Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Best of the Breast

To be absolutely honest, there have been times when I have felt stinging bitterness while reading statements such as, "Oh, I LOVE nursing my baby!!! I want to breastfeed forever!!" Red faced and shamed, I have thought, with my baby latched to my breast, "oh please let this end soon, oh please let this end soon. Deep breath. How much longer? Baby, why aren't you full yet?" That was during a postpartum phase when my certified nurse midwife was ready to write me a prescription for "something" because I had filled out a questionnaire with a few too many indicators for possible post partum depression. "I'm in pain," I exclaimed to her, "every time he eats I'm in pain. He's six weeks old, so he eats all the time!" At times with blood dripping from me, blood dripping from his mouth. The feeling akin to hundreds of nails shooting into my nipples and through my breast. Cringeing through moments that were supposed to be special.

With both of my children I have gone through nearly every problematic issue possibly related to breastfeeding. I won't catalogue them all here, I don't really want to dwell in that space right now. Right now I want to gloat and dance the dance of someone who has come through the other side and witnessed the beauty that all of those other lucky women have beheld. I want to revel in those moments of breastfeeding that have not hurt, and have brought joy to my children and myself.

I am grateful for every chance I have had to feed my child from my body. In all of my reading on the topic (obsessive and exhaustive, stimulated by those hyper-focused new mama hormones), oh the stories I found out there! The discouraging, sad stories of pain, frustration and so much worry. Our new mama job is to Keep The Baby Alive. Everything else can go to hell, but Keeping The Baby Alive. When you plan to keep the baby alive via breastfeeding, but breastfeeding is not the simple, beautiful joy that surely nature must have intended... betrayal, heartbreak, fear, shame, anger.... but wait, I said I was not going to go there!

Instead I'll go to Mt. Tabor, the extinct volcano near my house in SE Portland. I was there just today, with my daughter, my partner, and my baby. While my daughter and her father explored the hillside, my sixth-month-old was ready for a meal. I nestled my back into the V bottom of a douglas fir, exposed roots supporting my arms. Stretching my legs out in the green grass, I released the straps of the baby carrier and positioned my baby gently in my arms, at my breast, where he latched easily. It was probably 80 degrees, blue skies, a gentle breeze ruffling the branches of the maples and doug firs surrounding me. A couple walked by. One of the pair, a woman in her 50s, strong and healthy and smiling happily, but not intrusively, at me. I smiled back, the exchange between two women who know how precious it is to do what I was doing. Gentle encouragement. Looking down I saw my baby, eating contentedly. Looking up I saw sky, clouds and the life of the trees. Looking outward I saw the vista of my favorite city, my home, my view. It was one of those special moments seemingly designed to erase the pains of a few short months ago. A moment to remind me of other breastfeeding moments that were particularly poignant: in the California Redwoods (pictured above), soothing my daughter simply and easily through a few different plane flights, sitting on river rocks as a cold Cascade Mountain Range runoff bubbled by, and that time I fed my son at my breast again, after a day of formula and pumping so I could heal enough to cope through more newborn feedings.

If you have had a special breastfeeding moment (or moments) that you would like to share, please do!


Sara said...

I love those moments when my ds finishes nursing and gives me that contented, full belly smile. It's a smile that shows we just shared something together that can't be duplicated by anyone else.

erin said...

I love the moments in the middle of the night when I actually get to nurse my DS2 without DS1 climbing all over us. :-) It's so serene; the moonlight streaming through my bedroom curtains, making it just light enough for me to see his chubby little body. His face so sleepy, yet thrilled that he's about to be nursing again. *sigh*

It's strange, to me, how often the ups and downs and depths of a nursing relationship are overlooked amongst mothers. Nursing is neither purely joyful or purely functional--it is truly a relationship, littered with pain and happiness and awe and sorrow, as are all relationships. How I wish someone had told me that a long time ago.

BeanyMama said...

It is a surreal, beautiful, intense relationship, ita. I'm breastfeeding my third and the intensity still blows me away. It is so simple and so amazing.