First of all, I’ve noticed that anytime I want to talk about breastfeeding or breast milk I feel a little ashamed- because it includes the word “breast.” – or maybe not ashamed, that feels too strong. I think just slightly uncomfortable, like “what if my saying breast makes someone else uncomfortable?” But breastfeeding is pretty cool -dare I say magical– and I want to work on eliminating any discomfort I feel around it- because that must come more from cultural associations than the actual event of breastfeeding.
*warning* graphic discussion of breastfeeding issues to follow
There’s a lot I didn’t know about breastfeeding.
Just add it to the tome of things I didn’t know about becoming a mom- not because I don’t have a great mom or many friends who are great moms, but because I’ve always been focused on things that concern me. Until recently, that didn’t include babies.
I had heard breastfeeding was painful. I had heard that it can be difficult at first. And I had heard that most people love it or hate it.
I’ve found all these to be true except I probably have a love/hate relationship with breastfeeding rather than all one or the other.
Here are the things I had not heard.
Breastfeeding is MESS-Y. It is hella, hella messy y’all. When you let down (letting down just means the milk actually starts coming out), you let down on both sides. So at first I would be feeding Eve and then I’d think she wet through her diaper, only to realize three days later (I was a little slow due to the fact I was still recovering from the trauma of childbirth) that it wasn’t in fact bladder leakage, but my breast milk leaking all over poor Eve. I now use a burp cloth on whatever breast Eve isn’t eating from.
Another example of messiness is, of course, at the start when your boobs are adjusting to her eating schedule and they leak EVERYWHERE any time baby goes a longer stretch without eating. It’s like “yay! Baby slept a five hour stretch…DANG, my boobs are rock hard and my shirt is soaked with milk!” I vividly remember one night when I got up in the dark to feed Eve and as I was changing her dipe, poop started spraying everywhere. As I was cleaning her up, my boobs started squirting, and *voila!* poop and milk everywhere. And by the way, there were many nights I was dripping breast milk as I changed her diaper. Waterfalls of milk just become the norm after awhile…Why didn’t I just where a bra and nursing pads you may ask? Because at that stage my nipples hurt and I didn’t want to.
I’m very grown up about all this breastfeeding stuff…
This brings us to engorgement. Friends, if I hadn’t experienced it, I would not think it possible for my boobs to be in this state. Huge. Hard. Full of golf balls. Pain. Full. I got help from a lactation consultant for this one, and let’s just say she had Eve eating in every possible position and for such a long time that I thought she would explode. But Eve was fine and my breasts were drained. After a lot of taking, Eve really gave to mom that day by emptying me out.
Oh pumping. Let me count the ways I hate pumping. It hurts. It’s one of the least comfortable things I can imagine. When I’m working, I pump FOUR TIMES A DAY. This means I pump before work, twice during work (while eating, writing notes, making phone calls, etc), and once before bed. Then, at the end of the day, I have to wash a mountain of pumping parts. By hand. I despise this. I just want to go to bed! Why must I wash!
I didn’t expect that I would come to see breastmilk as liquid gold. I am telling you LIQUID. GOLD. That stuff is made of my blood, sweat and tears, people. A little part of me dies every time Eve doesn’t finish a bottle and we have to pour breast milk down the drain. There have been more than one occasion where Nick has witnessed a mini-meltdown because I accidentally spilled or spoiled milk. Once I dropped a bottle after pumping and just stared at it spilling all over the carpet in horror until my husband ran across the room to pick it up. Another time I realized I had forgotten to put the milk in the fridge after work and wasted THREE whole bottles! I’ve noticed Nick tries to secretly pour out any wasted milk before I see it to shield me from witnessing the waste.
I was also unprepared for how difficult it is to feed in public and how little I care about anyone seeing my boobs while I feed. Mothers I had seen feeding their babes in public always made it look so easy. But the reality is that Eve gets hot and I get hot, Eve gets frustrated and I get frustrated. She tries to throw the cover off as I try to get her to eat quickly. It’s hard people, hard.
The most shocking part of breastfeeding is the exhaustion. I have trained for and run a marathon. That does not compare with the fatigue my body feels daily from breastfeeding. Given the choice between running a marathon or breastfeeding for a year- I would take the marathon.
Instead of calling it a feeding, I have jokingly referred to nursing as a draining of my life blood. That’s exactly what it feels like.
As Eve eats I feel more and more like I need to sleep. I start to feel like I haven’t slept in days. I typically have a million things I plan to do when she’s done eating, but by the time she finishes I feel like I can just summon enough energy to put her to bed or lie next to her on the floor as she plays. My husband barely recognized me without my usual flurry of productivity whirling around the apartment.
And as a side note, while I’m doing Eve’s last feed of the day, which can last an hour or more, I have adapted the lyrics to Give Me Jesus from “In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus” to “In the evening, when I nurse, give me Jesus.” It seems to help a little. Feel free to steal.
Though it is hard and messy and painful, I am thankful for the opportunity to breastfeed my beloved babe. I am thankful for the bonding and the quiet one on one time. Breastfeeding forces me to put every single thing in my life on hold in order to focus on providing for my precious daughter. It brings my focus back to relationship. It rips me from my usual state of doing, back to the most important state of being.
And I relish the sweet time breastfeeding gives me with Eve.
When my year is up (if I make it that far, which I hope to), I’ll be happy to be done with the pumping and messiness! But I’ll also miss the closeness and bonding with my little girl. I know breastfeeding Eve is something I will never be able to have again once she is weaned. So I am grateful for this phase. Painful and messy as it may be.