I had my second child on Superbowl Sunday, waiting for the feeling to come back in my blissfully numb legs as Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot performed the halftime show. The next night, we were ushered into a “discharge seminar,” which more accurately should have been titled “How other people killed their kids” or, “Fodder for your nightmares” or, “You had a kid? What the fuck were you thinking?” It was a delightful array of stories from people whose babies died in tragic ways that weren’t really the parents’ fault, but, come on, it’s always the parents’ fault, right? That was the silent undertone of this seminar: “How not to kill your baby except you can’t really prevent it. Probably. Good luck!”
Anyway, as a friendly nurse made rounds of the floor, gathering up sleep deprived, unsuspecting new parents and depositing them in Death for Dummies 101, I sat marveling at the woman next to me. Her baby had been fussing, and she casually reached into the little crib on wheels, pulled him out, and stuck him on her bare boob. He ate happily, and she continued watching Newborn Doomsday without missing a beat.
Now, please keep in mind that I had already had a baby and raised her to 23 months by this point. Had this seminar been happening 23 months earlier, I would have been oblivious to this woman due to my sobbing in the fetal position among the port-a-crib babies and begging the nursing staff to let us live in the maternity wing, lest I roll onto or accidentally shake my precious newborn. However, being reasonably satisfied with my ability to keep a small person alive, my attention was focused on this mom and the baby that was magically latched onto her boob.
As we returned to our room, I told my husband Jim about the girl whose baby magically latched, who he hadn’t even noticed. There was a bare boob in the room and my husband hadn’t even noticed – that’s how sly this La Leche Lover was. Inspired, I grabbed little Norah, and put her to my boob. One nipple shield, a football hold, “C” pinch, and many tears (some hers, mostly mine) later, there I was staring down the Medela pump while my babe laid back in her plush port-a-crib digs, letting me do all the hard work. Was this my fault? Why was this so easy for other women?
I tried breastfeeding twice with no dice. My first daughter, Sydney, lost her ever-loving shit every time I so much as dared to mention my boob in her presence. This is in line with her current personality; “I don’t want to do it, and if you breathe a word of what I don’t want to do, I will unleash my fury. You’ve been warned.” Norah was much sweeter about the whole thing, her 1-day old personality seemed to say “No thanks. I’m trying here, but you aren’t very good at this. No offense, mom. I’m sure you’re very good at lots of other things, like using appropriate grammar after seven beers, or teaching your two-year-old the words to Run DMC songs, but this just isn’t your thing. And lose the nipple shield. It’s just kind of . . . sad. Now where’s that syringe of milk?” She did latch a few times, which I considered to be great success until I saw Easy Boob McGee in the Infantry for Infants seminar. Then I realized that I was like the kid in class who the teacher tells is doing “GREAT!” when she’s really four chapters behind the rest of the class. (You know, because that kid probably hadn’t been breastfed, which, in case you’re uncertain, is the sole predictor of whether or not your child will be successful and healthy.)
I made it over three weeks pumping and feeding my first daughter, and a paltry four days with my second. Both times, I was greeted with the familiar feel of failure, even though I swore I would never feel that way. I didn’t have postpartum depression (in your face, producers of Faces of Fetal Death Part IV), but the only thing that made me feel depressed both times, was my breastfeeding failure.
So for any of you who might be in similar situations, massaging lumpy boobs while feeding your child pumped milk by the light of your iPhone, helplessly googling “Quitting breastfeeding” and looking for something that doesn’t say “You got this, girl! You can do it! Have you tried calling your local lactation consultant? Here’s a link to KellyMom and a re-direct to an article from the NIH about why breast is best. Don’t give up, it gets better!” Here’s a list of things I felt while quitting breastfeeding, and reasons why they are all bullshit.
1. “I’m just not trying hard enough. Other women do this!” It’s true, other women do this, even when their babies don’t latch, they try endlessly for days and weeks on end, with no sleep, and eventually it works. You know what else some women accomplish? Marathons. Medical Degrees. Nobel Prizes. I am not a woman who will run a marathon. I am not a woman who will breastfeed for a year or even a month. I am a woman who has a successful career, a successful marriage, and two healthy children. I have many strengths and accomplishments as a woman, and I’ll have many as a mother. It’s ok that this isn’t one of them.
2. “Look at her big blue eyes, she’s so happy when she actually latches! She’s begging me to keep trying this. How can I let her down?” That’s the crazy talking. “The crazy” also goes by its formal name, “Hormones”. Your baby is happy because she’s eating. She’s 72 hours old. She can’t reason and she certainly can’t guilt trip you yet. Tell the crazy to back the freak off and tell your husband you need a 10 minute break in a bath or the shower or a padded room, and pull it back together.
3. “Even when she latches, I don’t feel the attachment that I’ve read about. What is wrong with me? I must keep doing this until I feel the spread of warm love and attachment GOD DAMN IT. I think she’s giving me a blister. Sonofabitch!” Listen, I’m here to tell you that I spent an inordinate amount of time worried that I wasn’t going to attach to my baby because I didn’t feel the “normal” and immediate rushes of hormone-induced attachment I’d read about. It’s ok. Not everyone does. Breastfeeding doesn’t make it happen or not happen. You’re just a different kind of normal than the one you read about on breastfeeding sites.
4. “Formula smells like sour milk and metal. This can’t be ok. Is this ok?” Yes. It’s FINE. Many people of our generation (including me), were given formula. Yes, breast milk is best. No, you will not kill or hurt or maim your baby with formula. Do you ever plan to give your child McDonald’s or anything fried or chocolate covered? Formula is better than all of that. OK, that might not be based in science or anything even realistic, however, it is one of the things that helped me get through. Regardless, rest assured that people have been giving their children formula for decades without ill effects. As I type this, little Norah is formula-drunk on my shoulder and as happy as can be.
5. “This is because I quit breastfeeding! I suck.” Said by me every time Sydney or Norah spit up, cried from gas, got baby acne, etc. etc. etc. Bullshit. If you live your life like this, you’ll be miserable – coulda, shoulda, woulda … you’ll never know what’s causing any of the negative things, but rest assured that breastfed babies have the same ailments that formula fed babies do, because they’re BABIES. It’s not you. Chill.
6. “My boobs are KILLING me. My body is fighting against me quitting. Maybe I should quit quitting and try again. Nature knows better than me.” (Said every hours for four days from beneath a multitude of sports bras and prescription-strength ibuprofen as my milk dried up.) If the phrase “listen to your body” applied postpartum, I would also have quit having bowel movements, laid in bed all day while my newborn screamed, and dove into in a bed of ice when night sweats hit. After you have a baby, your body is telling you nothing other than “What in the hell do you think you just did to me? Give me a goddamned minute here. Just one goddamned minute to figure out how to fix all this shit that you broke.” It is basically rebelling against everything as it tries to recover from incubating and then birthing another PERSON. Don’t let your rock hard boobs guilt you into continuing something that you know isn’t right for your and your family. Guess what, body, you’re not getting that medical degree or nobel prize either, so Shhhh.
Quitting breastfeeding was one of the best decisions I made, both times, for my sanity, and my relationship with my baby (and husband). It’s not for everyone. I have mad, crazy, “how the shit did you do that” respect for ladies who make it through, and I hate quitting more than anyone. But sometimes, it’s not about you. And that is the best thing you can remember. Get out of your own head. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. Handle your business, shake a bottle of formula, love on your baby, and for Christ’s sake, get off the KellyMom site. You can do it.
(photo: Getty Images)