“Alright, we are going to go around the room and introduce ourselves. Please say your name, how far along you are, and one benefit you heard breastmilk has.”
As we sat, 10 swollen and sweaty women ranging from 32 to 38 weeks pregnant, in an unairconditioned room in Park Slope Brooklyn that summer, I ate everything up — every bit of knowledge about the benefits of breastmilk. I noted every tip and trick on how to get my soon-to-be child to latch on. I welcomed the wives tales about how to increase my supply, and I scribbled “tell hospital no pacifier: NIPPLE CONFUSION!” in my packet of notes. I wanted to breastfeed from the get-go, but by the end of that two hour lactation session I knew I needed to breastfeed.
There are so many considerations a new mother faces when that piss stick yields a positive result. Things start small, like how do I tell my significant other — or one-night-stand — he's going to be a Daddy or what color sheets should I get for “the bean's” crib, but as the pregnancy progresses, so to do the intensity of the decisions. From that fraudulent document known as a birth plan to picking your pediatrician, another huge decision looms overhead: to breastfeed or not to breastfeed.
I had read countless articles and books by the time I entered that classroom off Sixth Avenue. I knew the benefits long before that strange semi-circle introduction and was determined to exclusively breastfeed my daughter for a full year, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. So it should come as no surprise that I cried as I mixed Amelia’s first bottle, one scoop of Enfamil to 2 ounces of water.
I didn’t plan to give her formula that day. I needed a break and went out with girlfriends for a Sunday brunch, one of those “unlimited drink” kinds which are oh-so-common in New York City. I got dressed in a bright yellow grecian top with corded rope detailing around the neck and shoulders and dark, denim shorts. The remarkable part wasn’t what I was wearing but that it was stain-free, and without a secret pocket — an easy access panel for my boob. When we we arrived I ordered a mimosa. I knew not to drink and breastfeed, but I thought I had everything timed out correctly: I fed her right before we left and consumed the drink as soon as we arrived. (The rule of thumb was to wait two hours after every drink before feeding again.) I had hoped to flush it from my system before we arrived home. Instead, one mimosa turned to two and I relaxed into my newfound freedom — at least until the check came.
You see, as my breasts let their milk down two hours later into the tiny sanitary napkins stiffly stuffed between my bra and nipples, the guilt kicked in. My body was failing her. I was failing her. I wasn’t really (I know that now), but in the midst of sleep deprivation, postpartum depression, and a slight Sunday buzz, I was a wreck — and I stayed that way well after the champagne wore off.
While everyone knows the benefits of breastfeeding, few talk about the downside, the cons of being a creamery, and even fewer say this: breastfeeding isn't always best. And sometimes, just sometimes, breastfeeding can hurt the mother and the baby more than it helps them.
Sure, the unpleasant effects of breastfeeding are well known: the pain of letting down, the chaffed and bloody nipples, and the sheer inconvenience of being the sole provider of snack time, and suckling time. But it is seen by most as a beautiful experience, and one which is imperative for mother-baby bonding. Unfortunately, what isn’t always made clear is that breastfeeding isn't the same as bonding, and it shouldn't be confused as such.
Breastfeeding made bonding with my daughter harder. In the early days, it kept us together, literally. We would both fall asleep on the loveseat, her head propped on her pink nursing pillow while I dipped in and out of conscious, only waking when my head slammed against our air condition. But as time went on it began destroying me and destroying us. It took away my desire to hold her and reduced it to a chore — a rote and resentful behavior.
I felt guilty leaving the house, fearful she might wake from her nap early and need a feeding or simply soft pink pacifier to suckle herself back to sleep. And whether it was the 60 minute sleep sessions or the undiagnosed PPD, I felt trapped.
Instead of feeling like mother and daughter, I felt like nothing more than Amelia’s “boob bitch,” for nine months.
Breastfeeding is difficult, damn difficult. It alters every thought you have, and everything you do. You live in constant fear you are not be producing enough milk because, last time I checked, tits aren’t marked in one ounce increments. (I remember being especially concerned when my daughter would feed for an hour straight while other parents told me their child takes each breast for seven or eight minutes at a time.) There is the guilt that you are doing it wrong, though what “it” is I don’t know. And then there is the exhaustion, the complete collapse of your physical being. Breastfeeding fatigues the body in a way you never thought possible. You are always full yet empty; your body hungry and writhing. Your nipples are sore, your breasts engorged, and your body is still not your own.
If I could go back and change one thing about the “early days” it would be the breastfeeding. Don't get me wrong, there were things I loved about breastfeeding and, I think, I still would have done it, but I would have stopped sooner. I would have stopped when holding Amelia felt like a burden. I would have stopped when doctors prescribed me antidepressants and I stopped taking them for fear of fucking her up — so instead she got a mentally unstable mother and a few ounces of untainted goods. I would have stopped when I started to lose my mind.
And while the breast may in some ways “be best,” it certainly isn’t “the tits.”