Friday, October 05, 2007

foggy memories of a leaky time

Inspired by one of my delurkers. See? It's GOOD to delurk!

When I was pregnant, I really wanted to breastfeed. Everyone knows breast is best, and I didn't want to let my baby down. Most of the mothers I knew had all breastfed for varying lengths of time, mostly about a year, one as long as five years. I heard stories of excruciating pain from engorgement and very sore nipples and how some babies don't sleep more than five hours in a row for months and months and months ("Whatever!" I thought at the time, "I'm sure my baby will sleep like normal babies..." -- HA!), of having to supplement with formula and the sky not falling in and being able to develop an exclusive breastfeeding relationship.

Nobody could really describe what it felt like though, and I wondered if it would be weird. I expected that it might feel a little bit sexual, because maybe it makes sense, biologically, for breastfeeding to feel good. I think I did get a few warnings that many, many people would handle my breasts in the early days but that after all the breached modesty of pregnancy and birth, it would be nothing. And it was.

I didn't get to hold Swee'pea for at least an hour and a half after his birth. When someone (Sugar D?) brought him in, the nurses said I should try to nurse him, but I hadn't the slightest clue what to do. He was so tiny and floppy I couldn't imagine how to manage the mechanics. So the nurse showed me how to hold him, just so, and she grabbed my boob and tickled his nose with my nipple and then he latched on. It was a bit weird, but I already felt such miraculous love for this little creature that I wanted to do everything right, and the most reliable way was to surrender my modesty to the wisdom of others.

After that first awkward nursing session, word came down from on high that he was not to nurse and he had to go back to the nursery for monitoring. The nurses didn't know why he would be prohibited from nursing and they just decided not to tell anyone, and I spent the next four hours without him, feeling guilty for putting him to my breast.

I was lucky in that everyone proclaimed from the very beginning that Swee'pea had a near-perfect latch, not that I had any clue. I remember the lactation consultant trying to show me when his latch was good and when it wasn't, when his nursing was actually nutritive and it was just for comfort, and I remember straining my eyes to decode these nuances, mostly unsuccessfully.

It took me a long time (at least it felt like a long time) to be able to identify when his latch was good and when it wasn't, but I was lucky in that my nipples were only sore for a few days to a week. Even when they were sore, the actual breastfeeding didn't hurt, just the transitions onto and off the breast. I remember the awkwardness of holding his head just so, and the pressure I felt in orchestrating a correct latch. When I was pregnant, I thought I'd be able to just figure it out once I had a real baby in my arms, but the reality was awkward, stressful and exhausting. I don't think I've ever before perservered at anything that didn't come naturally to me, but in this instance, the stakes were too high to give up. Plus, I knew I was having it easy, compared to some other mothers.

I was surprised that it didn't feel sexual AT ALL. It didn't feel bad, but it didn't feel particularly good either, it just was. The good feelings were all of the emotional variety, wondering at Swee'pea's beauty, at my ability to provide sustanence for him, at how well he was thriving after a scary delivery. The bad feelings were also emotional, mostly in the middle of the night and mostly during growth spurts, when Swee'pea couldn't get enough milk and it felt like he would never be satisfied, like he would never leave me or my boobs alone, ever again.

I think Swee'pea was around three weeks old when he started to have spinachy, green poos. The midwives didn't seem particularly concerned, but I was. Eventually, a public health nurse decided I had overactive letdown and an overabundance of foremilk, which is higher in sugar and lower in fat than the hindmilk and causes diarrhea. She could tell because Swee'pea often came on and off the breast during a feed, and often choked when my milk let down (which she taught me how to identify -- it's that tingly feeling that comes right at the moment that Swee'pea began gulping audibly). Eventually, we sorted out the imbalanced foremilk (by only nursing him on one boob per feed, starting with one boob for two feeds), but the overactive letdown was something that Swee'pea just had to adjust to. By about six weeks old, I think, or for sure by three months, his feeds only took five minutes.

I think it's amazing that everything went pretty well (because, really, who can complain about too much milk?) but was still SO hard. I can't imagine just how much harder it could be, how much a new mother could bear. (And I had no idea postpartum could be so wet!) It did get easier, and it was second nature by about four months I think, and then it got even easier when he started on solids. Now, we're down to just one bedtime feed, and I occasionally consider weaning. But, it's so easy that I can't come up with a compelling reason either to wean or not to wean. And so, we just keep going with our bedtime feed.

Last week at work, I came upon some of my coworkers, all women. And one said, "Hey Sin, we were just talking about women who breastfeed babies who have teeth." And I said, "Oh, like me?" And she said, "Well, more like older children, like three or four years old," and I said, "Oh, like my sister?" Just to be clear on where I stood on the subject before we went any further. They looked reasonably interested, so I dove in, as balanced and undefensively as possible.

It infuriates me when people pass judgment about women breastfeeding in public or beyond what is considered an acceptable age. But, I've already blogged about that. I say that if a mother and child are able to get through those early weeks still breastfeeding, they should feel comfortable doing it for as long as they like, wherever they like. I've always stood by the belief that if I'm uncomfortable with somebody breastfeeding, that's MY problem (and the problem of a culture that oversexualizes breasts), not the mother's and certainly not the child's.

I finally got around to watching the video of Bill Maher spouting off about breastfeeding in public, and I can't believe that someone can be such an asshole and not give a shit. Mind you, his speech really illustrates exactly what is wrong with our culture (e.g. his joke that the only acceptable combination of breasts and food is at Hooters), a culture that cannot abide breasts in any context other than a sexual one.

If you haven't already read them, I thoroughly enjoyed these posts on the subject.


S said...

Your experience was pretty similar to my own -- the forceful letdown, the abundance of milk, the five minutes or less per nursing session by the time Ben and Jack were four months old, the chronic wetness!

I'm glad you shared this. How else can we counteract idiocy like Maher's?

cinnamon gurl said...

SM, great question... by breastfeeding in public, at restaurants, on park benches, wherever? By smiling at women who are breastfeeding in public? By challenging ourselves if we feel uncomfortable about someone nursing to examine where the feeling's coming from? To be as open as is comfortable about nurisng a toddler or preschooler? To talk? To never ask permission to breastfeed but just do it?

Bea said...

Did you ever find out why the doctors had placed an embargo on breastfeeding that first day?

Beck said...

My memories of early breastfeeding experiences were of overwhelmingly damp shirts. Ick!
Beautifully written.

cinnamon gurl said...

B&P, I think it had something to do with all the meconium he'd passed before the birth. They needed him to pass some after the birth before they'd hand him over and they didn't want any feedings interfering with that. Or something.

dawn224 said...

Great post!

I was out today with two nursing moms - I saw nipples. I lived. Their children did not scream. Because they were getting fed. We had ADULT conversation. Man it was nice.

Off to read the birth story now.

Kyla said...

KayTar and I had a doomed breastfeeding relationship from the get-go. Now, in retrospect, I know why, she has such poor oral tone, she couldn't manage a latch on my breast. I pumped exclusively for the first month, offering what I could to her in a bottle. She was over a month old when she finally latched...but it was always a struggle, she would get frustrated and want a bottle. It was just too hard for her. And so eventually she refused it altogether and became a full time bottle baby. Experiences are all so different, but it is important that we support each other no matter how it goes.

Oh, and I called Josh at work the day she finally latched on and his (male) co-worked overheard the conversation and said, disgusted, "Can't that wait until you get home, man? Yuck." This man who frequents strip clubs firmly believes that THAT is their only purpose, his ogling. Ignorance, ignorance.

ewe are here said...

Great post.

And Bill Maher was a total *ss about breastfeeding. Total.*ss. But it was wonderful to see everyone smack him down in their blogs about it.

Mad said...

...and to talk about our individual experiences as much as possible. This was a lovely post, Sin.

As I type, a good friend is giving birth. I've been getting reports all day: water broke last night, labour failed to progress this afternoon, epidural went in at suppertime, threat given that if labour didn't kick in soon there would be a C-section. I keep thinking about my friend and all the idealism of her first-time pregnant self and now the beginning of that inevitable journey of disillusionment that for so many of us labour, delivery, and early breastfeeding represented and I am in mourning for her idealism. But I am also sitting back, wisely aware of the love and expanded self that I know will replace it. Gosh, am I sentimental tonight or what?

Mad said...

CHECK IT OUT! You are the first to get the new avatar. Cool.

cinnamon gurl said...

Hey, look! My first ever comment spam.

Mad, the new avator looks great!

Kyla, I hope the irony I intended when I said, "Everyone knew breast is best," came through. I don't believe that every mother and every child can breastfeed and I think itcan be a very damaging approach. I think it's far more important that a child be fed with love than with breastmilk, that a mother feel competent and comfortable than that a child be breastfed.

Christine said...

thanks for the story--makes me miss those times that seem so far away now. I had a terribly forceful let down with my girl and she always choked. It is weird how with my son it wasn't an issue.

bill maher is an idiot.

Marmite Breath said...

I just got my first nasty comments (on a not so new post) this week and they were regarding extended breastfeeding. The idiot said that breastfeeding after the baby gets teeth is borderline paedophilia.

I didn't let it bother me (much) but it really brought home to me just how ignorant some people are.