I’d like to take a moment to call attention to the fact that not all women enjoy breastfeeding. In fact, I hated it most of the time. I’ve seen the sweet photos and videos of mothers and babies making eye contact while enjoying an intimate nursing session, but that was never my experience.
It all starts with childbirth. Hours, sometimes days of labor, resulting in unrecognizable nether regions and terrifying visits to the bathroom. Then there’s the pressure placed on moms to breastfeed. “Breast is best” next to a photo of a precious, helpless baby wallpapered throughout the obstetrician’s office and lining the halls of the hospital.
I took the breastfeeding classes offered by the hospital. I brought a baby doll and a pillow and was taught how to breastfeed. Right, of course. Very legitimate on-boarding experience with an inanimate object and breasts tucked neatly away in my bra in a room full of people. This should be a snap.
After delivery, I’m handed a stranger and am encouraged to feed it. Sure enough, I took the class dammit! Women have been doing this for thousands of years, it’s the most natural thing in the world. I’ll just pop this baby onto my breast and…okay. I’ll just pop this baby onto my breast and…let’s try the other side. I’ll just get her on…hmmm. “Nurse, is it possible she doesn’t want the breast?” I’m assured that’s not it. I’m offered assistance. If I can just take my IV-laden hand and smoosh my engorged breast into the shape of a hamburger whilst shoving it deep into the baby’s mouth but also up toward the roof for a proper latch…No, okay, I’m not supposed to bring my breast to the baby, I’m supposed to bring my baby to the breast. Here we go again. One hand with a firm grip on the baby’s neck and head, IV hand hamburgering the same engorged breast and…latch! She latched! Wait, she’s pulling back a bit, still latched though. Nurse, is this right?…because it seems wrong. No, the latch is now too shallow this will end in soreness I’m told. Take her off and put her back on. Righty-o I’ll just…WHAT THE F DOES SHE HAVE TEETH? I guess I was supposed to release the suction with my pinky finger before pulling her away and that’s why it felt like I took the shop vacuum to my nipple. We try again. Hamburger smooshing, firm grip, pull baby toward, push breast up and in…and good latch!…and now back to a shallow latch. Well, she seems really content. How bad could the so-called soreness be? I’m tired, she’s quiet. I’ll just let her carry on.
Three days later I’m at the clinic explaining to the lactation consultant that I’ve never experienced pain like this in my life. When it comes time to feed her I have my husband leave the room because I fear I may lash out at him like some kind of wounded animal. We rule out a possible tongue-tie. Then we talk about correcting her latch, nipple shields, soothing balm and cooling breast pads. As I sit there with all of this state-of-the-art technology and a specialist trained to assist mothers in breastfeeding all I can do is laugh at the absurdity of it all. Breastfeeding, supposedly the most natural thing a woman can do for her baby, is the most challenging and painful thing I’ve ever done in my life including the delivery of my baby. I’m given a hospital grade pump and sent on my way to pump the milk until my scabs heal and the baby can try nursing properly again.
Suffice to say not all women have it as rough as I did and some women have it worse. I’m happy for, and envious of the women for whom breastfeeding came as naturally as I always assumed it would be. For all those moms who know the feel of a baby piranha on their nipple, I stand in solidarity with you. Cheers, friends.