Before I got pregnant with Anya, I wasn’t even sure I was going to breastfeed. My nipples have always been problematic; if I wear the wrong bra, they bleed. Was I really going to try to feed a baby with them? What if she made them bleed? My baby would be drinking blood. While I have always enjoyed vampire stories, I didn’t relish the thought of raising one.
Then hormones happened. One evening in my third trimester, I suddenly began daydreaming about breastfeeding my baby. The thought came out of nowhere, and would not let up. The mere thought of nursing my newborn filled me with warmth and happiness. Instinct really is amazing. (Let it be known that I was also pretty jazzed about changing poopy diapers. That one passed quickly.)
My poor body, though, just didn’t have enough mojo to make milk after Anya was born. She took to nursing beautifully, and I cherished that time with her, but within a week it was clear that my milk was not coming in. (Well, it wasn’t clear at the time. Having successfully breastfed, I can now tell you that I never produced more than trace amounts of milk for Anya.)
I was devastated. Not because I thought formula was so bad (though it is certainly not the “easy” route), but because I wanted so desperately to nurse my daughter. It made her so happy. It was easy. It was natural. And it just wasn’t happening. Fenugreek, blessed thistle, Reglan (twice), power pumping…nothing helped.
I fought. I mourned. I moved on.
When I got pregnant again, I was determined to do everything I could to ensure I could breastfeed my son. Before I got pregnant, I put on weight to bump my BMI up to 18 (mostly to help prevent miscarriages, but it also helped me breastfeed). Throughout my pregnancy, I read up on breastfeeding — anything I could get my hands on, which was frustratingly little. The whole time I was in the hospital, I pestered the nurses to check to make sure that I had milk and that he was getting enough of it.
Three days after Kai joined us in the world, the Milk Fairy came. I did not have nursing bras or pajamas that would contain those things. (Thankfully, they deflated a bit after a few days.)
“Ah,” I thought. “This is how it’s supposed to go.”
While I have fought with a precarious supply (Kai came close to being labeled Failure to Thrive during his early checkups, and even now is a bit on the slim side for his age and height), and am currently dealing with teething and distraction during our nursing sessions, for the most part nursing has been a breeze. We all get plenty of sleep. Don’t have to mess with bottles, bottle warmers, formula containers, or pacifiers. And I feel he and I have such a connection because of our nursing relationship — even more than I have with his sister.
But my experience with breastfeeding is about more than just feeding my baby. I have learned so much about sexism and body shaming and the strange myths that persist about sex and parenthood and sin. I have learned how shamefully little many medical professionals and the public at large know about this most basic bodily function. I have been on the receiving end of snide comments and leers, while showing less skin than I do in a bathing suit.
But I have also been supported by total strangers, both in person and online. Through Facebook and Instagram, I have discovered a whole community of women bound together by our determination to normalize breastfeeding. And I have become infinitely more comfortable in my own skin. I, who just a few short years ago was ashamed if my bra strap was showing, am now an avid public breastfeeder — and no, I don’t use a cover or a baby carrier, or wear a bunch of shirts. You’ll see more cleavage on the front of any Victoria’s Secret store. At least my boobs are out for a good reason.
I can’t really give a comprehensive list of places I have breastfed, because I do it without a second thought now. But here’s a short list:
- Doctor’s waiting rooms
- Restaurants (Chili’s, Newks, Subway, Longhorn, Red Robin, Milano’s, Sonic, Cracker Barrel)
- Stores (Kohl’s, Target, Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Walgreen’s, Lenscrafters)
- Several parks and playgrounds
- Front yards (mine, my parents’, my in-law’s)
- Fairs (Delta Fair, Munford Celebrate, July 4th fireworks)
- Social gatherings (a birthday party, a company Christmas party, a funeral)
- Assorted parking lots, including a particularly seedy gas station and a church I do not attend (during services)
- Various tweet-worthy feeds (an earthquake, a lunar eclipse)
Pretty much anywhere I’ve gone with my baby, I’ve fed him. At first, I was shy and awkward about it. Even now I get a pang sometimes, like when I nursed him while sitting in a chair in front of the mall-facing windows of Lenscrafters on one of the busiest days of the year. But ultimately, I’m more concerned with feeding my child than drawing the attention of strangers.
Which is how it should be.
I had some breastfeeding photos taken recently, to commemorate this time in my life. I have no intention of stopping until he is ready, but I also have no idea when that will be, so I feel the need to capture the moments while I can. Of the final shots, this one is my favorite, even though he’s not actually breastfeeding in it. I feel like it really captures our personalities and our bond.
I knew that breastfeeding my son would alter the childcare experience, but I didn’t expect it to change me as a person. It has, though. It’s changed how I see other women, other mothers. Changed how I think about my own body. I never realized how much my perceptions were filtered through the sexualization of the female body until I stopped thinking of my breasts as sexual objects. One simple change has sent ripples through my entire world view, like waves of dominoes. I could not possibly cover all of the implications in a single blog post.
Having my daughter has taught me about being a mother, but nursing my son has taught me about being a woman.