I have to admit, when I first heard about the PAIL Monthly Theme on Feeding Your Child, I was excited. I thought the topic was going to be more “where you are now” focused and I wanted to see what other moms had to say about feeding their toddler because honestly? That has been way more challenging for me than breastfeeding ever was.
And honestly, the topic of breastfeeding/infant feeding kind of bores me.
So I was kind of disappointed when I saw that it was basically about infant feeding again and I decided I wasn’t going to participate; especially when I decided to take a break for a couple of weeks.
And then I thought about it more and I realized I had some unresolved feelings about breastfeeding, especially as I sit on the cusp of a possible second breastfeeding relationship with my son. Maybe I’m less “bored” with the topic of breastfeeding as I am ambivalent or unsure. Maybe my feelings about it are so unresolved that I don’t want to deal with them at all.
I’ve written a lot about my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter. Honestly, what I could say about it right now would mirror my birth story post pretty closely–all the same themes apply. I felt I was told, and so expected it to be, this transcendent experience and then it wasn’t. I couldn’t complain really–I had plenty of supply and was able to breastfeed my daughter exclusively for six months–and yet I didn’t really enjoy it like I heard other women had. It wasn’t this amazing bonding experience that created the foundation for our relationship. And while I was very thankful that I had the choice to provide breast milk to my daughter, I wouldn’t have been devastated to offer her formula. I didn’t even feel breastfeeding saved me any money, as I spent as much on pumps and pump parts, nursing bras and shirts, and all the treatments and doctor’s appointments we needed to combat thrush, as I would have on formula (I actually did the math on this, and breastfeeding was MORE expensive (for me) than providing organic formula for six months).
Ah thrush. I truly believe that I can’t really complain about my breastfeeding experience because in the end, I was able to do what I was trying to do: feed my daughter. I know so many women for whom that is/was not possible and I would never devalue their experience by suggesting that my experience was truly traumatic. Was it pleasant? No. Was it devastating? No. Was it not very positive? Yes. But “not very positive” is nothing to bitch about.
And yet I will, because honestly, oversupply and thrush defined our breastfeeding relationship more than anything else. And they defined it in a very negative way.
Basically I had too much milk. It spurt out of me an incredible rate and my poor new born couldn’t keep up. She started getting the frothy green poop that meant she wasn’t getting any hind milk. We had to work hard to help her get what she needed to thrive. I don’t know if the oversupply situation exacerbated our poor latch issues but after a month of basically living at the lactation department, we finally got some kind of schedule going that worked well enough for both of us, though my poor nipples never felt great.
Then we got thrush. It was related to our first problem because the oversupply created a very damp environment in my bra. Living in a dark, dank, moldy apartment probably didn’t help. I really don’t think there was much I could do to prevent getting thrush, and then once I got it, it was almost impossible to get rid of it.
Cue three more months of living at the lactation center. At one point I was told that I’d never get rid of thrush but that I HAD to keep breastfeeding because that was the responsible thing to do. My racking sobs did nothing to soften the hard judgment sent my way.
If I wanted to outline everything we did to combat thrush it would be a whole other 1000 word post. Needless to say, thrush was the defining aspect of my life for three months. 90% of what I did every day was in an attempt to combat that fucking yeast. We were using cloth diapers at the time, which only made the situation that much worse; every time I washed Isa’s diaper I had to sanitize them. I was constantly painting my nipples with gentian violet, trying to keep it from staining everything we owned purple. We tried natural remedies. We tried the hard core Western medicines. Basically nothing worked. Not for three months. And every time my daughter ate it felt like glass shards being pulled through my nipples. My body was rigid with the pain. My face wet with tears. I just wanted it to be over, every single time, for three months.
Luckily my daughter learned to eat fast. We finished our business in 20 minutes or less and moved on to the fun parts of our day, the parts that didn’t involve searing pain and wracking disappointment.
By the time I went back to work I had a lot of milk in my freezer. I intended to keep pumping and breastfeeding at work but quickly found that a teacher’s schedule, in a teacher’s classroom (with only cold water coming out of the sink), was not very conducive to pumping (or sanitizing pump parts). I lasted three weeks–until my Christmas break–and then never brought my pump back to school with me. Then I realized that my milk has that enzyme that makes your milk taste soapy when it’s thawed. Luckily Isa was still willing to eat it most of the time, but it made me not want to pump much when I was always worried she might suddenly reject my soapy tasting milk.
We managed to breastfeed 2-3 times a day until about eight months and then my supply dwindled and finally totally disappeared. I remember realizing about half way through what would be our last breastfeeding session that we’d never do it again. I waited for the tears to come–I’m a very sentimental person by nature and I was sure I’d feel some brief but powerful moments of sadness–but there was nothing. I was completely ready to move on. It was then that I realized how ambivalent I felt about our breastfeeding relationship.
So now I’m two months away from meeting my son and embarking on a new breastfeeding relationship. I’m definitely scared of developing thrush again and I hope our much lighter, dried apartment will help me to prevent contracting it. If we do end up getting it, I don’t know if I’ll try to work through it or just stop breastfeeding, because honestly? That three months was really, really hard.
This time I only have three months off of work before I go back. My schedule prohibits pumping because I’ll be teaching four classes in a row with only a 15 minute break. I’m hoping I can feed baby boy before I leave and right when I get home and the six hour time in between won’t kill my supply, but I obviously have no idea how it will go. I have no idea if I’ll still have oversupply, if he’ll latch poorly, if he’ll eat quickly or laze at the breast. I must admit that I probably assume it will be similar to my past experience and I have to remind myself that it could be radically different. Mostly, the idea of it being different excites me; I’m pleased to have a second chance at a positive breastfeeding experience. On the other hand I’m scared of what I don’t know. Will I go crazy with a baby that breastfeeds for over an hour six times a day? How will I manage my toddler during those times? The idea of that is kind of terrifying for this ADHD mama who worries she won’t have time for the toddler she loves.
I suppose my breastfeeding expectations the second time around are similar to my birth expectations: I’d love for it to be better but I recognize that at the end of the day, I was given what I really matters–the ability to feed my child in the way I ultimately wanted. If I can breastfeed my child for 3-6 months I’ll walk away contented. If I have an amazing, bonding, breastfeeding relationship the second time around, I’ll be absolutely thrilled, but I’m certainly not expecting anything either way.