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 motherhood 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
Shelly 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 Twitter, Facebook, and her blog.