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It takes two: the breastfeeding mantra that saved me

In the early days, I disappeared. 

Long before I lay awake in the delivery suite in the early morning hours of my daughter’s arrival, I had intended to breastfeed. I had done my research; books, birthing classes, and all the anecdotal information I could glean from the initiated. Now here she was, clinging to my breast like a tiny barnacle awash in a strange new sea of lights, and sound, and inconsiderate draughts. Tenderly tossed onto my shoulder, she latched almost immediately, as if to say she wouldn’t be leaving this whole survival gig solely up to me. Wise lass. According to the experts, who knew neither my baby nor me, it was all smooth sailing from here.  

Except it wasn’t. I was told repeatedly that given her good latch, there shouldn’t be any pain. I call BS. Even with a perfect latch, hours upon hours of breastfeeding for the very first time will hurt like holy hell for your sorely surprised bosom. It would have been far more helpful for me to hear from the lovely call center lady, “ook, you might be in pain for weeks, far longer than you expect, but you are doing great. Oh, and quickly dear, you will get mastitis but you are not in fact, dying.”  

In the first few months of tearful nights and suspicious blisters, I seemed to disappear from my body and myself entirely. I fed on demand, and my daughter was blissfully unaware of what we refer to as a “schedule”. On the darkest days, I wished for her to take a bottle, pleaded with the powers that be for a small break from my grueling role as head and chief life-giver. Alas, my daughter refused the bottle until very recently, a whole nine months later. I could never pump enough to make the arduous task remotely worth it anyway. If she happened to take formula in that bottle, I would have been ecstatic. No, my rigourous preparation was completely disrupted by the one gritty detail I could never possibly nail down, my gorgeous daughter. 

No one on earth could have told me how all-consuming feeding my baby would be. Or prepared me for that silent arrival, that one unspeakable moment when it finally shifted into place. And if it still isn’t what I would call easy, it is familiar and mostly enjoyable. It is ours. 

Between You And Me

Such an intimate thing isn’t outlined in an article or an Instagram slide. I discovered that breastfeeding is not just another method in the index of the latest parenting book, either. It is a relationship. More appropriately, feeding is about a network of relationships. Nourishing a newborn and keeping yourself fed is nearly impossible without some form of help. A society that supports women in their feeding choices surrounds them with helping hands, encouraging words, and warm bowls of soul food. The inescapable breastfeeding-versus-formula debate is never about the actual feeding. It is about our fundamental need to form an identity as a mother who is both accepted and seen by the larger socio-cultural group. Yet, it was when I listened and prioritized what I felt and knew to be true about my mothering, that I found not only my feet but also my joy.

Shifting our focus to how feeding is a relationship – rather than a technique to be mastered – allows us to peel away all the other irrelevant layers. Revealed are the only important people in the whole endeavor: you and your child. Slip into your soundproof bubble, the one that drowns out all other voices, and let your hearts sing out the rhythm and the way. 

Relationships of all kinds are constantly evolving, ever under negotiation, and ideally, moving deeper into understanding and love. They are also messy. As one half of a relationship, it is natural to feel torn, stretched to the limits, troubled with doubts, and even disappointed about how some things go. The thing about really good relationships is that they change us. However you end up nourishing both you and your baby in the first year, that process will transform you. 

At first, I felt like I might disappear into the endless feedings. Now I can see how I will start to miss them when they are gone. My freedom will be framed by the soft sadness of never again. I find no greater pleasure than feeding outside on a patch of grass, with the sun shining on both our burrowed heads. I feel like a sturdy tree someone has repotted in the warmest and most fruitful bit of soil they could find. Here we are forced to pause, life giving back to life, a little surer each day that we are meant to be. 

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