I stopped nursing after four weeks, stopped pumping at 11 weeks, and truly, deeply started enjoying motherhood to the fullest degree about two seconds after I switched off the pump. Then I freaked out, but more on that later.
V came into the world ready to eat. We skin-to-skin’d and started nursing within two minutes of her birth. I was very relieved and happy that she was able to latch so easily. I imagined a full year (or two?!) of us nursing and sharing secrets. I saw myself scorching 10,000 calories a day as my baby’s brain developed so quickly that she would need to wear adult-sized hats at two months old. She would never, ever get sick and I would save our family $2.3 million worth of Enfamil bills.
Then pure exhaustion set in during our hospital stay. There was paperwork to sign, pizza to order, and Percocet to devour. As V rolled up to my bedside every three hours, things got sloppy. As a drugged person who had never breastfed before (me) and a person who had never been a human before (V), we were an adorable pair of dunces. A couple of bad latches later, I was in seething pain, but a little too loopy to notice. By the time the lactation consultants came to our room the following day (about seven feeds later), the damage had been done. The consultants observed my toes while I nursed and determined that they were “far too curled for far too long.” They felt around V’s mouth and said what I had suspected all along: “Yup, that’s a Piranha Mouth!”
They gave me some good advice on how to nurse as I was leaving the hospital. The problem, however, is that once there are blood and scabs, there’s no time to recover, no matter how good the form is. So I had to keep feeding every hour, despite the pain. This was my own issue to bear, as Nate was too preoccupied writing a sitcom in his head about a male lactation consultant named Keith, a concept that he found next-level funny. I think the premise is that Keith just wants to look at boobs all the time and found his “dream job”?
Then, four days after birth, my milk came in. V started rustling at 3:00am, so I ducked into the bathroom for a quick moment before going to feed her in the nursery. This exact moment is the only time in my life when I have done a 100% genuine 80’s Movie Jaw-Dropping Double Take in the mirror: My breasts were triple their original size (original size = triple the size of my pre-pregnancy chest). I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was about to shake Nate awake so he could witness this ridiculousness, but then I suddenly realized I was in big trouble: I was unhealthily engorged. Regardless, I raced to feed V only to realize that her teeny tiny piranha mouth was physically unable to even begin to latch onto big mama’s bowling balls. She continued to WAIL while I frantically pulled out the breast pump (still in its UPS package) from the back of her closet. I stood over the kitchen sink in the dark and tried to sterilize and assemble all the parts as milk cascaded out of me at an alarming rate. I audibly sobbed as I tried to read the Spanish side of the instruction manual, in the dark, standing in a puddle of milk, while the baby shrieked with hunger and Nate and Banjo slept, blissfully unaware of the deluge flooding the apartment.
It is most likely the funniest moment of my entire life, rivaled only with that time in 7th grade when I was dancing with a kazoo in my mouth, tripped over a pile of backpacks, and my scream came out as a really loud over-the-top kazoo noise as I toppled to the ground.
Breastfeeding got better, then got worse when V chomped down and set us back after two weeks of progress. Nate rubbed my feet while I nursed to help distract from the pain. I was constantly engorged and became disengaged during feedings because everything hurt. She started discovering her hands and would swat my scabby nipples with her grubby fingernails as she ate, the literal “twist of the knife” into this whole breastfeeding thing.
After four weeks of not being able to face forward in the shower or hug my husband, I decide to ditch the boob and pump exclusively. This was a great decision for me. There was immediate relief from engorgement and a surprising amount of excess milk to freeze. Nate, friends, and family were able to give V bottles.
Also, Nate and I were hell bent on getting this creature to sleep through the night. Bottles allowed us to adhere numeric measurements to her strict schedule and got her sleeping 7pm-7am just shy of her five week birthday. (Note: It is rule #1 for mothers not to brag about sleep. 1. I’m not bragging, just stating the truth for a sweet story about a little baby who ate her mother’s nipples. 2. We worked very, very hard for this and 3. I’m not superstitious about admitting good fortune because I spent my first 12 weeks of pregnancy with my head in the toilet.)
Having a baby that sleeps 12 hours is fabulous, but I couldn’t put on the celebratory night mask just yet: While babies can go 12 hours, boobs cannot. I was still having to wake up a couple times in the night to pump. A quick and quiet 15 minutes with an US Weekly magazine is better than an hour-long feed, but still. I was so close.
I pumped eight times a day for the next seven weeks, and then officially decided to throw in the towel. My baby was healthy and happy and I was ready to break myself free of the final maternal chain that (in my opinion) was holding me back from being a full and complete Happy New Mom. With formula, Nate and I could take on a very real 50-50 split of ALL parenting/domestic duties, while each of us maintained professional employment. It’s a very weird and rare situation that won’t last forever, but for now I’ll take it!
The decision of course, was not easy. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends weaning after ONE F*CKING YEAR, which, to me, is just another item on the endless list of Things That Pregnant/Nursing Women Can & Cannot Do So That They Remain Nervous and Scared and Held Back JUSSSSST Enough. I’m all about women having as many educated choices as humanly possible when it comes to her own body and her family. But that is a discussion for another post (gonna need more Piranha GIFS!)
I was relieved to stop, but spent a couple days overcome with emotion and guilt. (Weaning is the final middle finger send-off to all the postpartum hormones that have been swimming around the brain, causing mischief and making you really really thirsty all the time). Nate made a casual comment about how expensive formula was, which sent me into a hysterical fit over how my “selfish decision” had put my family in financial RUINS. For the record, it hasn’t. All we had to do was cut out one night of Thai delivery a week.
I actually tried to re-lactate after a week of stopping, a silly endeavor that’s pitifulness actually cheered me up a bunch. I also learned that not only can new moms re-lactate after months of being dry, but adoptive mothers who have never been pregnant before can train their bodies to lactate! Fascinating stuff.
The person who seemed to care the least about my switch to formula was our pediatrician. I guess after decades on the front lines of pediatric care, the ole formula v. breastmilk debate for a healthy, loved baby in a safe and stable home doesn’t rank high among the horrors. Also he probably works for Similac on the side.
So, like Keith the Male Lactation Consultant said on season 10, episode 23 of Keith, The Male Lactation Consultant: “It’s all about being the best mother YOU can be. Now show me those boobs!!”