Henrietta NY USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 1, January-February 2008, pp. 13-14
"Are you going to breastfeed?" asked the nurse.
"No," I replied.
"Good. You wouldn't have been able to breastfeed an 11-pound-baby anyway. Not enough milk. You're making the right choice," she said.
I was about to have my first child. Throughout my pregnancy, I had been ambivalent about breastfeeding. I knew it was best for the baby. I read six breastfeeding books, and learned about the challenges nursing can bring. I read about thrush and blisters and mastitis. I read about plugged ducts and cracked nipples and engorgement. By the time I finished "educating myself," I was completely terrified to breastfeed my son.
Still, it was best for my child, and that was of paramount importance. Wasn't it? I wavered right up until an ultrasound at 41 weeks showed a very large baby, and my doctor recommended a cesarean. I decided in that very moment that my son would be bottle-fed, rather than breastfed. I was overwhelmed. My husband said he was glad I chose not to breastfeed. I was surprised that he hadn't voiced that opinion earlier, and thought it was good that I had chosen what he secretly wanted.
Adam entered the world on a snowy morning in January, weighing 11 pounds, five ounces. He was taken to the nursery while I was being sewn back together in the operating room. My family stood outside the glass partition, crooning over the baby drinking his first bottle. We settled into a routine at the hospital, and I accepted the choice that I had made to give my baby formula. Then we went home.
Four days after the birth, I was surprised to realize that I wanted to nurse Adam. I remember sitting up with him, late at night, wondering what would happen if we tried it. What would people think? My husband was glad that I was bottle-feeding. I wasn't sure if anyone else would be supportive. The nurse said it wouldn't work. Was it already too late? Four days is a long time. What if I couldn't do it? I thought about a lot of things in those predawn hours. And finally, I looked at my son, and began to breastfeed him.
I wish I could say that this story is one of triumph over a rough beginning. It is not. Our nursing relationship lasted just a few minutes. I was overcome with fear of disapproval. In that moment, I have to admit that I was afraid people would think it was dirty. Don't ask me why. I don't know the answer anymore. I never nursed Adam again, and I've never shared that moment with anyone until typing these words.
I learned a few things after that. I learned what it is to regret. Countless nights, holding my screaming son, watching the glowing numbers of the microwave count down to zero as he wailed, unable to comfort him as a mother should.
I learned about the things people say to make you feel better. It was nearly a year later when I asked my husband why he said he was glad I didn't breastfeed. He replied, "I know how hard it was for you to make that decision. I wanted to support you in whatever you chose." I cried, then.
I learned that no matter how challenging, or difficult, or painful it might be, I would breastfeed if given the chance again. My daughter, Julia, was born two years later weighing 10 pounds, 13 ounces. My family waited outside that same glass nursery, confused and checking their watches. She was kept next to me throughout the cesarean and while I was in the recovery room. I kept looking over at her and smiling at her sheer presence. This was how it should be. I was still frightened of what lay ahead, but I was ecstatic. I had been given an opportunity to right a wrong, to mend something that broke in me when I chose not to breastfeed my son.
Julia and I had our share of difficulties getting nursing established. I supplemented her feedings with formula for nearly two months while she learned to latch on properly and I built up my supply. My husband drove three hours to rent a special scale so I could see how much she was eating at each feeding. He demonstrated a thousand times over that he meant what he said. He would support me in whatever I chose. But in the most challenging days of nursing Julia, it was my regret over not nursing Adam that kept me going.
Julia is seven months old now, and just over 20 pounds of gorgeous, 100 percent breastfed baby girl. Recently, my son was watching me nurse his little sister when he said, "I drank milk from you, too, when I was a little baby." My heart squeezed tight, and I smiled a sad smile. One day I will tell him the truth about our nursing relationship. I will tell him that I fed him from my heart, every single day. I will tell him that nursing is what mothers do.