Saturday, September 5, 2009

When Boobs Stop Being Sexy

Here’s a fun topic: breastfeeding. Have I lost you already? I promise you, I’m going somewhere with this. Maybe.


The thing is, ever since I had Charlotte, breastfeeding has practically taken over my life. The first few weeks I obsessed about my “supply” and “nipple confusion”. Have you ever talked to a lactation consultant? Picked up a copy of La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding? It’s terrifying. Giving a baby a pacifier will cause nipple confusion, causing the baby to forget how to nurse, thus sabotaging breastfeeding. If you’re gonna pop one of those in your kid’s mouth, might as well follow it up with a bottle of formula because you have ruined your chances of breastfeeding. RUINED IT! And speaking of bottles of formula, don’t let the nurses give your baby any of that stuff in the hospital because this will ensure that your milk never comes in, or at least that your supply will never be enough to feed your growing baby. RUINED.

I was so smug while I was preparing to breastfeed. I had taken a class, read a book. I was educated. No pacifiers for my daughter, nor would she be sucking down any of that supply-reducing elixir they call formula. It would be easy. Yeah, until it’s 2 A.M. and the baby screams every time she’s taken off my boob and my nipples are cracked and bleeding, and the nurse is like “Do you want me to give her a pacifier?”, and I’m like “Nooooooo, it will RUIN breastfeeding”, and my husband is like “Give her a pacifier you neurotic woman before we all lose our minds”…then it isn’t so easy not to give her a pacifier. So I did. But, at least I turned down the formula! Until my baby was so jaundiced they weren’t going to let me take her home, and her billirubin levels were off the chart, and the doctor hands me a bottle of formula and is like, “Give this to her or you’re leaving the hospital without her”. Then it isn’t so easy to not give her formula. So I did. Well, actually my husband did while I wept uncontrollably, not wanting to watch. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think formula is poison or anything; it’s just that I had always wanted to breastfeed my babies, and, like I said, I was worried this was the beginning of the end.

Luckily, the formula worked its magic; she pooped out all the billirubin, and we were able to take her home. And, in fact, we gave her small amounts of formula the first week or so while we waited for my milk to come in. It always made me a little nervous, but we only gave her an ounce or so after she had already nursed, and pretty soon, she was being exclusively breastfed. I had heard that beginning to breastfeed was hard, and it was. There were nights when Chris would come home to find me nursing Charlotte and crying. I cried because it hurt when I couldn’t get her to latch on properly. I cried because I felt I wasn’t making enough to satisfy her. I cried because I was afraid she wasn’t pooping enough, wasn’t gaining enough weight. But mostly I cried because I was TIRED.

It did get easier. But, I am still surprised by how much my life is influenced by it. Going too long without nursing her can cause painful engorgement, which is why I have found myself using a breast pump in the parking lot of the Greek theatre before a concert, in the car while my husband drove us to San Francisco, in the family room of a mall, and at the houses of friends. It puts ridiculous restraints on my diet, as everything I enjoy seems to make her gassy or keeps her awake. I have endured the pumping, the breast infection and plugged ducts, the leaky boobs, the sacrifice of that second glass of wine, and the endless nighttime feedings. But, the past month has been particularly difficult.

When I feed Charlotte in public, I use a nursing cover. I don’t do it because of the way society shames the breastfeeding woman; I use it because it’s how I feel comfortable. Well, Charlotte HATES it. She doesn’t want to be covered by a pink drape; she wants to look around, see what’s going on! So, she screams. She screams and pushes herself away from me. In fact, even when I don’t use the cover, like when I feed her in my car, she is more interested in viewing her surroundings than in staring at my chest while she eats. It’s become a huge problem because we go out every single day. And it’s humiliating when people are already staring at you for having the audacity to nurse in a coffee shop, and then the baby screams like you are trying to kill her rather than nourish her. Add to this the fact that she started screaming in the car because I can’t get her to eat enough before we leave for our destination, and I had pretty much had it.

My reaction to all this nonsense can be summed up in two words: I quit.

I quit. I quit. I quit.

I considered weaning. I just thought, “Hey, I’ve given you my body for long enough. Maybe it’s time I got it back to myself”. But, because I wasn’t prepared to do that until she was six months, and because ONE time she took a bottle of expressed milk while sitting on my lap in a restaurant, I thought we could try bottles while we’re out, and that would be a good segue into her taking bottles exclusively. And since I wouldn’t always have expressed breast milk handy, she would get the occasional bottle of formula. Of course, this is not a decision to be made lightly, so I agonized, I talked to my friends, I obsessed, I talked to my husband, I agonized some more. Everyone was incredibly supportive.

Well, it turned out all this agonizing was for nothing, because she causes just as big a scene drinking from a bottle as she does nursing. It’s nice to be fully clothed when she is causing said scene, but it still sucks. She’s just never really taken to the bottle; something I knew about her, but in my naiveté thought she would magically get better at it in order to accommodate my plan. Turns out there is no easy solution to this problem. If there had been, I might have been well on my way to weaning. Then again, maybe not. Because even in the midst of all my breastfeeding angst, every time I started going over the logistics of weaning in my head, I would want to cry. It was really frustrating, but I had somehow really come to enjoy the bonding experience of breastfeeding, something I never thought I would understand.

At the moment, I am happy with my decision to keep nursing my daughter. I may have to cut some outings short, or cancel them all together. I may have to endure the embarrassment of wrestling her onto my boob in our local Starbucks. I may go clinically insane from a prolonged exposure to her constant latch-breaking and whining. But, someday I will have my body back. And I’ll also have the memories of an experience we both enjoyed…sometimes.

Oh. And the day she’s totally weaned? I’m getting TRASHED. Tequila shots, anyone?


  1. Oh, yeah, I will SO be drinking with you when that day comes. Oh, wait. Do I have to babysit while you get trashed? See how you are? Children are self-centered monsters? But so cute.

  2. I loved the exchange about the pacifier and the neurotic woman bit. You've got a flair for writing - just like your mom.

  3. You can drink with me! She has another grandmother to fill in as babysitter.

    Thanks, Jim!