One thing nobody bothered to tell me before Some Boy was born is how dang difficult it is to breastfeed. The concept is simple enough: boob, mouth, milk. What could possibly go wrong here?
Everything. Let me tell you: everything that could go wrong…did.
The first 12 or so hours of his life, Some Boy wasn’t interested in doing anything but sleeping. Food was the last thing on his mind. I tried to stick him up on my chest and “let him figure out what to do” like everyone said. He figured out how to close his eyes and ignore me.
As we approached 16 hours of him eating absolutely nothing, I grew really concerned. We asked a nurse what to do. “Wait it out,” she said. “He’ll eat when he’s hungry.” For me, that just didn’t cut it. I broke down sobbing, hormonal and tired and unable to feed my baby. Nate called the lactation consultants. Thank God for that man. The women showed me how to get formula into the little guy’s mouth with my finger – whether he wanted to eat it or not. According to her, he was sleeping so much because he didn’t have the energy to do anything else. She showed me how to hook myself up to a contraption that was supposed to forcibly suck liquid out of my boobs. At first, it sucked absolutely nothing. I’d strap myself up, pump and wait and sigh and cry, force feed the baby, and do it all over again.
Then, it happened. I finally saw little droplets of yellow condensation inside the pump. We’d struck liquid gold! Half the battle was over. The other half? Getting Some Boy to latch on. Worried that he would get too used to being finger-fed, the nurses showed me how to put the liquid into a syringe with a tube that fed into a plastic cover over one of my nipples. The idea was that if he got used to getting food quickly out of the plastic shield, he’d eventually develop the patience to latch on without all the mechanisms. I felt like a cyborg and it required assistance to keep the baby in place and the tubes out of the way, but we were making progress. After being fondled by over a dozen people, we’d gotten the boobs to work and we were on our way.
The pediatricians monitored him very closely that first couple of weeks. He lost weight at an alarming rate as I tirelessly pumped and mixed the priceless drops with formula, waking him to eat every two hours. “This is becoming a terrible experience for you,” one doctor said as she looked into my dark-rimmed eyes. “Just get a bottle. Feed your baby. Do whatever it takes to get through this.” I gave in and bought the most “breastfeeding-friendly” bottle I could find, one that claimed to caused the least amount of nipple confusion. It worked. Some Boy started eating and gained weight with vigor.
Determined to make breastfeeding work, we kept at it. It took us over a month of relentless effort before Some Boy would latch on. In the meantime, I had trouble producing enough milk. I ate oatmeal, took Fenugreek and pumped constantly to keep my supply up. Another month passed before breastfeeding became the norm instead of a relentless uphill battle. But it worked. It finally, finally worked. I now have an 18-pound, strictly breastfed 4-month-old. When I feed him, he giggles and coos and chatters (a welcome change from crying, screaming and head-turning). We have a bond that’s indescribable. When he’s upset, I cuddle him up to me and he calms down. I’m the one he reaches out for every morning and it’s my face (or boobs…whatever) that he looks for in the middle of the night.
I’m telling you this because I know that there are other women out there going through the same thing. If you’re one of them, just know that it will get better. You’ll cry in the shower. You’ll bury your face into a pillow. You’ll hurt, and you’ll keep a gallon supply of lanolin cream by your bed. And then one day, it’ll start to turn around. It will get better and in the end, your baby’s joy will outweigh all the difficulty and frustration.