After my second child was born, I decided I wanted my boobs back. It was a long journey, learning I deserved my boobs. Everyone had been telling me they belonged to my babies since my daughter was born three years ago. I tried breastfeeding her, but stopped when she didn’t gain weight. I felt less guilty about my first attempt than my second effort with my son. After all, he wasn’t losing weight yet – no more than a normal newborn, anyway. He started at a healthy 9 lbs 7 oz, so he wasn’t exactly wasting away.
And breastfeeding was apparently the pinnacle of motherhood. All the mothering tomes I read disagreed on many things – co-sleeping, solid foods, how to remove beans from the nose – but on one subject they were unanimous: if you didn’t breastfeed, you were obviously a lazy bon-bon-eating mommy who couldn’t be bothered to properly nourish your baby. How could anyone possibly want anything but the best for her baby? And indisputably, the best thing was breastfeeding.
But I hated it. I didn’t want to hold my son anymore because it was a job, not an adventure in getting to know him. And the sleep, my god the sleep! I craved it like an addict. I snuck naps sitting on the bathroom toilet. I caressed my bed longingly as I walked by, buried my nose in the covers and imagined a time machine that would let me sleep for three days solid without causing my son to starve. I shambled around the house while my three-year-old tried to understand who this zombie was who used to read her books and tickle her. And why the zombie always had a hungry, crying appendage attached to her chest.
I was caught up in the whole vicious circle: baby always wanting to nurse, me not having enough milk. I felt like a 24-hour grocery store at the apocalypse – understocked and trying to keep the customers from rioting.
My lactation consultant – a warm, sympathetic, patient woman – calmly talked me down as I sobbed into the phone in my doctor’s private office while my three-year-old destroyed every anatomical model in sight. I gently chastised my daughter to stop, held my newborn, clutched the phone to my ear and tried to figure out what was wrong with me that I couldn’t manage to do this thing women had done for thousands of years. The lactation consultant praised me for being so patient with my daughter. She didn’t know what I was actually thinking: I can get rid of my first child. After all, I have a spare now, right?
All those burgeoning post-pregnancy hormones rose up to make me a blubbering mess. I sat in the office crying, holding, distracting, dissolving. The consultant suggested buying a breast pump and pumping every four hours to increase milk production. So, I bought the expensive pump at the medical supply store, even though we could barely afford it. Every night, I tried to feed my son as he woke every two to three hours, and then got up again to pump on the four-hour schedule.
My husband couldn’t do any of it for me. The experts warned against giving supplementary bottles, claiming the baby would become accustomed to the fake nipple. I doubted this. But I didn’t know if I could stand losing to the synthetic version of me, so I got up every two hours most nights.
In the evolutionary sense, I felt like a total failure. My genetic profile was too weak to survive. My DNA did not deserve to go on. My son was losing I.Q. points every minute because I couldn’t squirt out enough nourishment to grow his brain cells efficiently. He could have been Secretary of State, but because of me he would work in a video store.
And the pumping wasn’t working. I called the lactation consultant again, and she suggested a medication that might improve milk production. I filled the prescription with total despair. I took one chalky pill, and then I stopped. I couldn’t do it anymore. I put away the breast pump, and I threw away the pills. I was done. It had been decided. I was a bad mother, and I was going to embrace it. What was next? Soda in the baby bottle or putting him to sleep face down? Decisions, decisions.
I felt guilty every day. But slowly, I also started to feel like a person again. I was possessive of my breasts now. It was time for us to get reacquainted. I got out my non-nursing bra and penned up my breasts for an entire day. No flaps were unflapped, no snaps unsnapped. On his new formula regimen, my son fell into a sound sleep that lasted five blissful hours.
Without the miracle of modern formula, my kids would have died. I went out to lunch and lingered over dessert instead of circling home like Without the miracle of modern formula, my kids would have died. A mother pigeon with hungry mouths to feed. There was room on my lap for my first child. She had not adjusted well to having a baby brother permanently attached to my chest. Now I could make it up to her and convince her that the baby wasn’t a space alien sucking the life out of her mother. She stopped peeing on the floor of her room to get my attention. All was better in the world.
And one day, when my mother walked in holding my son, I was struck by an unfamiliar urge. I wanted to hold him. I wanted to hold him and just be his mother. Not the mother who had to feed him, but the mother who just wanted to look at how beautiful he was. I actually wanted him in my arms instead of wanting to hide from him.
Later I felt guilty about my breastfeeding breakdown. Without the miracle of modern formula, my kids would have died. I didn’t have what it took to ensure the survival of my species. But years later, I realized the truth. When my level of suffering became so great that I considered faking a spontaneous coma to get some rest, it was much better for my son to have a plugged in, adoring mother than a milkshake dispenser. I didn’t feel guilty anymore.
I hear the pro-breastfeeding camp mission to new mothers, and I smile serenely. Nutritionally deprived my children may be, but I can look them in their I.Q.-challenged little faces and not want to sell them to the gypsies. And I can sleep with that.