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The Experience of Parenthood

Kimberly Poppiti
Medford NY USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 1, January-February 2006, pp. 14-16

While pregnant, my mission was to learn as much as possible about mothering. One thing that had me worried was breastfeeding. I knew it was important and I knew that I would do it, but I feared that it would be difficult and that it might feel strange or unnatural. Although I have never been prudish, it seemed distasteful and strange that a little person whom I'd never met would need full access to my breasts.

When my daughter entered the world, everything changed. I was blissfully cuddling her in the delivery room when the nurses attempted to take her away for some routine testing. "No, I have to breastfeed her!" I cried. To my amazement, my little girl latched on like a pro that first time.

In the first few days of her life, however, there were some ups and downs. I had so much difficulty latching her on well that I found myself in tears more than once. The hospital lactation consultants got her to latch on easily, but the proper technique seemed to elude me. I felt hopeless. How was I going to do this at home? The woman in the bed next to me had a baby who latched on easily and sucked contentedly for hours at a time; this compounded my feeling of inadequacy. I felt as though I was doing something wrong and hoped that my daughter wasn't going hungry. I wish someone had told me that all babies are different.

My doctor was nonplussed and advised me to call a lactation consultant when I was released from the hospital. I resisted because I thought a good mother should know how to do everything right on her own the first time around. How unrealistic—both my daughter and I were learning and we needed help. On my way out of the hospital I took some La Leche League flyers in case of emergency. I wish I had called my local Leader immediately, but when my milk came in, my daughter was much more eager to nurse. We still had trouble with latch on, but we persevered and I consulted photographs in breastfeeding books often. Once we got it right, the pain was gone.

I was warned by my doctor not to let my daughter "use me as a pacifier." This sounded silly to me, but I thought I should trust the "experts" and started watching the clock. Whenever I took her off the breast, she protested. Again, I consulted my books to see how long a baby "should" nurse and found no consensus. I didn't know which books to trust, so we continued to flounder. Once I let her decide her own feeding schedule, things improved.

My daughter thrived with feeding on demand. She ate often and heartily; so much, in fact, that an unexpected glitch arose when we slept longer than usual one night. After an unprecedented five hours of sleep, I awoke with a painful lump in my right breast. It was a plugged duct. We nursed through it that time, and also when the condition reoccurred twice. I also developed mastitis and, again, we nursed through it. I felt great that we were persevering—other mothers I knew had given up breastfeeding because of these sorts of complications.

I was sad that I was going back to work soon. Before my baby was born, eight weeks of maternity leave seemed more than ample. I love my job and thought I would have been anxious to return. Little did I know how much my world would be changed by this little baby! I began to worry. My work schedule is baby-friendly, but I would still be away from her for four hours at a time. This meant introducing bottles. Although I was warned of potential complications, there was no problem. I was happy that my daughter could still benefit from my milk when I wasn't around.

My husband was thrilled to be able to feed our daughter with a bottle while I was at work. It gave them time to bond and helped him feel more instrumental in her care. We had been arguing about parenting—he felt as though I was monopolizing the job. I'm sure breastfeeding contributed to this sentiment. I struggled to deal with his feelings. I also struggled with criticism I received from others for insisting that my daughter not go to a child care center. I wanted her cared for in my home. Prior to motherhood, these issues would have seemed minor to me. Criticism for new mothers is not unusual, but I was taken by surprise all the same.

My husband and I needed to learn how to accept how our lives had changed because of our daughter. The experience, while difficult, was beneficial. By reassessing what we thought parenthood would be and then reconciling our expectations with the actual experience, we became better parents. La Leche League would have helped me with this transition, but I was still resisting asking for help. Not for much longer, though.

Returning to work meant that I had to pump more often. This was more challenging than I had expected. I share an office and it was never empty when I needed it to be. I tried pumping in the bathroom, but it was awkward and noisy, people kept coming in, and the cord didn't reach the stall so I had to stand at the sink. It was unsanitary and uncomfortable. An understanding friend who had nursed her children let me use her office while she stood outside the door. Other women began to share their experiences with me, including those who had decided not to nurse at all and those who had given up soon after their children were born. The woman who affected me the most was a professor whom I didn't know very well. At a faculty meeting, she asked how I was doing since returning to work. I told her things were a little difficult. She leaned toward me and quietly asked, "Are you breastfeeding?" I told her yes. A beautiful smile spread across her face. She squeezed my hand and said, "It's the best thing I ever did!"

As my daughter approaches her first birthday, I continue to breastfeed her on demand. Time is passing so quickly, but I am enjoying every moment of our special relationship. In hopes of helping other women do the same, I've become a La Leche League member. One day, I hope to become an LLL Leader.

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