When I was pregnant for the first time, I read everything I could about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. But I consciously shied away from reading anything about breastfeeding.
I wanted to breastfeed. But I didn’t want to know about it in an intellectual way. I just wanted to do it when the time came. Perhaps I was afraid if I knew too much in advance, it would make me anxious, maybe even too anxious to nurse.
Nursing at first wasn’t easy. In the hospital my nipples developed painful blisters that filled with pus and then with blood. I fretted that the baby would be made ill by the blood she swallowed (”Extra protein, nothing to worry about,” I was told), and I winced in pain when she latched on. My breasts became hard as tennis balls when the milk came in a few days after we returned home.
I went back to work when Hesperus was just six weeks old. A few days before my classes started (I was teaching at Emory University), I tried to fit the pieces of the breast pump together and started sobbing. I felt scared about leaving the baby, I felt stupid that I couldn’t figure out how the breast pump worked, and I felt worried about trying to be a professional when I was so sleep-deprived and my clothes were so spit-up stained. I was such an inexperienced and insecure mom that for awhile it took three of us—my husband, my best friend, and me—to change the baby.
How would James cope with being alone with her?
How would I cope with being so far away?
Somehow we managed to get through those difficult first weeks. James assembled the breast pump and a friend came over to show us how to use it. James fed Hesperus bottles of pumped breast milk when I was teaching, and the skinny frog-legged creature turned into a roly-poly baby, so fat she had five chins.
Though I got the only speeding ticket of my adult life rushing home to nurse between classes, the time that James was home alone with the baby really helped him feel bonded to her. Staying home with his daughter and getting to feed her bottled breast milk gave James the chance to be the primary parent (at least temporarily), able to satisfy all of the baby’s needs. Eleven years later James and Hesperus still have a special closeness.
I hoped to nurse the baby for a year. I ended up nursing her for over four.
This week at Mothering Outside the Lines is dedicated to the topic of extended nursing. Come back Wednesday to read an interview with Vanessa Lowe, a breastfeeding advocate and the producer of a radio documentary about extended nursing.
Listen to the documentary, Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy, now:
When you have a question related to things like pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, do you find that it helps to read books or surf the Internet or talk to friends? Or do you just keep your head in the sand (like I did) until the time comes that you have to do it?