After the birth of my oldest daughter, I realized that the first order of business was to feed her. There appeared to be three options: A) Breastfeed B) Formula-feed, or C) Pre-chewed french fries. I chose Option A because doctors, friends, magazines, and the cashier at CVS all said the same thing: Breast milk is the best gift you can give your baby (although Sophie the Giraffe is a close second). So, like a beer garden after Memorial Day, I was officially open for business.
Day One: I met with a hospital lactation consultant named Rhonda who touted a 99% success rate with getting babies to latch. She wore a t-shirt that said “Breast is best” with what appeared to be cow teats on the abdomen. Rhonda informed me that while my milk supply hadn’t come in yet, I could still put the baby on my chest and let her nurse. That struck me as kind of a tease; like chewing gum when you’re hungry. But I gave it a shot. My baby attached herself to me and began to move her little mouth. I felt all snuggly and maternal.
Day Two: Baby would not latch. She penetrated the airwaves with relentless hunger screams, and my shoving of a boob in her mouth only muffled her cries. I returned to the lactation room. Rhonda tried a variety of techniques with me. She instructed me to hold the baby as I would hold a football (which I interpreted to mean “by my fingertips, at arms’ length”). When that didn’t work, we tried the cross-body hold, which involved some unnatural Twister-esque arm positions (“Left hand on green. Right hand on the baby’s sternum”). Finally, Rhonda turned the baby’s head sideways and, in one swift motion, shoved it on me. The baby happily nursed, and I exhaled for the first time in forty minutes.
Day Three: Where the hell was Rhonda? I tried her “shove baby’s face on boob” trick, and the baby’s head wound up in my armpit. I felt the way I usually do after leaving the beauty salon with a new haircut. The stylist insists that I will be able to replicate the results at home, but the minute I wash my hair, my Beyonce waves turn into Weird Al curls.
Day Four: I left the hospital today with a baby, three small pumped bottles of milk, and a ton of free samples of formula. They seemed to represent the angel and devil on my (very sore) shoulders. I just wasn’t sure which was which.
Week One: I broke down and contacted a lactation group. They insisted that I stick with breastfeeding, as it was the only way my baby would grow up healthy, smart, and with shiny Beyonce hair. I explained that I knew many people that were formula-fed and turned out okay, and the consultant snapped, “Oh yeah? What did they get on their SATs?”
Week Two: I accidentally slept through one of my baby’s feedings, and woke up to find my chest the size and consistency of unripe cantaloupes. When I ran to show my husband my new porn-star physique, he pointed out that one side was significantly larger than the other, so I should probably even them out before posing for any calendars.
1 Month: Baby finally got the hang of nursing and seemed to enjoy it. Every moment of every day. Breakfast turned into lunch, then a mid-day snack, followed by dinner, then a nightcap. While I was always appreciative of a hearty appetite, I had to pee for the past six hours, but couldn’t get up for fear that the few minutes I was away would cause my milk supply to dry up and my baby to starve.
2 Months: I’d heard somewhere that formula-fed babies slept better at night. That sounded pretty great. I picked up one of the formula samples temptingly. It would be so easy. No one would know. Suddenly, Rhonda came up behind me and smacked the bottle out of my hand.
“Breast is best!” she screamed, then disappeared.
I’m not sure how she got into my apartment. Perhaps I hallucinated her.
3 Months: Maternity leave ended and I returned to work. That meant the all-you-can-eat dairy buffet was replaced by bottles of milk lovingly pumped in my supply closet while watching “Game of Thrones” on my phone.
6 Months: Many of my mom friends have started supplementing with formula. They are getting a lot more sleep than I am. However, I decided to stick with the nursing because I am cheap and formula is not (even with a coupon), and I really wanted my child to do well on her SATs.
Also, I didn’t want to disappoint Rhonda. Even though I’m pretty sure she was a figment of my mind, like Brad Pitt from “Fight Club.”
9 Months: Remember that college drinking game “Never have I ever…”? It’s fun to play that game, replacing drunken escapades with breastfeeding anecdotes. “Never have I ever…nursed somebody else’s kid.” “Never have I ever…nursed in a cemetery.” “Never have I ever…nursed two babies at once.” “Ha, take a shot, Rachel, you totally nursed your son in the bathroom of an Applebee’s.” Let’s face it, by this point, most nursing mothers have done some pretty weird shit.
12 Months: The American Academy of Pediatrics says it is okay to stop nursing now. I have generously given my nutrients, body, and time over to my darling infant, and now I must stop immediately or else my child will develop “mommy issues.” But weaning was not going well. My go-to response for quieting the baby was to nurse (she can’t cry with her mouth full). So each night, I reached a point where I said, “Tomorrow will be the day I wean.”
12 Months, 1 Day: Rhonda stopped by. “Ugh, you’re still breastfeeding?”
“I’m trying to wean. It’s not easy.”
“You know your child has teeth now, right?”
“Help me, Rhonda. Help me get her off of my boob.”
“Just turn off the taps. Plug up the dam. Pull up the anchor.”
Rhonda’s analogies were confusing.
Her parting words: “Your friends, family, and the World Health Organization all find this icky. End this.” And she was gone in a puff of condensed milk
I was confused. Where did all my breastfeeding cheerleaders go? Nursing seemed to come with a multitude of mixed messages.
I was tired of all the judging that followed moms who just wanted to feed their kids. I felt like a failure when I struggled with nursing, pressured to keep it up for a year, and uncomfortable if I wanted to continue longer. Friends who formula-fed by choice or by need were made to feel like they were short-changing their babies. I bet if you fast-forwarded eighteen years, all of our kids would have at least gotten into their safety schools, regardless of their milk intake at age zero.
13 Months: I sloooooowly cut back on my baby’s feedings each day, and she officially kicked the habit. I was free! My body was my own again. I could drink whenever I want to, wear a bra that doesn’t unclip, and stop lining the fronts of my shirts with plastic. Free!
13 Months, 1 Day: I can’t possibly be pregnant again.