I always knew that if I could, I would breastfeed my children. It didn’t really occur to me to consider any alternative. So when this little tiny body was placed wriggling and screaming against mine in the delivery room I fully expected some sort of auto pilot to kick in and for us to be away. If only it were that simple. What they don’t tell you is that while breastfeeding may be completely natural, it is definitely not normal. It turns out that not only do mums not have a clue about how to hold or support a baby, the babies themselves often don’t really know how to go about extracting the good stuff from the fleshy mountains thrust before them. So the first few weeks found us fumbling and floundering around and using all kinds of new words like ‘latching’ and ‘let down’ and ‘vasospasm’ (don’t look it up, it hurts just reading about it).
Something else that they don’t tell you is that while breastfeeding is natural, that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. Toe-curling pain as some would describe it. I could think of other ways to describe it, but perhaps here isn’t the right medium for expressing that (no pun intended). I also happened to be unfortunate in coming up against quite a range of other problems associated with breastfeeding that not everyone experiences, making the first 2 months really rather difficult. And in all honesty, pretty miserable.
You may wonder (as did some of my friends and even the doctor) why I continued. And I’m not really sure I know what the answer it. I have no problem with bottle feeding a baby, but I do think that determination was part of it for me. And laziness definitely came into it- I really didn’t want to be sterilising and preparing bottles in the middle of the night! So I kept going through the pain, the milk-soaked clothes, the awkward positioning, the down-to-the-minute-timed pain killers, the unquenchable thirst, the over-heating and all the general discomfort that comes with breastfeeding. It probably didn’t really help matters that I’m actually quite squeamish about anything related to my body and so it has taken quite a lot of mind over matter to come to terms with feeding a baby from my own body.
I have been heard to say that I can’t wait for baby to be weaned and off breast milk. In those times I have been reminded to stop and think about this statement carefully because it’s likely that I will miss it when it’s gone. Most of the time I don’t think that’s true- I genuinely am looking forward to having my body back, being freer to move around without feeling tied as the only one who can sustain this little life and not feeling any more pain or waking up with damp clothing. There is definitely nothing glamorous about breastfeeding! But while this is true, there is nothing glamorous at all about having babies or feeding them, there is something very earthy and beautiful about growing and nourishing another being. I am unashamedly proud of, and grateful for what I have been able to do when I look at our little girl and I think that all her growth was because of me. It is something precious and unique that has come from my pain and discomfort.
Sometimes, when she is feeding, she looks up at me and smiles, or she makes little noises of satisfaction. This is when I realise that there are bits that I will miss. It’s hard being so tied to another person and feeling restricted and sometimes trapped. But it is also breathtakingly beautiful how much she loves to feed from me. I am safe, I am warm and I am her life source. I cannot think of any other situation where I would endure what I have been through, but I look at my baby and I know that I have done it gladly.