I’ve found that any experience worth its salt comes at a cost. A difficult price must be paid.
Like cracked nipples, for instance.
Right after each one of my girls were born, our initial attempt at breastfeeding made it clear that we were each other’s ride or die. Me and Lucy, Poppy and me. It was on us. Teamwork made the dream work.
We engaged in a lot of high fives, pep talks and Tony Robbins motivational tapes.
That isn’t to say we didn’t hit some bumps in the road. For reasons nature can’t even explain, I recall my nipples going inverted upon Lucy’s birth. My doctor said something about hormones. Lucy just looked at me like, “What am I supposed to with this?”
I shrugged and put out an emergency alert for the lactation consultant.
I was blessed with terrifyingly large breasts during and after my pregnancies. They were like large ship buoys, except instead of floating on top of the ocean, they were floating on top of my yet-to-shrink pregnancy belly. I felt less human, more beached whale. Let’s just say I didn’t post many selfies during what I call the “Orca Period.”
Sometimes the buoys would fill and get so painful I would break the cardinal rule of newborn parenting and wake them up. “Can you help a sister out?” I’d beg. More often than not, they’d give me a pity nursing session. “You really do care,” I’d whisper, breathing in that sweet baby skin.
Some women have an easy go at nursing, and for some others, it’s impossibly hard. I was more middle of the road. It was fine most of the time, except for a stint when Lucy had a bad latch. I would nurse while weeping from the pain. I wiped away each tear as it hit her chubby baby arms.
My husband begged me to stop, but he didn’t understand.
She was worth it.
But make no mistake, I collected my tears in a bottle for her teen years when she needs a reminder that she owes me — big time.
Yet despite the difficult moments, most of all I simply remember the peace that overwhelmed me. Rocking and nursing in a lightly lit room, quietly watching “The Great British Bake Off” on Netflix or the “Harry Potter” movie series while it snowed outside. The comfort of having a newborn and knowing there was nothing more important than feeding, cuddling, kissing and loving one another sustained me — even in those moments when I felt lost, exhausted and in way over my head.
Even so, as I reflect on this time with such love and fondness, including the painful parts I’d like to forget, I recognize that not all women can breastfeed for various reasons, and I shudder that breastfeeding romanticism can make some women feel defensive, less than or guilty that they couldn’t experience this for reasons personal to them.
The truth is, while I suggest one gives it a try and do the best they can to not give up when it gets hard (because more often than not, it does get better), fed is best. And the love that floods through our body as we rock and stroke our baby’s chubby cheek is the very same.
Also, breast milk isn’t made out of unicorn blood, so tell the fanatics they can just pipe down about it.
Unconditional love is the point of this whole reproductive mess we get ourselves into, and we get to decide the details. So whether we’re fixing a bottle at 3 a.m. or unlatching our nursing bras — it’s still just us with our ride or dies, uncertain and sometimes afraid, but mostly so in love.
Good thing they’re worth it.