Seeing the breast half full
|My breastmilk and what I came to call my "yellow, plastic triplet."|
It's hard to remember what I thought about breastfeeding before I became pregnant. I think it went something like this: "My mom breastfed me and I'm awesome, so I'll breastfeed my kids and then they'll be awesome. Great idea! High five!"
After I got pregnant I read books like La Leche League's "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" and others that made breastfeeding sound supremely easy — much easier than mixing, washing and sterilizing bottles. So, I thought, even into the first several months of breastfeeding: "I'll be home with them anyway, so it'll be easy. You know, some day. Not right now, obviously. Right now it's The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done in My Life, but it will be easy. Some day. Right?"
And perhaps it would have been. Perhaps if my body had had those extra 10 weeks of gestation to adjust to the reality of producing enough milk for two babies, it would have been easy. Perhaps if I'd had actual hungry babies at my breast instead of my horrible yellow, plastic, mechanical "triplet" for the first three months, it would have been easy.
Instead, carefree breastfeeding turned out to be just another normal part of motherhood that I would be forced to accept wasn't in the cards for me.
For those reading this blog who aren't women living in Oregon, I might need to explain why I feel so ashamed and heartbroken after completing the Herculean task of giving my 30-week preemie twins nearly nine months of breastmilk. You see, in Oregon, and particularly in Portland, a mother who fails at breastfeeding or — God forbid — doesn't even try, is a monstrous person who hates her babies and doesn't care if they succeed.
In fact, a therapist I talked to (yes, OK, my therapist) said that she's seeing a lot of women who feel extreme shame and guilt over their inability to breastfeed. She said that in the 1950s and 1960s women were literally told that breastmilk was bad for babies, and while it's good that the pendulum has swung the other direction, formula is not The Great Evil.
I think I'll go a step further and say breastfeeding might actually be BAD for some women in certain circumstances. That's right. I said it. Breastfeeding — when you take into account the stress and obsession and the inability to be away from your babies or a pump for more than a few hours ever — might actually be worse than formula feeding. One thing's for sure, it probably wasn't a good idea for that mother in North Dakota who was arrested for breastfeeding her 6-week-old while completely drunk.
Who knows what that particular woman's motivations were, but I do think that the competition around breastfeeding is too intense. On a popular breastfeeding site, kellymom.com, you are simply not allowed to suggest on their forums that breastfeeding might not be the best choice for someone. Even though breastfeeding is a monumental task that requires lots of support in order to succeed, I think we need to be wary of letting our encouragement turn into a guilt trip.
Of course, this could all just be sour grapes. I wanted to be that woman who exclusively breastfed her kids for at least 12 months — giving them all of those essential nutrients and body-building brain food that would make them remarkable human beings. More than that, I wanted desperately to make up for my body's inability to gestate my twins for a reasonable amount of time. Maybe I couldn't stave off the contractions in my uterus, but damn it if I wasn't going to extrude life-giving fats and proteins from my breasts.
I even had a running list of reasons to keep going:
Reason No. 48: Top two ingredients in our very expensive specially formulated preemie formula: Nonfat (Cow's) Milk and Corn Syrup Solids.
Reason No. 12: Dozing in bed at 4 a.m. while breastfeeding a snuggly baby instead of waking up completely to make a bottle in the cold kitchen.
Reason No. 59: Breastfeeding is free.
|All the pills I took while breastfeeding: |
prenatal multivitamin, Vitamin C, lecithin,
fenugreek, probiotics and fish oil.
In the end, the only time it got easy was when, seven months post-partum, I stopped trying. The whole house had come down with a bad cold and after the fog cleared, I thought to myself: "What am I doing? I thought it was supposed to be easy by now. Isn't it time for it to be easy?" So, in exactly that way that I never did before children, I gave up. I gave myself to the end of the week to quit, but I really wanted to stop. That. Very. Day.
That was two months ago. I continued to breastfeed several times a day for a few weeks because — turns out — it often was easier than mixing, washing and sterilizing. But eventually my milk supply did what I knew it would do in the face of such a cavalier attitude: disappear.
Twenty-five ounces a day became 20, became 10 until, the day before I returned my rental pump, I got a measly 3.5 ounces. And perhaps that's the thing I hate most about breastfeeding: that although I should feel proud of every day, every meal, every ounce, there was no finish line to cross, no engraved trophy waiting for me at the end. By its very nature, breastfeeding is something that slowly dries up so that by the end you feel like you failed just a little more each day.
It reminds me of this joke I heard: a lawyer, a doctor and a farmer are talking about what they would do if they won $1 million. The lawyer says he would open his own firm, the doctor says he would open his own clinic, and the farmer? He says: "Well, I reckon I would just keep farming 'til it was all gone."
That's how I think about breastfeeding now: I just kept doing it 'til it was all gone.