Photo by Brooke Collier. brookecollierphotography.com
Our first night at home with Mila was a very determined and complicated dance. Mike would hold her as I tried to squeeze little beads of milk out of my boob onto a spoon. Then we’d put it in her mouth. She would soothe for a second as I let her suck on my pinky finger and then she’d remember that she wanted food and start screaming again. So we’d repeat the process. Pass her to dad, massage the boob, collect three tiny drops on the spoon, put in baby’s mouth, let her suck, scream, repeat. After several rounds, then we’d try to get her to latch on with the shield. It felt like a nightmare. And our Wednesday appointment with the lactation consultant felt like a million years away. Surely our baby was going to die of starvation.
The next day, as I continued to work with Mila to latch on, I angrily thought about how “beautiful” everyone told me it would be. How I’d be washed over with drug-like oxytocin as I gazed into my baby’s big eyes. But this was not the case. It was worse than anything I could have imagined. It was a circus-act of attaching a plastic shield to my boob as I juggled a screaming baby and tried to prop pillows and keep her flailing arms from knocking the shield off. But my knowledge of what was “best” brought me stubbornly back to it, breathing through the pain and hating every second of it.
That afternoon during a particularly painful nursing session, I looked down to find the nipple shield was filled with blood. Freaking out, I quickly checked her mouth to determine the source and then realized that it was actually me that was bleeding. I remember thinking. Dear God, why is this so fucking terrible? How did anybody ever survive before formula was invented? And my heart lurched with equal parts dread and guilt every time anybody would say, “I think she’s hungry.”
At five o’clock, one of the local La Leche League leaders called me back. We had been playing phone tag since the night before. And while I am usually a very cautious call-screener, I answered the phone on the first ring. The kind woman introduced herself as Joy and listened carefully as I told her about the blood and how much it hurt. She asked questions and suggested resources. She stayed on the phone with me even when I could hear her own children demand her attention on the other side of the line. And then she asked if I’d like her to come over. I almost cried. “Yes, please!”
Joy knocked on my door an hour later, with her littlest one in tow. He was in his pajamas and looked sleepy. So did Joy. I invited her to my room where I had set up camp for my “postpartum recovery” and brought in some toys for her little one to play with while we talked. She asked if I would like for her to watch me feed Mila. It felt weird, this complete stranger, standing in my bedroom and asking me if I wanted her to watch me. I recalled how I said I’d never be that lady who just bares her boobs for all to see. But again, somehow, I didn’t care any more. I immediately started undoing my nursing bra.
After observing me fumble around with my feeding routine, Joy mentioned a technique called “laid back breastfeeding.” She had me strip Mila down to her diaper, lie back on some pillows, and put Mila on my tummy. Essentially, the goal was for her to wiggle herself up to my breast on her own. I had seen videos of brand new babies doing it straight out of the womb, army crawling up their mom’s bodies in search of the breast, and latching right on as if they were professionals. It was nuts. But I’d try anything at that point.
It didn’t really work…I had to help Mila get up to my boob (what a lazy little critter, she just laid there like a slug) and I still had to put my nipple in her mouth. But there was something very relaxing about it, even with a complete stranger watching. No one was grabbing my boob and trying to shove it into my baby’s mouth. I also noticed something different. When Mila spit the shield out, it was full of milk.
Joy looked at me and said, “I think your milk is coming in.”
It was like a Christmas miracle in mid-September. I had totally forgotten about milk because I was so focused on those tiny amounts of colostrum. I felt some serious relief to know that, while my brain was busy being Panicky-Polly, my body went ahead and did what it was supposed to. My boobs went from a dripping faucet to a bursting fountain in a matter of hours. At the very least, I could squirt this stuff into her mouth or pump it out. I didn’t care how, my baby was going to eat!
When Wednesday came I was both excited and nervous. It meant we could finally see a lactation consultant again but it also would be the first time leaving the house with Mila. My mom and I drove across town with a “hungry baby” as they instructed us to bring. Like three highways and a lot of traffic, across town. I cried the whole drive there because the radio kept playing songs that reminded me of a friend who had just passed away. Meanwhile, Mila screamed as if her life was over in the backseat and my boobs tingled and hurt in response. The Bluetooth connection between mama’s milk ducts and the sound of her baby’s cry is ridiculously good technology.
The new lactation consultant welcomed my mom and I into her little office with a bright beaming smile. She invited me to sit in a cushiony chair so she could watch me feed Mila. I unbuttoned my shirt for yet another stranger with front row seats to my topless show. Mila did an ok job of latching. I think she was showing off. But it only worked if I bent my body way over her and held my boob in her mouth, and only if it was on the left side.
After watching me for a bit, the consultant recommended that I continue to use the shield but assured me that I’d be able to wean her off of it eventually. She then weighed Mila as I nervously awaited the verdict. I expected her to immediately grab a can of formula and perform an emergency feed right on the spot.
“Good job mama,” she said confidently. “She is well within range of normal weight loss after birth. You are doing great!”
I almost looked behind me to see to whom she was referring. I couldn’t believe it.
Sure, we both really sucked at this nursing thing (no pun intended). It was annoying and hurt like hell and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to manage it in public, with all the acrobatics that were required. But my baby wasn’t going to die of starvation. So I vowed to try to make it to six weeks. Even though I really hated it. Like, a lot.
© 2016 D. Willson