Writing about breastfeeding is like writing about Moby Dick. It's well worn stuff and the best insights have been down on paper for generations. So what's here isn't news to anyone, except, perhaps, me.
I read a whole lot about breastfeeding while I was pregnant (Martha Sears, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, kellymom.com, lots and lots of blogs). I was worried, as I'm wont to be, about finding a rhythm with Augie. I was concerned about my breasts and I was nervous about the infamous underproduction problem. I wanted to be well prepared and so I bought everything I thought I might need (a shield, breast pads, "booby tubes,” lanolin, etc.) and assembled myself a little nursing kit. As it turns out, I've hardly needed a thing.
As prepared as I felt, the first days in the hospital did little to assuage my worries. I had Josh, my husband, call an independent lactation consultant within hours of giving birth because I was terrified of the hospital giving him a bottle and the recovery nurses were unhelpful. Our birth instructor warned us that all Kentucky hospitals automatically stick bottles in newborn mouths, and so I felt like I needed to be on guard and prove to the nurses that I could do it immediately.
I thought nipple confusion was as virulent as malaria. If inflicted, there’d be no recovery.
This is not a good way to begin nursing.
I also struggled with a very sleepy baby and a body less ready to start nursing. Augie was breech and so I had a scheduled c-section. Before labor begins naturally, scheduled c-sections pose all sorts of challenges to breastfeeding: it takes longer for your milk to come in, you have to negotiate your incision, you're on industrial-strength narcotics that can dull the senses.
But Josh was patient. The hospital lactation consultant who appeared on day two was an angel sent from the breasts above. A friend showed me how to put Augie in the crook of my arm. And he eventually woke up and figured it out. In all the early struggles, I never once thought about throwing in the towel. If I couldn't have the birth I wanted, I was damn sure I'd have the nursing.
For the first five weeks or so, I obsessively tracked Aug's feedings on an iPhone app. In those early weeks, I was nursing fourteen or fifteen times a day and for long stretches. I'd check my app at 9 pm and he would have already spent seven hours nursing that day. He'd "dine and doze" or "sip and sleep" or "nurse and nap" for hours and hours (alliterations littering my head the whole while). Those days all felt really long. My body was sore from the c-section and a the cracked rib from a terrible bout of flu and bronchitis during delivery. I was exhausted and it took a month before I felt halfway normal again. My body felt like foreign land.
Now looking back, I think it was the breastfeeding that slowed down the days. Usually I'm thinking about the twenty things that I want to get done. I'm making lists in my mind and reordering them continuously. I multitask and floss while driving. I do arm exercises at my desk. But when I'm nursing Augie, the lists dry up and the urgent need to get anything done goes silent. Nothing feels as pressing as it normally does, and I've relished that new calm.
I like the feeling that when I'm feeding him, I'm the one being nourished.
Of course he's being nourished – fattened, really – too. We're both being calmed, immediately and profoundly. And that calm feels like the best thing I've ever produced. Which is fortunate because one of the most obvious changes since his birth is my utter lack of normal productivity. I haven't been working, of course, but I also haven't been doing anything with my hands. This is probably the longest stretch since my childhood when I've been without creative projects. In fact, when we were flying last week, I realized that in place of knitting in my hands, I had a baby. And I actually didn't feel the urgent need to knit in order to calm my mind, even during the take-off and the turbulence.
My garden is overrun with weeds and the whole mess desperately needs to be trimmed and tamed. But even that urge has been quieted in these first months of mothering.
I relish the proficiency I feel in nurturing Augie. It feels like the first thing in a long while that has come naturally and automatically. I know there are challenges ahead, but for now, I'm just deeply grateful that we figured the nursing thing out.
Postscript (June 2016): I went on to breastfeed Augie for 26 months, through a bout of mastitis, six clogged ducts, teething, learning to walk, a divorce, and the blossoming of a very happy child. When he weaned, we were both ready, I suppose, but each night, he still holds my “nursies” as he falls asleep.