by Erin Rowe
Breastfeeding part deux was like Jacob Marley in chains visiting Ebenezer Scrooge. There was a heavy burden of my past relationship that seemed impossible to shed. At the same time, I knew already that it was going to be very different. I had stared at the crusty nipples of my swollen breasts as I realized that I was already producing colostrum. Establishing a breastfeeding relationship with my firstborn (Wil) was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It is also my proudest moment. Nevertheless, it was a grueling regiment of nursing, pumping, supplementing. Every minute, every hour, every day in those first 5 weeks was consumed with feeding my son. I could not fulfill his need, and I was heartbroken. Even after successful consultations with Katie and the much- needed support group, I scoured the Internet for some morsel of something new; reading and re- reading my breastfeeding book for missed information. I was desperate for something to make it all work. I kept asking the same questions, hoping for a different answer.
By Wil’s fifth week, I was making enough milk, but the challenges did not end there. He was not a great latcher and not a great eater. For months, I dealt with clogged ducts, mastitis, and abraded nipples. I nursed in every ridiculous position just trying to get the milk out of my breasts and into my son. I constantly worried about his weight. Every pediatrician appointment would bring a new wave of anxiety and fear that he wouldn’t have gained any. Wil was barely on the chart to begin with and fell off it at six months altogether. Even after establishing a sufficient supply, it took 5 or 6 months for breastfeeding to feel effortless. With that said, we persevered and around 23 months, Wil and I ended this part of our relationship. I was nearly 4 months pregnant and my milk was drying up.
My second pregnancy was unplanned and, quite frankly, unwanted. Despite this, I knew that I would be caring for this baby, out of obligation. Breastfeeding was a given, but from a purely biological sense. Emotionally, I wasn’t so sure. The idea of nursing another child seemed, I don’t know, wrong. I’m not sure how to explain it other than I just didn’t feel right about this intimate relationship with a child I felt nothing for. My breastfeeding relationship with Wil was sacred and hard won. I suppose I didn’t want to share that.
“Nine months is just not enough time to prepare for an unplanned pregnancy” I told the triage nurse. I was scared to death that I would feel nothing for the child in my belly. And despite my aversion to nursing him, I feared that low supply was a real concern. My issues aside, the new baby deserved the best start in life and in my view that is breast milk.
After another relatively easy labor and delivery, Simon arrived. And in short order, captured my heart. Enter Jacob Marley. With ball… and chain. All my past fears came flooding into the forefront of my memory. What if? Despite evidence to the contrary, all the difficulties I had with Wil weighed on my mind. Will I produce enough milk? Will he be a good latcher? Will it hurt just as much as the first time? Will I have to pump? Is my left boob going to clog up? Is he going to gain weight? Should I take fenugreek? Do I need to schedule my appointment with Katie now in case she is really busy?
Maybe I got lucky and got a strong latcher. Maybe Simon got lucky that his Mama is an experienced breastfeeder. Maybe there is a little bit of both. Even with no indications otherwise, I read into all his behavior at the breast. I was furiously messaging Katie. My first experience was so difficult and I dragged that past into my present. My fear was palpable. So much so that I pumped and hand expressed just to ensure the stimulation. This was all done during the time in which my son was having no trouble nursing, at all. Then came the dreaded weight check. I almost begged my husband to take him to the doctor because I couldn’t handle the stress of another baby not gaining weight for which my boobs were to blame. After he gained two pounds in two weeks, the chains were gone and I never looked back.