When I was pregnant, I watched a video of a baby latching onto his mother’s breast during childbirth classes. As I watched his little mouth move around as he sought her nipple, tongue squirming, I almost became nauseous. I knew the intense zoom-in was necessary (they were trying to show a latch), but the close-up angle was disconcerting, to say the least. For a moment, I didn't see breastfeeding as what it was: a glorious act between a mother and infant, as close as they can be after childbirth. I just saw it as gross and weird.
My visceral reaction wasn't because I think breastfeeding is inherently gross or unnatural. Breastfeeding doesn’t just seem natural — it is natural, because it is literally nature’s way of ensuring we can care for our offspring. It's amazing, when you think about it: most of the food we eat comes out of bags and boxes, and it's nearly impossible to map its origins. Breastfeeding, however, is the most direct customer-to-client food service available.
Yet despite my intense reaction, I really did want to breastfeed. I was terrified of all of the things I had heard were associated with breastfeeding, such as nipple pain, leaking, and rashes. It didn’t sound at all like it would be easy. But I was still committed. I was going to be the most nature-like mother in all of nature’s creation. I would feed my baby straight from me.
Then I had a C-section. And all of a sudden, I didn't want to breastfeed anymore.
The c-section was unplanned. I had gone in for a check-up a week and a half before my due date, and the check-up turned into an immediate induction, which turned into a c-section days later.
I vowed to myself that I would not allow myself to be cut up on my son's birthing day.
I had seen a video of a c-section during one of my childbirth classes. You know how I almost passed out seeing breastfeeding? Can you imagine how I reacted to seeing an ANIMATED C-SECTION video? I was a mess. I decided there was no way I was going to let that happen to me. I vowed to myself that I would not allow myself to be cut up on my son's birthing day. I would have my baby with my feet up in the air, and I would hopefully not even have to use drugs. You know, so it could be more natural.
Oh, how hopeful I was.
Months later, however, I found myself on a table with medical tools nearby, and I was told they were going to pull my baby out after prying open my abs. I was petrified.
Leaving the operating room with a healthy baby was a victory. But I left with a huge scar, and I was in mind-blowing pain. My baby was whisked off to the nursery while I was in recovery. My anesthesia had worn off basically while I was still on the table, so they needed to assess what was happening, leaving me in one room and my new baby in another. The baby needed to eat and my husband made the choice to start our child on donor breastmilk, the choice he believed I would want him to make. I don't regret my husband's decision, but it felt like my baby was starting this amazing, new, natural feeding journey – without me.
I waited for my colostrum to come in, while my baby stayed nourished on more donor breastmilk. A mother's colostrum will usually suffice, but without him attached to me, it took longer than it would have normally. Looking back, I think the realization that another woman was responsible for his first food would have broken my heart in two, but I was in so much pain that I shrugged it off.
Our stomach is our middle body – the center of us. Our gut, our wisdom, some say. And mine had been mangled. After ten months of stretching itself beyond what I thought possible, it underwent a major operation. I felt sorry for it. And I felt sorry for me.
After we went home, my milk came in, and I began feeding my baby. But positioning was hard with a bandaged belly, and my brain wouldn’t turn off. I was cradling him just above my battle wounds, pouring myself into him, and all I wanted was for someone to take care of me.
I was so focused on feeding my baby "naturally" that it was sucking the joy of out me.
I remember the day I decided to throw in the towel, about ten weeks in. I was standing in the shower, facing away from the water, in order to partially protect my burning nipples and my lower abdomen, when I realized the only emotions I was feeling were fear and pain. I realized that I may have been robbing both me and my baby of something crucial: our ability to enjoy each other. I was so focused on feeding him "naturally" that it was sucking the joy of out me. I wanted to have my husband feed him a bottle while I stayed in bed with my hands wrapped around my middle. I didn’t want to wake up drenched in milk anymore, when I already felt so compromised. I just wanted it to be a little easier. So I decided to stop breastfeeding my son.
I have made peace with my decision not to breastfeed my son. I listened to my body and my heart, and I did what I thought I could at the time. I still get caught up in guilt sometimes, thinking of how I might have wronged him, but I can’t let that feeling win.
I have a happy, healthy baby. And ultimately, that's the win here.