It’s the only term I can think of that truly captures my nursing experience – a roller coaster.
Before giving birth I had a flexible mindset when it came to the idea of breastfeeding. If it worked for me and baby, I would do it for six months. If not, no big deal.
When Evy arrived, it was obvious that nursing worked well for her. Really well. She latched on like a champ and left me wincing in pain with tears streaming down my cheeks every two hours. Despite enduring 28 hours of labor and three long hours of pushing, in those early moments of breastfeeding, I couldn’t tell you which was worse, having this small creature tear through my nether regions or providing her nourishment from my upper frontals.
I kept asking the nurses why the pain was so intense. “Is it really supposed to hurt this badly?”
My “Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” book assured me that it shouldn’t hurt if the latch is correct. But the nurses kept saying the same thing, “Wow, she’s a natural. That’s a beautiful latch. What a strong suck she has!”
Yes, what a STRONG suck she has. Thank you for noticing. How about you stop admiring my newborn’s hoover-like qualities and redirect your attention to the mother whose teeth are crumbling from the sheer force of her clench.
They kept assuring me the pain would subside.
“You’re doing everything right. Just wait a couple weeks and you won’t feel a thing.”
Because it worked so well for Evy, I didn’t want to give up. I trusted the nurses wholeheartedly and continued pumping, latching, wincing, and hoping for relief.
Two weeks went by. Pain level: obscene.
One month. Pain level: still obscene.
Two months. Pain level: slightly less obscene.
Three months. Pain level: tolerable.
It took three months for the pain to go away. I was so angry with La Leche League for publishing materials that report such generalized statements as, “if it still hurts after two weeks, something is wrong.” To me that meant,
YOU aren’t doing it right.
YOU are failing.
YOU are an anatomical freak for being so sensitive.
What if I tried everything and visited numerous lactation consultants and EVERYONE said I was doing it correctly, what then LLL?
This was one of those moments when I entertained thoughts of building a huge bonfire in an open field and tossing every parenting book I owned into the flames while I pranced around the perimeter. It’s never the same for everyone, and the moment you start to believe it is, you start to doubt yourself.
It was a painful beginning for me. I’ve heard other moms describe their initial foray into breastfeeding similarly. It’s not easy, and for those anatomical freaks that it is easy for, I simply ask that they do not take their good fortune for granted.
Despite my less than favorable description for how I started nursing, the whole roller coaster thing came into play around that third month. I actually started to like it at times. Evy was, and still is, a voracious eater, so many feeding sessions were spent trying to pacify her after she realized I wasn’t supplying the amount that she desired. Even so, I found myself thankful for the quiet moments that Evy and I spent together when we were at a party or visiting someone’s home. I was never one to “whip out the boob” in a public place, and I embraced my modesty. It may not have been convenient at times to step away from the action, but it was special being alone with my daughter.
I also began to enjoy the notion that I provided the nourishment my child needed; the best kind of nourishment you can offer. A totally natural, organic, and immunity-boosting food that came directly from my body. It evolved into feeling a deep connection with my baby and my Creator. What an amazing gift we are able to give.
Then it happened. I got Thrush.
Thrush is a yeast infection which causes a sudden, severe, and unexplained pain in an experienced nursing mother’s nipple.
Just when nursing became a pain-free experience, surprise!, here we go again.
I called the doctor and they told me how to fight this invasion of yeast. Anti-fungal cream and rigorous sanitation measures. Disgusting. Seriously, disgusting. I’m almost too embarrassed to write about it. I’ve heard it’s common, which makes me feel a bit better.
The pain from Thrush was right on par with the pain from getting acquainted with breastfeeding. Intense and paralyzing. Clothing became a major inconvenience and each feeding was something of a mommy torture chamber. I had nightmares of Evy as a tiny Nazi German soldier in the Gestapo using her final, and most effective interrogation tool. She would glare at me with a little baby mustache and say in a heavy German accent, “Vee have vays uff making you talk.”
I contemplated quitting, as I had a hundred times before. I only had one month to go until I hit my six month goal. Why not just stop? Save myself the trouble and give up already?!
Stubbornly I denied myself that reprieve. My little member of the Staatpolizei would not defeat me!
Then as fast as Thrush came, it disappeared. Nursing was enjoyable again.
You can imagine my husband’s confusion as he witnessed my experience with breastfeeding. I’m almost positive he considered me completely manic.
Here’s a progression of the comments related to breastfeeding that Mark heard over the span of six months,
“I can’t do it. I honestly can’t do it. You don’t understand how bad it is.”
“Well, at least that felt more like slightly dulled needles poking me in the breast rather than freshly sharpened ones.”
“How do women say this is bonding with their baby? Are they sick? Or crazy? They must be crazy.”
“Hmm, that wasn’t so bad. Maybe I could do this a full year.”
“You know, these books say it’s best to breastfeed into the toddler years. Do you think I should do it?”
“I love nursing!”
“I hate nursing!”
“Why do women have to do EVERYTHING!?”
“F$#& THIS!” (It is a very rare occasion when I swear)
“I’m really sad I have to quit.”
“I don’t think I can give this up. It’s too special for me and Evy.”
“Okay seriously, I’m done.”
Poor Mark. I couldn’t have done it without him riding in the front seat of the roller coaster along with me. What a saint I have for a hubby.
We survived the highs, the lows, the twists and turns. If this coaster had one of those cameras taking an image of me mid-ride, my face would probably be contorted in a way that revealed misery, trepidation, and elation. Not a snapshot I’d want to hang on the fridge, but I’d probably keep it tucked away for posterity’s sake. Maybe I’d use it in my pep talk for Evy when she decides whether to breastfeed my grandchildren.
Even after all I went through, I’d encourage her to try. And if Mark and I are blessed with more children, they will be presented with the same bosom to drain.
The challenge was a formidable one, but I look down at my formerly lactating battlefield with admiration and pride.
I did it. We did it. All four of us. Evy, me, my right, and my left.
Well done ladies. Six months is a great start for our little girl.
Now let’s all thank the dear Lord that modern man created formula for the next six.