In late January, I wrote this on Facebook:
I’m working on a massive blog post about breastfeeding (spoiler alert: it’s not easy). In the meantime, I’ll just say this: Some of the so-called “lactivists” I’ve encountered in online support groups are really just mean girls in crunchy granola clothing.
Within a day, I’d gotten more than 50 comments from women wanting to offer their support, advice, and encouragement. Conversations cropped up in the thread about pumping, nipple pain, low supply, supplementing with formula. The response was surprising. It was also kind of overwhelming. but in a good way.
Then, in February, I finished the post about my struggles to breastfeed my son. There was another wave of support and encouragement, often from unlikely places. It was all very gratifying.
Here’s the elevator version, for those of you uninterested in slogging through the original post:
I was an exclusive pumper for the first 9 weeks of my son’s life, who had stopped latching even before we were discharged from the hospital. Then, after working with a new lactation consultant, the inimitable Katie Madden (a.k.a. “The Boobie Whisperer”), I got my son to latch using a nipple shield. We were working toward getting him back onto bare breast, but hadn’t gotten there yet.
Okay, so now you’re all caught up. Here’s what happened afterward:
Two weeks later, my husband and I had another appointment with Katie. I told her how frustrated I was that our progress had stalled. We’d been using the nipple shield for 7 weeks at that point, and frankly, it was still a gigantic pain in my ass. My son had relearned what boobs were for, but between all of the gear and the inefficiency of the shield itself, feedings took a long time. They were physically uncomfortable. And now that he wasn’t entirely bottle fed, I had no idea how much milk I was actually making on any given day, or how much he was taking in outside of the bottles. The whole thing was a total mindfuck.
Katie decided to make adjustments. I’d been nursing Jackson using the football hold, but at nearly four months, he’d gotten a little too big for it. So, she moved him into a cross-cradle position instead. This was an instant improvement.
I started nursing him using the shield. Then Katie instructed me to take it off. I did, and my son fussed. Katie knelt down, looked him square in the eye, and said, “Drink your milk, Jackson. Drink your milk.”
And then he did.
This is how I like to tell the story, anyway. If you ask Katie, she’ll add in some crucial details, like how he was smiling at her, flirting in his little baby way, and how she started opening and closing her mouth to show him what to do. And how, in imitating her, he finally – finally! – got it.
He nursed the boob empty, latching and unlatching himself several times. Katie had me switch him to the other side. He drained that boob, too. I put him back on the first boob, where he mostly comfort sucked for the rest of the appointment. By the end, he’d taken in six full ounces.
We joked about how my stubborn little boy would probably refuse to latch without her there telling him to drink his milk. “Keep me posted,” Katie said.
His next feeding had to be done by bottle, since I had a conference call for work. But the one after that, I strapped myself into my ginormous nursing pillow, took a deep breath, and offered him a boob.
He took it, easily, and nursed until he fell asleep.
I was in shock. My husband was in shock. Was this it? Had I finally reached my goal?
I took a picture of Jackson, still hugging my boob to his sleeping face, and emailed it to Katie with the subject line “Prepare to have your mind blown.”
Her response? “Yeeeeesssss!!!!!!”
In those first few days, I didn’t completely trust the whole back-on-the-boob thing. We gave a few bottles at home. But at a certain point, I had to hold my breath and dive in.
And then I had to grit my teeth.
Even though Jackson was just shy of four months, to my boobs it was like Day 1. His latch was shallow, his top lip didn’t flange out properly, and he was using me like a human pacifier. It hurt. It hurt a lot. My husband would stand there, watching me fight back tears, my eyes squinched up in pain, and plead with me to stop.
I didn’t. (But you knew that already, didn’t you?)
It took a while to break my boobs in. All-Purpose Nipple Ointment helped. So did good old-fashioned time.
There have been milestones along the way. The first time we left the house without a bottle in the diaper bag, for one. The first time I nursed Jackson in front of my stepdaughter, for another.
Transitioning to a nursing-except-for-day care relationship hasn’t been without its challenges, either. But that’s another post for another day.
Here’s what I know: when I look at Jackson, and I make the ASL sign for “milk,” his eyes get bright and his face lights up in a smile and he reaches his little arms out in my direction. I pick him up and he cuddles into me. Sometimes his eyes roll back in his head. Sometimes he does that triple breath-sigh thing that babies do. Often, he falls asleep, still hugging me close.
Way back when I first met Katie, even before my little burrito was born, she asked me about my breastfeeding goals. At the top of my list? To give my baby breast milk for at least six months.
Tomorrow, I reach that goal.
I didn’t get here alone, but if I thanked everyone who supported me on this journey, I’d be like the set designer who gets played off at the Oscars because her speech is too damned long.
So instead I’ll say this: I’m grateful to all of you. You know who you are.
Now, onto one year!