Mom in the Middle: Natural Blunder

One day while grocery shopping, an elderly woman interrupted a conversation I was having with another mother.

“Oh please tell me you’re nursing,” she said to the mom of a seven-week-old girl.

Not waiting for an answer, she spun with surprising spunk to face me. “You nursed, right? You must have! Isn’t it wonderful?”

And that’s when I punched her in the neck.

Well okay, not with my fist. It was more with my mind. But I would have used my hands if I weren’t so afraid of women’s prison.

The old woman was right. Breastfeeding is wonderful just like all the books, videos, hospital classes, friends, family, coworkers, and lactation consultants tell you. The benefits to baby are inarguable and Mom benefits too with the reduction of stress, lowered risk of postpartum depression, and fourteen extra Weight Watcher points. Sign me up!

Not since the seven hours I spent at Nordstrom’s Mac counter trying to master liquid eyeliner have I worked harder at anything. There was nothing natural about the most natural thing in the world. This was surprising considering my breasts were most excited about my pregnancy. Approximately six seconds after my son was conceived, they inflated three cup sizes. I could literally feel them bursting with pride. If anything was going to excel at pregnancy it was my breasts.

My apologies to the moms I glared at while they nursed their babies in public. I glower not because what they’re doing is wrong. It’s because they’re doing everything right. The nimble way they tuck up their blouse without revealing a single stretchmark or muffin top. Me? Not a graceful nurser. In fact, there would be no nursing without a Boppy, nipple shield, back up nipple shields, remote control, three pillows, iPhone apps, Us Weekly, scented rosemary mint candle, bowl of brown M&Ms, and moon in the seventh house. Try fitting all that your Marc Jacobs diaper bag.

Two days after my due date, tests showed I was low on amniotic fluid so I was sent to the hospital for an induction. Despite my doctor’s best attempts (I’m talking to you, Cervical Ripening Balloon Catheter,) I only dilated six centimeters in twelve hours. I was advised to have a C-section. In the hospital postpartum, I had the famous chocolate milkshake in my right hand and Quinn’s head in my left. It looked like he was eating. The nurses placed their pinkies on his jaw and confirmed movement. They even said he had a good latch. It was natural, just like the hospital classes predicted. And here I was thinking it was going to be hard! The “no sleep” thing was probably all hype too.

Then, the night before we were to be discharged, all hell broke loose. Unlike a Weight Watchers meeting, no one celebrates when your newborn drops a couple pounds. There was much scurrying and calling of pediatricians and gathering of tubes and syringes.

“We’re going to have to supplement,” a nurse said, shaking a bottle of Similac in my face. “Soon your milk will come in and you’ll be able to breastfeed.”

Supplement? Able? I’ve been a mother for fifty-three hours and already I’m failing? What happened to those over-enthusiastic breasts that had to be physically removed from my armpits every morning?

I’m not trying to discourage breastfeeding. On the contrary. I think the best way to encourage it is to educate soon-to-be parents about all aspects so they have healthy expectations. Sometimes your milk comes in slow or your baby has a tongue-tie. Sometimes your anatomy needs a bit of coaxing in order to give baby something to hold on to. Sometimes baby’s post-birth tension (yes, that’s a thing) is preventing a secure latch. It happens. Not a deal breaker. Get help from any of the zillion lactation professions out there and enjoy those extra calories.

Women love talking about their pregnancies. And why shouldn’t they? It’s truly amazing. But only when pressed will they admit to breastfeeding trouble. Yes, the same women who described their hemorrhoids in vivid detail can’t cop to a low milk supply. Why the stigma? Why the pressure? Why the shame?

The last night in the hospital, after his first proper meal, I watched Quinn sleep, sated, his belly full, and all I felt was anger. My body was betraying me. After forty weeks of a near perfect pregnancy, the most natural thing in the world was evading me.

They say momilktherhood changes you and it did. I was never an angry person. I am not someone who thrives on stress. I’ve had nicknames like “sunshine” and “smiles.” To be honest, I’m not even that much of a hard worker. And yet I spent a good chunk of my first year of motherhood angry. Why did I buy all those stupid nursing pads and soothing gel bra inserts? Why did Quinn have to fight harder for a meal than a D-list celebrity at Hollywood’s swankiest eatery? Why wasn’t anyone else having this much trouble?

Months later, as I attached myself to the breast pump for the fifth time that day, I thought about the root of my anger. Yes, breastfeeding was challenging and I may have been slightly ignorant about that, but despite my advanced maternal age and Quinn’s tongue-tie and my low milk supply and a host of other things, I was, as Tim Gunn says, making it work. Will I ever work harder at anything than motherhood the rest of my life? Probably not. Quinn’s next meal will be just as important in an hour as it will be in a decade. That’s when it occurred to me. I wasn’t angry. I was a mom.

My body was fine. In fact, it was fabulous. It did not fail me. It grew a perfect human, while taking care of me in the process. It did amazing things on only four hours of sleep. And it bonded with a little boy even though burst out crying at the site of my breasts. Clearly he’s a leg man.

About the Author

Quinn_2014_233 copyShelly Mazzanoble is an author and playwright who has published essays and short stories with Scary Mommy, Carve, Whetstone, The Seattle Times, and more. Additionally she has published two books about Dungeons & Dragons. (Yep, Dungeons & Dragons.) She spends a lot of time writing about her two-year old son and will continue to do so until he understands the meaning of the word “litigation” and is pretty sure if PEPs were high-school, she’d be voted “Most Improved.” At least she hopes so. Connect with Shelly on TwitterFacebook, and her blog.

  One thought on “Mom in the Middle: Natural Blunder

  1. September 8, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    This is a great post! I wish we could help support each other as mothers, when support is asked for, and not push advice or criticize.

    I was able to breastfeed for four months (I had to stop once I got a job again) but before I got to the part where it was “easy,” it was hard. I bled. I cried. I believe the pain was worse than my contractions were before I got an epidural. The only thing that saved me was a nipple shield. I finally figured out how to use it, and it was like magic. My friend, who had her son about a month before my daughter was born, couldn’t do it. She was having so many problems she went to the bottle after two weeks. When people saw us together, me b-feeding, her using a bottle, they would try to “help” her by giving her advice if she ever had another baby. It made her feel guilty and I wish that I could have taken that guilt away. Now – she has another son and knows better than to worry about what others say.

    During this time, I had a conversation with an older lady who told me that a long time ago when she was pregnant, it was the opposite. You were looked down upon for being poor if you breastfed and didn’t use formula. I thought that was interesting. 🙂

    • Shelly Mazzanoble
      September 8, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      Hi Kayla! AMEN! I too wish there was a shift in attitude towards breastfeeding. It doesn’t make a mom any less of a mother if her baby has formula. She is taking care of her baby the best way she can. No judgement. And my mom said the same thing about breastfeeding when she had my brother and I. It was never even an option. Years later when she learned about how many calories you can burn she was maaaaaaaaaaad! 🙂 Thank you for reading!

  2. Eric Sorensen
    September 8, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    My wife went through the same thing. NONE of the books or websites prepare you for the possibility that nursing might not happen for you. Even after hours with the lactation consultant, the supplements that made her smell like maple syrup, or her own will to make it happen could change it. We just wished there was a little more discussion about the possibility that nursing might not happen and the reassurance that your baby will still be fine.

    • Shelly Mazzanoble
      September 8, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      Eric, I totally agree! All the classes talk about is how natural it is and how good it is for the baby. No one ever said, “hey, there’s a number of things that are extremely common that could come up. Here’s how to deal with them.” So instead women are frustrated and stressed out and depressed because they feel like they’re failing as a mother. Just what a new, hormonal mom needs!

  3. Melissa Bryan
    October 8, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Nourishing your baby either with an adequate supply of breast milk, formula, or a combination of both is what matters. It’s unfortunate that things have gotten a little out of hand with folks ranking one type of nourishment way above the other. It’s setting people up to feel like failures. Love your kid? Well, feed them the safest possible food that will allow them to grow. End of story. My kids were both breast and bottle fed as infants and are now tweens who are happy, healthy, and well adjusted. Formula didn’t trash their immune systems or dumb them down or cause any other maladies supposedly linked to formula. In the end, kids won’t remember what you fed them when they were infants. What they will remember, however, are the moments that mattered, the moments when you were there for them. So, love wins. Not breast milk. Not formula. Just love.

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