Continued from here
Thanks for all the supportive comments on the last two posts… you guys really give proof to the theory that one CAN create a supportive community on-line of people who’ve never met face-to-face.
Disclaimer: for the rest of this series, as I grow increasingly bitter in my writing, I just want all my breast-feeding friends to know that of course I don't think this about YOU. (That sounds sarcastic, but it really isn't, you should know by now that usually when I sound the most sarcastic I am actually the most sincere) You are my friends because you are not judgemental and holier-than-thou (unlike me). And I respect your decision and struggles even as I explain where I'm coming from and what I'm feeling and thinking.
Now back to the bitterness...
Contrary to all the wailing by breastfeeding women about how they were never exposed to breastfeeding as natural and the norm and never saw a woman nursing her child because those few who did were relegated to some dirty bathroom stall the next town over, I grew up surrounded by breasts offering milk to hungry babies. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in Utah, or if it has something to do with my family, but ALL the adult women around me breastfed. All of them. I was breastfed. My brothers were breastfed. The generation before us was breastfed. All 7,642 of my cousins were breastfed. And since I was the kind of child who preferred to stay inside and listen to adult conversation rather than play in the mud with the “common folk” (as I liked to call my cousins and siblings) I was present for countless nursing sessions. And yes, though the women in my family did prefer to use a baby blanket for modesty, they also weren’t unduly concerned if that blanket slipped and a gigantic, purple nipple dripping bluish-whitish fluid was exposed to my tender eyes.
So, though I didn’t grow up with the kind of women who went around willy-nilly squirting people with their milk and/or offering it up as a panacea for every childhood ailment, I DID grow up thinking that the best way – the ONLY way to feed a child was to breast feed. In fact, it was almost as big a family scandal when Smokin’ Bunny-cake’s birth mother decided not to breastfeed as her unexpected pregnancy had been 9 months prior. And, of course, in retrospect, everyone KNEW she would abandon S B-c as soon as she denied her her nectarly birthright. It was a sign of her lack of motherly feelings for her child.
So, I always assumed that I would breastfeed any child I had. Kinda like I always assumed that I’d grow up, marry a man, and be happy holding his semen inside me for the rest of my life. Well, maybe not exactly that. But there were a lot of assumptions and not-looking-too-closely-at-what-breastfeeding-really-entails going on. And when I thought of it my thoughts ranged from considering it the ultimate bonding experience and the ONLY way of showing love to my child to deciding that when the time came I would just close my eyes and think of England.
Just so you know where I’m coming from with this. I never considered it an option NOT to breastfeed. In fact, when we decided that Kristin would carry our first child, I announced to everyone who would listen that I was going to induce lactation so that I could feed my child, too, and thus be a real mother. Only I didn’t know how to do it. And the LLL here is, well, let’s just say that they really aren’t here. There are numbers in the book but no one’s home. Ever. So I figured that I’d wait until the kid was born, pump like crazy while Kristin beatifically fed said child, and then at the magic 6 week moment reenact a renaissance painting.
That’s not what happened.
When you’re a nursing mother and you’re having supply problems and you talk about how you’re tired of stressing, tired of pumping, tired of feeling shitty about not having enough milk, tired of the whole damn rigmarole, people don’t tell you, “well, you did your best, no one can fault you, no need to continue to feel guilty(it’s the comments that particularly interested me in the first two links – especially Emily’s comments, more on her later – and please see the last paragraph of that third link, I’ll also be talking about that post in a later installment of this series), you can stop this and just enjoy your child at any time, you’ve done enough…” No. They don’t. They offer suggestions, reasons, Things to Try. And in all that is the implicit (or explicit, in some cases) suggestion that if you’re willing to “give up” when there are still so many options available – so many Lactation Consultants to pay, so many new drugs to take, so many exotic beetles to grind up into so many nipple-pastes, then you’re less of a mother than every other woman who ever breastfed. You obviously don’t love your child enough. Or maybe your partner isn’t supportive enough. Because, you know, one of the biggest factors of success for a breastfeeding woman is the support of her partner.
We did everything we could do. No, I should say that Kristin did everything she could do and I did everything I could do to support her in her desire to breastfeed. The first three months of Julia’s life were spent trying to increase Kristin’s milk supply. And I wasn’t able to pump to induce lactation because Kristin needed the pump. That’s ok. We had a supplementer, so I strapped it on. And this is what I didn’t say at the time…
I. Hated. Every. Minute. Of. It.
Not because it was painful. After all, besides being exposed to breastfeeding my whole life, I’d been right there with Kristin during all her lactation consultant sessions. I knew what a good latch was and how to get one. No. I hated it because the sensation of suckling made my skin crawl. Because there was a thread of pleasure to it. And I’m not talking about a euphoric feeling of fuzzy mama bonding. But a purely physical pleasure. I tried to use my old defense of shutting off the sensations from my body. No go. This was completely unexpected. No one had told me that breastfeeding could elicit these sensations. Nothing I’d read or heard had prepared me for such a situation. After all, breastfeeding is completely asexual, right? Breasts are only sexual objects because of socialization, correct? It must be the return of my inherent evilness prompting these feelings. Each time I nursed Julia my discomfort and mental agitation grew. When someone suggested that perhaps suckling Julia with my non-lactating, non-pregnancy changed breasts (even with the supplementer) might be contributing to the problems with breastfeeding, I gladly gave it up.
I tried not to think about why I hated it. I was focused on being a good partner in supporting my breastfeeding wife. And my breastfeeding wife was getting tired of working so hard. And then the fateful email arrived and when I read it I had to fight to keep from retching on the keyboard. And everything shifted again.
To be continued…