Breastfeeding didn’t ever really seem like a choice. I didn’t weigh my options between formula and the breast. I just did it. It seemed natural.
My mother did it, my grandmothers did it, and I reached for my three babies to put them to my breast from the moments they came out of my body. When we struggled to latch, when I was uncomfortable, when the babies bit me, when I spent my time pumping at a desk instead of going to run an errand, when I had clogged ducts… All of these moments just seemed like part of a process, a journey with my baby. They weren’t things that made me want to summarize my experience as all bad or all good. There have been up moments and down moments. There were cluster feeding clusterf#%@$ when I couldn’t do anything but read a book and park myself in a chair with the baby most hours of the day. Don’t get me wrong, breastmilk is a biological amazement, but it wasn’t about breast is best.
My breastfeeding relationship with each baby has been different.
With little Sophie, I worried about doing it right. I scheduled feedings and marked which breast I’d nursed on last. I pumped a Costco-sized box full of frozen milk to make sure there was always enough. I dumped when I had a drink. Sophie made sighing noises when she ate, and I always admired her little baby girl eyelashes as they fluttered while she swallowed. I remember crying while I held her in my arms because I didn’t think I could feel so much overwhelming love at the same time that I also felt terrified that something would happen to her now that she was outside the safe walls of my own body.
I took Jude, my second, with me to graduate classes and breastfed him in class three days after he was born. He coo-ed. I remember sitting in the back of the class, hoping no one would turn around and catch me at an awkward moment. I knew they didn’t care and that there was a general gratitude for having something new and novel in the classroom to bring life into the monotony of school. I looked down into his little face and wondered what 50% of me as a boy would look like, whether his relationship with me would be different because of the opposite-sex parent thing. Feeding, no matter what, gave me the time to stare at him and think of all the things he might become, contemplate how tiny his hands, how sweet his coos and how one day that sweet voice will drop and he will sound like a man.
Now, a few years later, I’ve fed David for longer than I fed either of the others. At 15 months, he looks up and talks to me about the toy he’s holding while he nurses, smiles while he tries to stay latched. He prefers to sit up, rather than assume the typical cradle position of a newborn. He has times when he’s too busy to nurse, and times when he needs to stay close for hours. He tries acrobatic nursing because his little body is so into exploring and learning, he sometimes seems torn between wanting to nurse and wanting to play, so he tries to do both, but my boobs are attached!
I feel guilt that my first two didn’t get as much breastfeeding time as my youngest. I feel that simultaneous feeling of giving everything I can to my babies, and still worrying that they don’t have enough. But that’s not being a breastfeeding mom. That’s just motherhood.
Breastfeeding is a total seven senses experience. We rock (vestibular), we hold close (proprioceptive), we smell each other, he tastes the milk and all it’s variations depending what I’ve eaten that day, he stares at me unabashedly, hears my voice and heart, his little hands touch my necklace, my hair, my shirt, my skin. It’s not just for him either. I love the euphoria of the oxytocin rush – the complete feeling of relaxing warm fuzzies – nature’s way of encouraging me to keep going, to enjoy my babies.
Most of all, I love that I can give life to my children directly from my body – even though the cord is cut. I act as an living pharmacy. Even though their tenancy inside my body is over, I still sustained them. It makes me proud of myself, of my worn, stretched, wrinkled, sagging body.