it all over again.
One night as I was reading I became hypnotized by all the benefits of breastfeeding. The pages shon sunbeams of happiness and femininity onto my face until I practically got a tan. “I can’t wait to breastfeed Isaac,” I squealed. I had no idea what that really entailed.
The next day I had an appointment with my neurologist. She had bad news: there was a good chance my epilepsy medication would interfere with breastfeeding. She wasn’t certain and planned to do more research, but she wanted me to be aware of possible complications. I left the hospital emotionally destroyed, climbed into Steve’s car, and sobbed. Steve talked me off the ledge, so to speak, and drove me to work. When I finally left the parking lot and walked into the office, all my co-workers looked terrified.
“What’s wrong?” asked my friend Lesia in a hushed voice. She didn’t want to cause a scene but I beat her to it anyway. “Is everything okay? Is the baby alright?”
“Yeah, the baby is fine,” I managed to utter, mascara raining down my face. “I may not get to breastfeed him though.” More tears. More mascara.
I can’t remember exactly what Lesia’s response was but she is hilarious and it went a little like this.
“Oh honey! Are you serious?! Oh, you had me so worried. Girl, breastfeeding is not what it’s cracked up to be. Bloody nipples? For real?! Girl, don’t sweat it. You don’t need that. This is the twenty-first century! Formula is good shit.”
She definitely concluded with those last two sentences. I love that woman.
Thankfully the crying was in vain. A few weeks later, my neurologist and I celebrated happy news. My medication was not going to interfere with breastfeeding after all. I was excited and relieved. I would be able to put my breastfeeding tan to good use.
The rubber hit the road when Isaac came surfing out of me. He weighed in at 9lbs 10oz. Babies that big pack appetites and my ladies couldn’t keep up with his ferocious hunger. His weight dropped by an insignificant amount. Sadly, hospital protocol demanded we stay a few more nights so the nurses could monitor feeding. We cracked another can of Guiness and made the best of it.
The nurses didn’t see the turnaround they were hoping for so we tried donor milk (which I learned is actually a thing. Who knew?) I became best friends with the hospital’s electric breast pump. I swear I spent more time with that damn machine than with Isaac some nights. When it was time to go home, I was already feeling deflated because feeding was off to a rough start. Nobody told me that it was common among new moms. (Now you know.)
The following six weeks were an emotional blur. My body was destroyed after the delivery and healing was slow. Adjusting to the role as 24-hour caregiver was not going smoothly. Sleep was rare which in turn made my epilepsy difficult to manage and the stress of impending seizures made me lose more sleep. We figured out that if I expressed milk for a night feed, Steve could intervene and feed Isaac while I slept. Thank God for my sweet husband.
I was not starved for help with feeding. My aunt is a public health nurse. She stocked me with every resource a girl could want. I saw a lactation specialist. I bought breastfeeding accessories. Just when I thought Isaac and I had turned a corner, he went on strike. He would latch on, arch his little back away from my body in frustration and take my nipple with him. “No thanks, Isaac. I’d like to keep that,” I thought.
At that point, breastfeeding Isaac was repulsive. There was nothing redeeming about it. I don’t know if there are enough four-letter words to capture my sentiments accurately. It didn’t give me soaring feelings of joy. It hurt like hell, Isaac wasn’t permanently hungry and I was beginning to resent my sweet son’s appetite. I felt trapped at home for fear I’d need to satisfy his hunger in public. And then all the dominos started falling. I couldn’t sit comfortably while breastfeeding because I was so tense and my posture paid for it. This in turn aggravated an injury from a car accident. My back pain infringed on nearly everything, including rest, and then I feared sleep-deprivation seizures. What joy. They don’t show you this kind of experience on those pastel breastfeeding ads.
I was trying desperately to hang on. So many people told me things would get easier and it was worth holding on for. Nurses everywhere heralded breastmilk’s benefits for both mummy and baby. They also said it would help me get my body back and I had eighty (yes, eighty) pounds of baby weight to burn off. Every bit of subtle pro-breastfeeding propaganda was bullying me in my weakened state. I felt I had something to prove. The people pleaser in me also wanted to make all the specialists’ help worthwhile. They invested in me and I wanted to make them proud. “How long is this going to take?” I wondered.
I was determined to give Isaac breast milk because I saw formula as my nemesis, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Why? I have no idea but it probably had something to do with my insecurity as a new mother and my perception of those well-meaning breastfeeding enthusiasts who came across as militants. (Some of them were actually militant though, like the stranger who scorned me as I waited on the SkyTrain platform at Cambie and Broadway. Really, lady? I did not ask for your opinion.)
Eventually I waved the white flag and bought bottles. I took the plunge and bought an electric pump. In hindsight, considering the price tag, I should have bought a killer pair of heels or stocked up on gin but whatever. Day in and day out, I sat at our dining table like a dairy cow, watching my mother, my mother-in-law, and my husband pack our apartment for our upcoming international move. We had roughly eight weeks to prepare for our transition to Scotland. This is when I learned that stress interferes with milk supply. Slowly my body produced less and less milk. What a joke.
In an effort to bank some quality time with extended family before our move, we took a getaway to a lake in Spokane, Washington. I spent one third of each day trying desperately to pump enough milk to keep Isaac satisfied. No luck. Both he and I were a teary mess. Our idyllic lakeside family getaway was turning into a nightmare.
I remember my mom suggesting formula. If I’m totally honest, even considering it felt like a cop out at the time because so much of what I had read made breastfeeding out to be the best (as in only) choice. What mother doesn’t want to give her child the best? In desperation, I finally caved.
Do you know how much a small can of ready-made baby formula costs at a rural general store in Spokane? Way too much. Seeing the pricetag was seeing supply and demand at its finest. You’d think that little can was plated with 24-karat gold but I didn’t care. I would have paid triple the price. It saved my sanity and allowed me to give my child the best – the best of me.
I was no longer an anxious disaster. For the first time, I felt like I actually enjoyed feeding Isaac. It freed me from my oppressive negative self-talk and made it possible to be a happy new mother. The joy of feeding was available to anyone who cared to have a go with the bottle. I left the house with confidence and returned looking forward to cuddling his warm rolls and looking into his dark chocolate eyes without the distraction of searing pain and achey joints. That’s the whole point, right? Feeding is supposed to be a lovely time where mothers bond with their babies. Formula allowed that to happen for me. It was our best decision. We never looked back.
Formula – 1
Breastfeeding – 0