Friday, September 11, 2009

My Un-Breastfeeding Story

The other day a new friend asked me if I was still nursing.

"No," I said. "No. Uh, and no."

"Oh. Okay??"

"Yeah, uh. There's a story," I said.

Maybe that's there's not much of a story about my experience breast feeding Elke IS the story.

I nursed Jake for a year. We were fiercely connected. I produced a ton of milk. So much milk, that my breastfed baby looked like a formula fed baby. He was round, chubby, and loving, and would not take a bottle. It was the joy of my life, and the curse. I couldn't get enough of him. I couldn't get away from him! It was the first paradox of motherhood that I was introduced to. (He is 16 months here. My milk was good, but it wasn't that good!)

At eight months, I got a sitter. I was desperate for some space. I needed breathing room. It was that feeling of get off me. Give me back my body. Then there was also the feeling that I could nurse forever. And looking at my eight month baby boy, I wished I could nurse forever, and would even say, Can I still nurse you in kindergarten? Because I would if I could. (Though now that he's actually in kindergarten, the idea of nursing a five-year-old frightens me.)

I knew I would breastfeed Elke. Having nursed Jake so long, I was a pro, right? I didn't need no lactation consultant tell me how to feed a child. Come on! The lactation nurse in the hospital came into the room and told me to put Elke inside my shirt. Like a kangaroo.

The pediatrician came in and said, I cannot believe this baby has gained weight in two days! Your milk is magic!

Holy shit, I was such a well-seasoned veteran, I nursed and played Wii on my first day back from the hospital!

But because I had been so intensely sucked into nursing (pun!) with Jake, mama needed a bit of space. I had a babysitter from the get-go. The next step was to bottle feed. This was a relief for many reasons, the main one being FREEDOM.

The other was a little different. Elke didn't seem to love breastfeeding. She didn't fall asleep at the breast. She choked. She gagged. My breasts overproduced milk, and her time nursing was challenging, like a constant fight for her to control the milk flow.

Any veteran nursing mother knows where I'm going with this. The minute I put a bottle into that baby's mouth, she was relaxed. The next time I gave her the nipple - as in my nipple - she rejected it. As in, uh, lady, why you giving me that crazy fountain?

She went on a full nursing strike. I used a different body wash. I nursed with the opposite arm. Every day and night was a constant struggle. And I realized, I was missing out on this bonding time with her because I was so focused on the nursing. I missed those times where I rested with with Jake on my bed. The two of us side-by-side and just listened to him breathe. I didn't need to nurse Elke to have this, I realized, so I started laying down on the bed with her. The way I used to breastfeed Jake in bed. Except we were quiet. We were there for peace.

And then I got mastitis. And if you've never had mastitis, it's as if Wolverine is assaulting your breasts. And then I was done with breastfeeding.

So I'd cry myself to sleep at night about my inability to feed my daughter. Andy would hear me crying more in the shower, as I stared down at my full, unimportant, useless breasts. There was also the phyiscality of it; I had the pregnancy from hell, and now I couldn't even nurse my baby. Oh, what we do to ourselves. But really, oh, what we do to ourselves!

I searched through breastfeeding message boards reading posts from women who were still exclusively nursing and I'd curse the day I gave her the bottle.

But time passed. My hormones passed. My expectations of being the best nursing mother ever passed. Elke started nuzzling me. And falling asleep on my shoulder. And then she started saying, "da-da," even though I know she really means ma-ma. And I have balance in my life. I have a baby who I can walk away from - and then come back to. And I can have sex with my husband without a bra!

And Elke is still my little kangaroo. See?


  1. Oh Hayley, I had the opposite experience from you! I tried so hard to nurse my son. He was the laziest eater around! He'd fall asleep about one millisecond after latching on (which was hell on it's own; cracked bleeding nipples that I had) and the thought of taking him on only to need to re-latch was...not happening.

    I got mastitis...three times! The first time I gave him a bottle and thought my nursing days were over. Then the next day after some antibiotics and anti-inflammatories I tried again. Got mastitis again; tried see the pattern. I was done after time #3. I felt horrible! I called my lactation consultant to cancel my next appointment and couldn't even speak. I felt like a failure.

    When I had my daughter, I couldn't wait to try again. I was prepared for the pain and ready to face whatever would come. But my daughter was the best nurser ever! She was always efficient. I was sore, but I worked through it. She could always handle my overabundance of milk. It was the wonderful experience I wanted with my son. At 11 months, she's still going strong although she's being forced to wean a bit because I've gone back to work. Luckily she's transitioning well. Nursing her has truly been a blessing for me.

  2. Goodness, you did have the opposite - yet, same - experience. At least we both had one amazing breast feeding experience, and obviously can see that the bond with our child makes no difference whether you breast feed or not... OH, and that mastitis. Three times? Lordy.


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