Saturday, May 31, 2014

Boobs! More Than Just Fun Bags

Breasts. Boobies. Ta-tas.

There are several words for women's milk machines (hey, there's another one!) but their intended purpose has always been clear. As shirt fillers and devices to get free drinks. At least that is what I thought before I had a baby.

I never gave much thought to my breasts before. Sure, I would bemoan their size (on the bigger side I was always wanting less while other women desired more) and my inability to comfortably sport a spaghetti top or strapless anything was a thorn in my summer-lovin' side. As far as sexual objects, I knew men love a good set of jugs, but I wasn't one to flaunt or display them on purpose although their prominence made that inevitable at times. But as to their real purpose, I never stopped to think about providing food for a future child until I became pregnant. And then all I did was worry and stress about being able to do it correctly. I knew breastfeeding was challenging, many women often give up due to frustration or lack of support. I was determined to make it work because I wanted the best for my baby, but realistically I knew I may not be able to adequately feed my child. And I would be okay with that. But darn it if I was going to go down without a fight. Still, the questions loomed. Would I produce enough milk? Would my child latch properly? Would it hurt? Within the first month of attempting this thing called breastfeeding I would have answers to those burning questions: Yes, eventually. Yes, eventually. And hell YES, right away.

As I stated in my after birth post, we all know my lack of milk right away led to Babycakes being holed up in a luxury suite in the NICU. While a very long and scary week for us, that time also provided me some much needed practice and tutorials from nursing staff about the elusive art of breastfeeding and, more importantly, pumping. Because while breastfeeding proved to be challenging and a bit daunting with the myriad of problems I hit along the way, pumping was second nature for me. Once I learned a few tricks, and really listened to my body and read it's signs, I became a pumping champion. Which provided me the opportunity to feed my baby my own milk rather than formula pretty much right away. By day two of her stay in the NICU I was producing enough milk to keep Babycakes' daily feedings to be solely from me. Something I was very proud of. But pumping, while great at keeping up my supply and getting my daughter the nourishment she needed, is very time consuming. So in order to keep my life from being a constant repertoire of pump, feed, clean, repeat every hour, I would need to get these titties in check and make them step up to the plate.

My first stumbling block was the pain. I had heard about engorgement and wondered what it would feel like when my milk came in. Being a rather large-chested girl I bemused that there wasn't much further my double lattes could go in the heavier than thou department. Ha! Little did I know how huge and uncomfortable the sudden influx of milk could make not just my sweater stretchers ache, but my whole body. And pumping would only ease some of the issue. I needed a good feed to make those bad boys behave, only to have them flair up again before the next feeding. But Babycakes had a bit of a latching issue which made for very sore and very chapped Mommy bits. The first time I pumped, after three days of trying, and failing, to get Babycakes to latch and feed properly, I produced more blood than milk and had to toss the whole lot. My joy at discovering lanolin helped clear up that problem but the latching issue was still weighing over both of us. Frustration levels were so high there were times I had to put her down and walk away because she was screaming so much at not being able to eat and I was crying at not being able to help her. I would yell at this poor, helpless infant to just take the damn nipple, I'm trying to help you as she screamed and screamed and I screamed along with her in fatigue. I constantly worried I would suffocate the poor thing as she tried to take my massive girth into her itty bitty mouth. I tried every hold imaginable, cradle, football, laying down, even hovering over her like a looming hot air balloon, dangling the gift basket of food over her open mouth. Nothing worked. I felt defeated and sore and lacking the confidence to consider a day when I would be good at this thing that centuries of women before did effortlessly while still performing household chores and I couldn't grasp with a multitude of tutorials at my fingertips.

Desperate for anything that may help, I reached out to a local La Leche League member and asked for some assistance. While some of the things this woman told me over the phone were interesting and a few things were angles I never considered before, I figured a visit to one of their meetings may shed the holy light on this mythical thing called breastfeeding. Charming and I loaded up the babe and went to what turned out to be a complete waste of two hours of our lives. Time we will never get back and left us somewhat scarred beyond help. Now, I'm not going to bash anyone on here because everyone has their own way of doing things, but my expectations of that meeting were so far away of what actually occurred I can't believe I would be so naive. I envisioned a group of women providing one-on-one service to those of us struggling to get to the point where we could whip our globes out and pop the kid on in no time, all without flashing too much skin and continuing to do whatever we were doing before the child wanted to be fed. I just needed HELP. I needed someone to show me what I was doing wrong so that Babycakes and I could get over this hump and into the part where the bonding was supposed to happen. Because right now, breastfeeding was a pain in the ass and I was rapidly losing patience. What we got was a room full of women intent on socializing together while their multiple children ran around screaming loud enough to test sound barriers and occasionally coming up to mom for a snack. While I'm open-minded and all for nourishing your child, when they can walk up to you and take it out themselves while you still chat with your friend about the great eco-friendly biodegradable diapers you made from leftover burlap (you think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not) it's time to turn off the tap. There was an actual discussion about how to wean a five year-old so that he could play T-ball without needing some num-nums from mom. We should have walked out long before then.

I then turned to my saving grace in those dark, dark weeks. My friends came through loud and clear and helped drag me out of the pits of despair by letting me know they all suffered too. They all felt like they hated their child and themselves and wondered if they would get there. And they survived! But I attribute a visit by my friend A as my turning point. She came to see how I was doing, meet Babycakes and offer any advice she could with my situation. And what she said changed everything about my predicament. "Relax," she told me. "You're her mom, you know what to do that is best for her. Everything else will just happen and that's okay." It seemed so easy and yet so incredibly hard at the same time. But she was right. Once I didn't let all my mystical inadequacies bog me down, once I just let what would happen, happen, it became so easy. I became almost zen, so much so Charming even remarked how much more serene and relaxed I was about everything. Once I let go of the fear and realized things would work out no matter what, I was able to do it! And I've never looked back.

I've had a few stumbling blocks along the way. A dip in my supply when I went back to work. The first time I had to feed in public. Reworking our lives around Babycakes' feeding schedule (I've gotten great at feeding in the backseat of our car while running errands.) Her recent game of let's see how far I can turn my head and still stay attached. But for the most part breastfeeding has become just another part of our day for me. So much so I had a hard time remembering those really hard first few weeks that feel so long ago. I'm happy to report that rather than a time for frustration and pain, it's a time that's just for Babycakes and me. A time for us to bond and be together. For me to nourish her and for her to receive the greatest thing I could provide for her. Besides shoving her out into this world of course.

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