by Katie Madden
The first two weeks of your baby’s life will be the hardest two weeks of your life. I say it all the time. I figure that if you prepare for the worst, you may be pleasantly surprised if it isn’t all that hard.
The first two weeks of Lucy’s life, in my recollection, were the best two weeks of my life. I don’t remember being scared or overwhelmed or exhausted. I just remember falling deeper and deeper in love with my baby with every breastfeeding session.
We left The Birth Center after an atypically long stay of about eight hours. I couldn’t seem to stand up without getting dizzy, so I couldn’t take the customary post-birth shower that women find so refreshing. They sent me home with clear orders to go directly to bed. Joe snuggled with Lucy while I took a nice long nap. I woke up, showered, and felt like a new woman. I was a mother now and I had just accomplished what is to this day my life’s greatest achievement: natural childbirth.
The evening of July 16th, the whole family came to visit (I don’t really recommend this, by the way). Family from out of town came in and each met and held the first grandchild to join both the Madden and the Egan families. Joe and I were so proud to show her off. I slipped into her nursery, excited to nurse her again while everyone ate pizza. Turns out, everyone ate all the pizza and forgot to make sure I got a piece. This is precisely why I don’t recommend a bunch of visitors in the early weeks.
Lucy didn’t cry in the first 24 hours of her life. She didn’t cry much at all in the first weeks. The crying came a little later… and boy did it come. But before all the crying came, there was bliss. Our air conditioner had broken shortly after Lucy arrived, so Joe set up a window unit in the guest bedroom for us to sleep. The pack and play was set up in there along with a TV. Lucy and I were alone in there a lot while Joe made sure I was fed and the air conditioner was fixed. As many couples do, we found that just having me and Lucy sleep alone in the guest bedroom got everyone more sleep.
I remember feeling like it was Christmas morning every time Lucy awoke asking to be nursed. I know that sounds a little crazy, but I did. I was so excited. My breasts were full and leaky and a little tender, but she nursed so well and seemed so satisfied. I had a blue Boppy (yes, Boppy) with clouds on it. Each time she would awaken, I would pick up her little sweet swaddled self, change her diaper, and get her nursing on the breast. Almost always, it was silent. There were no smart phones or On Demand or DVR. There was no Netflix or Facebook or texting. There was just silence. A little later, I would start to watch reruns of the best show ever made, My So Called Life, at 3:00 am. Sometimes she would sleep on my chest. Mostly at that time she would lay in the pack and to sleep. This sleeping in the pack and play thing was pretty short lived. So was sitting up to nurse.
The early weeks remind me of the early weeks of falling in love. Caught up in a storm of overwhelming obsession with the object of your affection, you stay up late and wake up early just to be together. There are sweaty, sleepy afternoon… naps. Skin sticking to skin, heart bursting from your chest. There is an ache when you are apart, if even just for an hour. The early weeks of Lucy’s life were much like the early weeks of intense romance with a thick layer of primal protectiveness and devotion. I vowed to always love her unconditionally and always protect her.
When Lucy was nine days old, I dressed her in a dress that I had waited since her baby shower to dress her in. We drove to Maryland and began “visiting.” I do not recommend doing this at nine days postpartum. But I did and I don’t remember it being a problem at all. I remember being so proud and Joe being so proud. I remember being comfortable and willing to have the close family we visited hold her. I toted my breastfeeding pillow around with me and openly and easily nursed her wherever we went. I had the confidence in my eyes that told everyone around me, “I got this. Don’t bother even questioning if I got this.”
Now, it is highly possible that I am recounting the entire first two weeks with rose colored glasses. I know somewhere in there my vagina hurt so badly that I took Percocet and it gave me scary dreams. I know I pooped for the first time and it was incredibly painful and scary. I remember doing a number of sitz baths. Joe remembers sitting up with her while I napped, attempting to give her a pacifier that she would never really ever suck. But, much like my birth, my memory of the early weeks of breastfeeding is shaped by my overall feelings of the experience. The majority of the moments were perfect. Lucy hit her diaper quotas, returned to birth weight earlier than two weeks, and latched well every time. My nipples were never more than tender.
So, I know first hand that breastfeeding can be easy, beautiful, and virtually painless. The rest of my breastfeeding journey goes on like this. I only once had a glimmer of mastitis that quickly faded. She always gained more than enough weight. I never worried that I didn’t have enough milk. I always felt like I pumped plenty. I made an average or slight oversupply (mostly because I pumped too early and too often. There were days I could skip my post morning pump if I wanted to). Lucy and I went on to enjoy a deeply fulfilling nursing relationship for 34 months before we weaned gently and mutually.
I don’t talk about my personal breastfeeding experience to the mamas I work with because it is completely worthless to them. If you happened to enjoy a similar nursing relationship, then take advice from me. Never say, “That is too bad that you are having such a hard time breastfeeding. I never had any problems at all.” No struggling mother needs to hear how well you did. She needs to know that you understand why breastfeeding is so important. She needs to know what you know about how amazing it can be so she can continue to strive toward that ideal.
I stand by the side of dozens of women every week as they strive toward this ideal. I fight with them; I feel their disappointment and their triumph. I do this so that they may feel even a moment of what I felt with Lucy. And if they can’t, I feel deeply mournful with them, for they will never truly know what was lost.
Because when I nursed Lucy, I felt my body was meeting her each and every need: biological and emotional. I felt both of us relax into a deep state of contentment. When I was nursing Lucy, nothing else mattered. Not my huge stretch-marked thighs or squishy stretch-marked stomach. Not my failing marriage or my growing anxiety. Perhaps it was an escape from my life to retreat and nurse for the majority of my day, but it fulfilled me and her in a way that let me know that no matter what happened, we were now intensely bonded for life.