Breastfeeding: All it's cracked up to be
Breastfeeding was always something I wanted to try. I told everyone I would try it, but to not to be surprised if I strictly pumped. I knew the advantages of breastfeeding and did not want to take that away from my baby but I did not see myself as the type to be able to bear my breast in public, or in front of family members. My concern stemmed from the fact that my breasts had always been a symbol of sexuality and I'd never been around a woman who breastfed. It had nothing to do with my relationship, he is Team Breast is Best/Fed is Best, he was supportive either way, but really hoped I'd give breastfeeding a chance. It was I who struggled with breaking the lifelong misunderstanding that breasts are for sexual purposes. I felt weird about having a baby suck milk out of them. The same lumps of fat and skin I used to garner many tips as a waitress, and free drinks as a bar star were going to nurture my baby? The same pieces of flesh and tissue I pierced while going through my rebellious stage at 17 would now be a source of soothing for this beautiful innocent baby??? Not only did I view them as sexual, I knew others have the same misconception that they are for arousal and serve zero purpose otherwise. So, I was anxious about people staring at my exposed breast, or giving me flack for breastfeeding in public. I was under the impression that breastfeeding was a hindrance to everyone else and would be extremely difficult to accomplish. All the negative connotations changed the moment she was placed on my chest. The first thing I asked was “when do I get to nurse her? Do I do that right now?” I was immediately ready to give her everything I possibly could. My ways of thinking about my body instantaneously changed. I was no longer concerned with the fantasy psyche of what a body is for and immediately aware of the reality of what my body was meant to do. Besides, after being completely exposed, naked in some terribly weird positions, ripped apart, with a doctor(s) all up in your business and an audience, privacy no longer exists.
The Wrong Nipples
I was right about one thing though: breastfeeding is terribly difficult. I no longer question why it is called a journey. It is not as simple as it may look. Babies may know how to crawl up your chest to find your nipple the moment they are out of the womb, your nipples may change color for them to be more visible to newborns’ eyes, babies even suck their thumb in utero to learn how to suckle for milk, however, that does not mean, they, nor you, are completely ready for the actual breastfeeding part. I, for one, was not built to be able to breastfeed. My nipples were inverted. Yup, not only were they very small, they were INVERTED. It’s exactly as it sounds, my nipples went IN rather than out. Meaning, when it was time for her to nurse, there was nothing for her to latch. I remember a midwife once said to me: “Breastfeeding will be a breeze, it'll hurt for the first bit, but unless you're in the 5% or less that have inverted or flat nipples it'll be easy” I responded “I am in that 5%” to which she could only reply with a sympathetic “Oh...”.
Every woman who has tried breastfeeding knows how important the latch is. Without a perfect latch you have a screaming baby bobbing their head back and forth trying to find what they innately know is to feed them. Without the perfect latch your baby does not get fed. Without the perfect latch you start to feel like a failure. Without the perfect latch you begin to feel insecure, you begin to think you were not meant for this, you begin to question your body and question whether or not this phenomenon is actually as amazingly beautiful and bonding as everyone says or if it is just another thing set out to make you feel like you're failing as a mom. Without the perfect latch, feeding at the breast is essentially impossible.
For the first two days of Jaxzen’s life I was manually expressing colostrum into a little medicine cup, one little and I mean little, like, tip of a pen small, drop at a time. I had to get at least 3 ml of colostrum per feeding because lots of it would end up around her mouth or on her onesie. It took hours. After it was expressed into a cup, (that felt like razor blades against my nipples might I add), I had to fill a syringe and squeeze that into her mouth… Do you know how hard it is to squeeze a syringe into a newborn’s mouth, all while trying to preserve this “liquid gold”? It’s extremely stressful. The nurses were always hovering over me stressing the importance of the colostrum and continuously asking me if my milk had come in “yet”, as if there was a timeline as to when it should have come in, rather than helping they were adding to my sense of feeling like my baby was going to starve. Even though I was literally giving her my all, it was seemingly not enough. By day two I was really frustrated with manually expressing, and trying to latch. Pro tip: stress doesn't make it any easier… is easier said than done! She could not latch, there was nothing to latch onto. I told myself I wanted to give breastfeeding a solid effort, and at this point she had not actually nursed from my breast, so I did not feel like I even tried. Thankfully, my mom’s friend came to visit me and told me about the nipple shield. It was our key to successfully breastfeeding! What a difference! A nipple shield is a piece of silicone that sort of resembles the top of a bottle, whilst also imitating a nipple. It has four holes at the top of the nipple, and provides a larger surface for your baby to put her mouth around. Immediately after I placed it on my breast, she latched! I felt like it was her and I against the world. I was SO proud. My milk came in right away, filled the nipple shield and she even coughed because it was flowing so quickly. I was unstoppable! Or, so I thought.
When the public health nurse visited us at home she asked how breastfeeding was going; with complete pride I said “It’s going amazing. The nipple shield has made it so much easier!” That’s when the guilt set in. She said “It is a great tool, but it is not recommended. You should really try to get her to latch onto the breast”. I did not understand how something that was easing the pain of bringing my nipples from inverted to outward, helping my newborn latch properly and keeping her fully fed could possibly be a bad decision on my part. The next part of our journey can only be described as painful.
I had just given birth to a 9lbs 5oz baby with hardly any intervention, but, this, nipple malfunction, was unbearable. Not only were my nipples chapped and cracked, worse than your lips on a -40 degree day in a windy field, they were being ripped from their “natural” state. They were constantly bleeding, and covered in scabs that broke every time she nursed. She had to tear the ligaments holding my nipples down to stop them from doing so. Every time she latched I thought I was going to squeeze her head, drop her, or scream. Sometimes I would scream. Every time, I held someone’s hand. I thought the pain was never going to go away. There were plenty of moments where I said “I can’t do this” only to be met with “Yes babe, you can, you want to do this, you got this”. I did want to. I did have this, I'd gone this far. I wanted so badly to be good at this. I have never fully committed to anything (sports, University, career, even lived in a city long enough to get settled) in my entire life, but I had my heart set on this, for her. For 7 weeks I cried, bled, swore and feared breastfeeding. Luckily, and probably the only way I pushed through was the fact that I was completely supported throughout this entire experience. I was very fortunate to have everyone backing me. Not once did someone say “You should just give her formula, it doesn’t have to be this hard”. My family always had a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on and arms ready to snuggle our hungry baby while I would prepare to nurse. The support was absolutely terrific but that didn't make this next chapter any easier when all I could feel was pain.
Around the 6 week mark I got to the point where I did not want to feed her. I would push her feedings for as long as I could, and that would sometimes make it worse. That’s when my support system said “Fuck it” and got my nipple shield. I used it for the next week and anytime I needed a bit of a healing break during the following weeks I used it as a tool to help me attain my goal.
I'd never been more proud of myself. Okay, other than the time I delivered her, but I had no choice in that matter, she was ready and I had to get her out. For this, I had the choice, I could have stopped, but I persevered. To this day, she has never had an ounce of formula. Jaxzen changed my world. This journey is a symbol of that, for me. I used to be extremely selfish, hard headed and “flaky”. When things got hard, I ran. When someone did something or said anything I didn't agree with, I was harsh. When something didn't go my way, I didn't put any effort to change it. When something bad happened, everything else was negative. I have a new outlook on life and it is entirely positive. My journey with breastfeeding has shown me that I am capable of putting someone else's needs first and being sweet, patient and understanding during difficult times makes life a lot easier. Becoming a mother immediately showed me the beauty in being vulnerable. Vulnerability does not signify weakness, it made me stronger to admit that I do not have it all together and although some things hurt (physically or emotionally) there are many things worth the effort.
When Jaxzen was 10 weeks old it stopped hurting. No shield, no creams or hand holding, just me and my new nipples!
*This story is not to insinuate that anyone who did not breastfeed or found it too painful, gave up. I do not want anyone to feel as though I am judging your decisions, as long as your child is fed, you're doing a great job Momma! I just wanted to share my story to offer a glimmer of hope to those struggling with breastfeeding. Every woman, every baby and every experience is different, this is mine, I'd love to hear yours! We are all in this together, a fed baby is a happy baby and that's what matters.