No One Knows Breastfeeding Until They Experience It
I just have to say, before I share my story, that ALL moms are super heroes. I have friends that breastfed, formula fed and everything in between and it is all hard and it is all amazing. We do what we can, to be the best moms we can be. My story happens to be about MY experience with breastfeeding, but no matter what choice was right for your family, I think any new mom can relate to my experience, breastfeeding or not. Here’s to all you super heroes!
When you are pregnant for the first time, everything feels surreal. You can barely believe there is a human being growing inside you.
I would look down at my large belly and swelling breasts that had gone from a modest B-cup to a generous D-cup (thank you hormones!) seemingly overnight, and wonder how these two things would provide nourishment to a tiny helpless baby for the first year of his life.
I will (embarrassingly) admit to squeezing my nipples in the shower in those last few weeks of my pregnancy, trying to see if anything would come out. It didn’t.
I took the much talked about breastfeeding class led by two lactation consultants at a place called The Pump Station (great name, I know). I had a birth doula, who talked to me at length about “latching on”, “pumping” “colostrum”, and different ways to hold the baby while feeding. It all seemed very overwhelming and kind of hard to actually imagine. But after hearing so many wonderful moms before me tell me it was the most natural innate thing, I was convinced I was the earth momma I was born to be, that it would be wonderful and would just… happen.
The moment my son was born, was unforgettable. He was perfect, he was mine, but he was so SMALL, 5 pounds 8 ounces. The nurse immediately put him on my chest, and this primal, animalistic feeling came over me and I felt the urgency to feed him right away, to nourish this tiny being. Suddenly, hands where everywhere, my nurse’s hands were helping me position him, my doula’s hands were helping him latch and my husband’s hands were, well, I don’t really remember what his hands were doing, but I’m pretty sure they were no where near my boobs.
My breasts suddenly felt like public property and any sexiness they had possessed before this moment completely evaporated. All that mattered was getting this sweet little person to eat. He latched on gently, suckling away. I’ll never forget that feeling. Thus it began. This relationship that would cause me indescribable joy, undefinable fear and undeniable pain (both physical and emotional).
While still at the hospital I was determined to get this “breastfeeding thing” right. I made an appointment to see the in house lactation consultant, and she went over all the different holds I could try. There was the one for twins (not for me), the football hold for big breasts (also regrettably not for me), so we settled on the cross hold, basically holding him straight across me and supporting his head with one hand while the other helped position his mouth onto my nipple.
Well, let’s just say, as much as we are meant to do this, this whole breastfeeding thing was not so innate and is not as easy as it looks.
I called my best friend back home, in tears, because everything hurt. My body hurt, I was tired, and my darned nipples, they hurt so much. They were cracked and bleeding and every time my hungry, sweet baby latched on to eat, I cringed in pain.
She laid it out for me, “Sam, the first month is going to suck, I’m not going to lie, but if you are committed to this, then stick it out and in a few weeks, you guys will both get the hang of it, and you will love it, truly.”
Best advice ever.
The next few weeks were a blur of letdowns, leaks, learning to pump (we’ll get to that later), feeding schedules, sleepless nights and blocked milk ducts (microwaving a wet diaper is a savior).
A few weeks later, my son and I were cuddled in his quiet nursery as the sun was setting and I had a moment of pure joy. He was starring up at me, with adoration (or gas) and he smiled. His little hands were wrapped around mine, my eyes welled up, and my tears spilled onto his perfectly smooth cheeks. This was what my friend had told me about. What moms before me had sold me on. This was that moment.
And then it all changed, again.
Just as my son and I were getting in our groove with breastfeeding, and he started to put on weight, colic began. Colic is when a baby cries, for a long time, all the time. We tried everything, we bounced him on a yoga ball, we propped him up while he slept in case it was acid reflux, we swaddled him tighter, I fed him more frequently, but nothing worked. Finally his pediatrician sent us to a specialist who suggested I cut out dairy, caffeine, soy and basically every enjoyable food group. Well, that did the trick. My breast milk had been causing my baby pain. Cue the mom guilt.
And cut to the freezer filled with 6 months worth of breast milk I’d labored over, pumping every day to have an arsenal of it, all useless to my child now, filled with all the foods that were making him sick.
I ended up donating my liquid gold to a surrogate family in need, all 40 ounces of it. Ouch.
And I’ll be forthcoming with you, I wasn’t one of those moms who was a “milk factory”. Some women produce so much milk, that they can pump for 5 minutes and get ounces of it, I wasn’t that mom. Ryder was so small and ate so slowly and delicately, that I just didn’t produce an excess. I made just enough for him, and that was just the way he liked it. Because…wait for it….he never took a bottle. Like ever. He only wanted me and my boob. And I happily obliged. My work schedule was flexible then. As an actress, I was able to bring a nanny with me if I was on set and I was always able to manage to get to him for each feeding. I scheduled date nights and dinners around his schedule and I brought him with me on out of town jobs.
He would take forever at each feeding, so cuddly and sweet, always staring into my eyes, and caressing me with his little hands. I cherished those quiet pockets of the day together as he got bigger, each one, a special carved out time for the two of us.
I became that mom that could feed on the go. I had the cool cover up and would casually toss it over my outfit at coffee shops, restaurants, bars and many an airplane ride.
This “relationship” with my son was so intimate and dear to me that I couldn’t imagine anything different.
When my husband and I decided we wanted to try to get pregnant again, Ryder was 15 months old and I knew it was the right time to wean him. This was hard for me and for him, but mostly for me.
Ryder was a champ. He was already into solids and loved cups with a straw (wish I’d known that a few months earlier).
I however was a mess. That last night we cuddled together when I knew it was the last time we’d be doing this, this way, was filled with so many feelings. I was proud of my boy, growing up and moving forward to new things. I was excited for the new found freedom, but I was heartbroken to end this part of our relationship I’d worked so hard for and that had turned out to be so wonderful.
I held him a little longer that night and mourned this moment I would never have again with him.
And why did no one tell me about what happens when you wean your baby? I never suffered from post -partum depression, so I had no idea what hit me in the days following my last feeding with my son. My breasts turned into rocks, like literally. My hair started to fall out and my skin lost it’s dewey glow. I cried, like all the time. I’m not kidding, I cried looking at the packaging on my son’s diapers. I cried watching commercials, I cried when I dropped an apple. And then one morning, I woke up and as if someone had stuck a pin in deflated them, my D size breasts were back to B’s, but slightly sadder and different.
I got pregnant a month later, and the first thought that popped into my head, was, yes (!) I get another go at this whole breastfeeding thing.
My second son Asher was born a pound bigger, chunky and like a little cherub. He latched right away as if he knew exactly what he was supposed to do. He ate quickly and ate a lot and I produced a TON of milk. I started pumping right away, this time, avoiding the same food culprits just in case this kid was like his brother and stored away ounces of milk just in case this kid took a bottle.
Asher was quick and to the point. He didn’t linger at my breast the way his brother had. He didn’t look into my eyes or fall asleep in my arms. It was all business and when he finished, he would turn his head away, done.
This was such a different experience, a different relationship, but still one I cherished deeply.
When Asher was 3 months old, I had an interview for a job at a trendy, millennial magazine. Someone flew to LA to interview me, and I was supposed to meet him in the lobby of a super cool hotel in Santa Monica.
I wore a dress that showed off my assets and hid my post pregnancy belly, and came up with a game plan. I had 3 hours to do this thing.
I’d feed him right before I left the house, it would take me 10 minutes to get there, the meeting would take 1 hour max and I’d be home with plenty of time before his next feeding. I didn’t bring my pump because I didn’t need it, right?
Well, as I showed up at the hotel I got a text saying the guy I was meeting was running 1 hour behind and would I wait in the lobby, have a drink and he’d be there shortly. What?! My boobs starting filling up just thinking about my baby at home, who would now likely starve due to my “interview”. My milk leaked all over my dress and I had to run to the bathroom and hand express to get through the next two hours.
Needless to say, I got the job and this changed everything.
Breastfeeding is hard enough, throw being away from your baby in the mix and it become an uphill battle.
I was now on set a few days a week, driving all over the city, shooting in studios and on locations and none had designated places for me to pump or store milk. I got creative. I pumped on the highway on the way to work, I pumped in my car, I pumped in bathrooms, storage room floors, I even pumped on an airplane at takeoff, hoping the sound of the engines would drown out the loud sound of the machine. I’m convinced most of LA has seen my boobs and I’m totally ok with that.
It all worked. Asher went from boob to bottle seamlessly. He seemed to be the kind of kid that as long as it was food, he was cool with it. He would happily cuddle me while he ate and then in Asher fashion, move on as soon as he finished. It was everything to me. I didn’t know if he would be my last baby and I was committed to breastfeeding him as long as he wanted me too. I never wanted it to end.
And then as it does, life threw us a curveball. On a trip home from Canada, flying with my mom and two boys, I became violently ill. I had a stomach virus and was in bed for days, not able to even keep down water. Asher was 10 months now and I continued to breastfeed and pump dutifully through it, giving every ounce of nourishment I had to him. On day 5, when things were not getting better, I went to the hospital. They immediately checked me in and told me they had to admit me because I was so dehydrated and needed to be on an IV of fluids. The virus and breastfeeding had depleted me so severely that I had put myself in a pretty dangerous position.
I was floored. I suddenly was torn away from my baby and I was his food source. Yes, we had a few ounces of breast milk stored but not enough to get through the next few days. I instructed my mom to buy formula, not sure which kind, and told her to mix it with breast milk to ease him into it. I begged the nurses to find me a pump at the hospital so I could keep up my supply for him (and me) and they looked at me like I was insane. Here I was, in the hospital, not concerned with my own well being and overcome with guilt and shame about not being able to feed my son.
That first night in my room when everyone left and I was all alone, I lay in bed and watched Frozen and cried harder then I ever had in my whole life. I ached for my children, for my baby, to hold him and feed him. I had been thrust into this before I was ready, this wasn’t my plan and my hormones were clearly beginning to do their thing.
3 days later, when I got home Asher was happy to get back to breastfeeding but there wasn’t much there. I did everything I could to try to build my supply back but at 10 months that wasn’t an easy feat. I knew the time was coming to say another goodbye to this relationship with this son but I wasn’t ready.
We went back and forth from breast to formula the following weeks and it was almost as if he was appeasing me. One morning when he was just about to turn 1, I presented my breast to him and looked me right in the eyes and pushed it away with his hands and said very clearly “NO”. And that was it.
I went through the same process as I had a year and a half ago, well prepared this time and with more perspective. It wasn’t the end of anything but the beginning of so many new exciting things yet to come.
I will always cherish those nights cuddled together in their rocking chairs, nothing in the whole world but me, them and my boobs.
My two boys are as different as their breastfeeding styles and nowadays we cuddle up at bedtime with books and songs. Ryder still holds my hands and looks into my eyes as I sing him to sleep. Asher finishes his book and milk, and points to his crib and says, “all done.”
It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always the way I planned it, but my journey with breastfeeding has made me the mom I am today.
Earth Mamma. Super Hero. Mom.