Mammorial Day Part 3

A story of breast feeding.

As soon as they gave me my baby, wrapped and wrinkled, I followed my instinctual trail to breastfed him. I had prepared in my head this moment, I knew how I wanted it to go, it would be grand and motherly--always remembered in my mind blurry with tenderness.

But when I perched him to my body he turned like a fish, his mouth opening and closing, searching for the hook and instead of instantaneous bonding there was a moment of panic.

I don't know how to do this!

My mother and sister rushed over to provide support. Eventually a latch was made but not a convincing one--not for either of us baby or mother. Shortly after this season of sucking began, a member of the medical staff handed me a piece of paper which outlined the proper procedure of breast feeding.
Ten minutes on each side,
at regularly timed intervals,
with three acceptable positions of intake.

Breast feeding was not formula, but it was formulaic, I realized.
It overwhelmed me. I read that sheet of paper 1,000 times, over and over and over again until I had it memorized, the words, the bold words, the lines of the silhouetted mother and baby.

For the next few days in the hospital a nurse would come in to tell me it was time to feed my baby. I would ask whatever visiting guest I had at the time to help me nurse. It took me five minutes to help figure out all the hold, the latching, the positioning, it didn't come easily for either of us.

Then one night I was left alone in the dark hospital room with beeps and flashing lights, I had just fallen asleep when the nurse brought in my son from the nursery,

"Time to feed him," she said, wheeling him in like he was the dinner tray.

"Ok," I said, sitting up, rubbing my eyes. The nurse handed him to me and left the room, the door shutting heavy, echoing through the empty room.

"Ok, we can do this," I said to my child untying the hospital gown around my neck. We tried and tried and tried and he fussed and I panicked and called the nurses station.

"Can someone help me latch?" I asked embarrassed and defeated.

Moments later the nurse came back in the room. She didn't say anything, except put two frigid fingers on my breast to show me how I needed to let down. I wanted to cry. Nothing felt right.

"I don't get this," I said trying to make conversation, my insecurity obvious. "Does this happen to a lot of first time mothers?"

"Oh, sometimes," was her response, her cold fingers with constant pressure on my breast, my self-awareness at peak levels.

My baby was too sleepy to eat, he would suck for a few slurps and fall back into newborn rapture. The nurse eventually left our room and in twenty minutes when she returned I lied and said he had fed on both sides per the nursing protocol. For some reason I felt like I was in a classroom, my nurse a teacher, who wouldn't let me graduate until my grades showed efficiency. The situation was very moralized in my mind, I kept thinking I'd get in trouble for not following exact guidelines, like someone was going to snap my knuckles with a ruler for not being obedient.

This situation was repeated throughout the night. I would fail at helping my baby to latch, I'd panic and call in the nurse, the nurse would come in to help, I would feel deeply insecure, my baby would fall asleep, I'd lie and say I had fed the boy. Tanked him right up.

When it was time to go home from the hospital I knew a bit more than I did before about nursing. But not much. My sister in law Megan brought over a sea foam Boppy pillow and it helped me position my son for feeding. But still he would jerk his head in a circular motion looking for the point of contact, and I would circle his mouth with my target and yet, we would chase each other around until--by the miracle of survival--we would make contact.

So I started to pray. Every single interval, every single side, every followed procedure from the breast feeding sheet. And this was my prayer,

"Dear Heavenly Father, help me latch my baby."

Then I'd put my human fish to my breast and try and try and try. Sometimes I'd scream inside and start all over.

"Dear Heavenly Father, help me latch my baby PLEASE?"

Eventually my baby would latch and we'd feed for ten minutes, then I'd stop the feeding, rotate my child and start again on the other side.

"Dear Heavenly Father, please help me latch on this side too."

And when we were done, I'd gingerly place the boy over my shoulder and pat his back until a burp was produced, and as I patted I'd pray,

"Dear Heavenly Father, thank you."

I waited and waited until the legacy of breast feeding that ran through the bodies of the women in my family found me. There were moments of frustration, so discouraging I wanted to give up. If I had to feed my baby in social situations I'd sweat and heat would flash throughout my body, I felt intensely exposed. I worried about ample coverage for my chest given that my son would not feed with any sort of cover over his head. It felt really intimate and yet foreign. I'd sit in the white rocking chair in the nursery, the imprint of the breast feeding sheet going over and over in my mind, and I'd think about all the months I had ahead of me before I could wean.

Then somehow enough of my prayers were answered, enough women in my life vocalized their support of me, my baby didn't give up his instinctual quest to be fed by my body and gradually we figured it out. It took months of physical and emotional hard work, I had to let go of  well-meaning advice I had been given, but we learned patience and no one starved.

Once we got the hang of bread feeding we did it almost constantly, it became the great gift of healing. There was nothing nursing couldn't cure for my baby--teething, upset stomachs, growing pains, fear. As for me, it calmed a loneliness that had permeated my soul since giving birth.

It was our great privilege until the day we stopped, almost one year later, in our quiet nursery, my son a plumper version of the hatchling he was when we started, the image of the breast feeding sheet light years away from my mind.

From Susan Kruegar Barbar's poetic Postartum Provocation:

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