This post has been percolating for months, as I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about my experience with breastfeeding so far.
In the beginning breastfeeding was really hard. It was uncomfortable–I said to Roo at some point that it felt like having a vacuum cleaner permanently attached to my nipples. For the 5+ weeks that I had thrush, it was really painful. I had a hard time with positioning the baby, and it often required various tricks to get Sprout settled in to eating (bouncing her while feeding, taking her clothes off so she wouldn’t fall asleep, etc.) It was incredibly exhausting to be the main one able to feed the baby when she wanted to eat fifty times a day.
Before Sprout was born, I imagined that one of the big advantages of breastfeeding would be being able to feed the baby while in bed and half-asleep. It turns out that I’ve never done this! So far I’ve been too exhausted for it to feel safe. There have been multiple times when I thought I was holding the baby, only to realize that it was just my body pillow. There was even one night when I woke up and couldn’t tell for a moment if I was sitting up in the glider in Sprout’s room or lying on my side in bed! So that piece hasn’t happened, but it’s still far easier to just sit down in the glider, pull up my shirt and latch the baby on than to go downstairs, turn on the lights, make up a bottle (with only warm milk, since that’s all that Her Highness will deign to drink), etc.
Nursing in bed hasn’t happened, but somewhere along the line other aspects of breastfeeding shifted (as I had been told they would). I finally cured the thrush. The other kinds of discomfort lessened. Both Sprout and I got better at making this work. The baby didn’t need to eat quite so often, so I started to have a little time in the evenings for more than feedthebabyfeedthebabyfeedthebaby. When I wasn’t so exhausted, the time I spent feeding Sprout felt cozy instead of suffocating. During maternity leave, breastfeeding was convenient. I remember back to our early days with Tadpole, when we had a checklist by the diaper bag in order to be sure we had packed everything (bottle, nipple, formula, water, bib, etc.)–and I remember some disasterous outings when we had forgotten one or the other of these items. But with Sprout, I just needed to be sure she and I were in the same place, and maybe bring a nursing cover-up. I was still the main one getting up with the baby at night, but that made sense–I could often get a nap in during the day, while Roo had to be functional at work.
Since I went back to work three months ago, the convenient-inconvenient balance has shifted again. It continues to be helpful to be able to breastfeed Sprout in the evenings and on weekends. But I’m also pumping three times a day on weekdays while I’m at work, which is decidedly inconvenient. My new job is with a huge organization, and the first few weeks involved lots of trainings and meetings, all at different locations and with different instructors. This meant having to explain my situation again and again, and to find the “mothers’ room” in each of five different buildings. Fortunately, everyone was very nice, and the conversations were not as uncomfortable as they could have been. It’s definitely a plus that my new employer has a commitment to supporting breastfeeding, and that these “mothers’ rooms” exist. But it took a lot of extra work to figure out the location of each one, whether there was a special access code or card needed to get in, whether there is a sink nearby, etc. The only building that doesn’t have a space for pumping is the building where I am most days, but I have my own office there. It’s a tiny space (in fact, it used to be a closet!), but it’s all mine. I had a few awkward conversations with co-workers who were concerned that the “do not disturb” sign that I had put up meant that they had offended me, but they were sweet when my boss explained the situation. So pumping at work has gone about as well as it could have, but has still been uncomfortable. It’s a pain to find enough times during the day to pump. I hate washing pump parts over and over and over, and it can be awkward to wash them in the communal bathroom sink. It has also been tough to synch my pumping with Sprout’s needs since she’s still not on a very consistent schedule.
And despite all of the pumping that I’m doing, it’s still not quite enough to keep up with Sprout’s needs. We try to send her to daycare with more milk than we think she’ll take, but that sometimes means sending in a bottle or two of formula. I think I might have been upset about this if Sprout were my first kid, or if I’d had a different experience with Tadpole. I had to make some sort of peace with formula, since it nourished my son for the first year of his life. Sprout has already had far more breastmilk that Tadpole ever did, which makes me less worried about giving her the occasional bottle of formula.
So I’m not pumping because I believe it’s essential for my baby to get nothing but breastmilk. Then why am I doing continuing to do it? When I’m anxiously trying to figure out where to fit in a pumping session between work meetings or when I’m explaining to the socially awkward man leading our computer training course why I need certain breaks or when I’m washing my pump parts for the fourth time in a day, I start to wonder how much it would matter if I stopped pumping. It would be helpful to still be able to breastfeed during the day on weekends, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I only breastfeed in the morning and evening. It might even be good for Roo’s and Sprout’s relationship for her to give the baby more bottles. I told myself that I would stick it out until Sprout was six months and then re-evaluate. But I seem to still be pumping.
One reason why I’ve continued is that I really enjoy re-connecting with Sprout through nursing on the weekends, after missing her so much during the week. I’d like to be able to do that for as long as I can. Another reason for pumping may be an attempt to compensate for the guilt I feel about all that I can’t do for Sprout. Having a full-time job and another kid keeps me from devoting as much time and attention to her as I would like, but pumping is something I can do for her when I’m away from her. In addition, I’m proud of the hard work that Sprout and Roo and I put into building the nursing relationship, and I’m grateful for the luck that enabled it to work out this well. I’m aware that the time when I have this kind of relationship with Sprout is short, and I don’t want to miss out on any of it. As much as I yearn for consecutive nights with uninterrupted sleep, I imagine that I’ll be sad when I have no more middle-of-the-night snuggles with a limp sleepy baby. I hope to never be one of those older women who accost frazzled, sleep-deprived new parents at the grocery store with exhortations to “enjoy every minute”, but I also know that I’ll miss aspects of this time when my kids are older. My feelings about breastfeeding seem to be part of that perpetual paradox of parenthood (especially early parenthood)–it’s ridiculously hard and exhausting, but also so sweet.