When I was 34 weeks pregnant, I took a nursing course designed to teach new moms how to breastfeed. During that course, I learned all about the football hold, the cradle hold, and the cross-cradle. I learned the importance of skin-to-skin contact and the benefits of breast milk. And I learned that one insidious little device — the pacifier — had the ability to ruin my entire breastfeeding experience (or so the lactation consultants claimed). At the time, I ate it all up, noting every tip and trick on how to get my soon-to-be child to latch, welcoming all the old wives' tales about how to increase my supply. Armed with all that knowledge, I thought nursing would be easy. But I never imagined how hard breastfeeding would actually be. I never imagined how much it would hurt, both physically and emotionally, and more than anything, I never thought I would miss breastfeeding my daughter after I'd weaned her.
Things started out well. My daughter latched immediately after she'd be born. She breastfed and slept, slept and breastfed, and despite the fact that my nipples were cracking, my breasts were swollen and sore as hell, and my body was drained, I felt like I was OK because I was doing something so natural and so important for my daughter. Because I was successfully breastfeeding my baby girl.
The one thing I planned to do, wanted to do, and yearned to do more than anything as a new mom was the one thing I suddenly couldn’t stand.
Unfortunately, that good feeling didn’t last. Although I was breastfeeding all day, every day, before long I found myself exhausted and overwhelmed by the pressure of being her sole provider. I got angry each and every time my daughter wanted to feed — often even just resenting the fact that she needed to feed in the first place. There were times when I couldn’t stand the sound of her cries or the sight of her chunky little body. And whether these feelings were the result of breastfeeding or my yet-to-be diagnosed postpartum depression, I'll never know. All I knew was that the one thing I planned to do, wanted to do, and yearned to do more than anything as a new mom was the one thing I suddenly couldn’t stand. I no longer had a desire to hold my daughter — holding her felt rote and routine, like a chore — and instead of feeling the maternal love, I felt trapped.
I miss that feeling that came from being needed so thoroughly and completely. I miss being the center of her world.
Even though I felt that way, looking back, I still miss the sweet, milk-drunk look she'd give me, her half-awake, half-asleep glaze after nursing. I miss the way her small, wriggling body felt in my arms. I miss the scrape of her fingernails against my bare skin. Sure, it hurt, but she was reaching for me. She was holding onto me... something that happens rarely these days.
I miss being able to soothe her and comfort her and pacify her at all times. I miss being able to cheer her up, calm her down, or put her to sleep using nothing more than the power of my own body. And I miss being able to ease her stress and alleviate her pain, because no matter where we were or what was wrong, I could console her. I could quiet her. I could make everything seem alright.
I miss how she'd always, and I mean always, fall asleep while feeding. Sometimes we'd be lying down, side-feeding in my bed, and we'd both drift off to sleep together. Other times she'd nap while propped on her Boppy and I'd feel her body relax into mine. I miss that tenderness. I miss that feeling that came from being needed so thoroughly and completely. I miss being the center of her world. I know that, in a few years, our perfect bond will shift, and her heart will expand to make room for her passions and her friends and partners and (maybe) a future family of her own. I know that the time I'll spend being part of her world is fleeting, and already, I miss her.
For the first time in my new life as a mom, I lived unrestrained by societal pressures and norms.
I also miss being able to bear my breasts whenever and wherever the hell I damn well pleased. In the nine months that I breastfed, my daughter nursed in Prospect Park, Central Park, and on the NYC subway. I breastfed in restaurants, in coffee shops, and in trendy parent-friendly bars. Not once did I stop and think about “decency." Not once did I worry about how I looked or what others might've thought. It was liberating. It was freeing. And I was empowered.
Breastfeeding allowed me to reclaim my body by helping me redefine who I was and how I wanted to be perceived. For the first time in my new life as a mom, I lived unrestrained by societal pressures and norms. (I realized that even though we claim to be a pro-breastfeeding culture, we aren't — especially in public places.) I miss the freedom that came with never needing to apologize or worry about covering up.
I don’t want nostalgia to paint my breastfeeding experience as something it wasn’t, because it wasn't ever great. There were days that weren’t good, and if I could do it all over again, I know I would have stopped nursing sooner, when holding my daughter felt like a burden, when my doctors prescribed me anti-depressants (and I stopped taking them for fear of f*cking her up). But I do miss the comfort it brought her and, at times, me. I miss the regularity of it. I miss feeling in control, because feeding her and caring for her was the one thing I knew I could control. And I miss the simplicity of our lives together in those soft and silent moments. Even though I know we still need and depend on each other now, I miss the immediacy of her need for me in those days. Breastfeeding was incredibly difficult, but I find myself looking back and missing it more and more.