I decided many years ago that when I eventually had kids I would try my hardest to breastfeed them. I knew it would be something I would have to work at because my sister, whose boobs are far bigger and seemingly more life-giving than mine, had such difficulty trying to breastfeed each of her five kids that the longest she was ever able to feed any of them via the breast was one month. And it wasn’t that she didn’t try very, very hard. It’s just that her milk had the consistency and nourishment of colored water, and her kids were left starving after each feeding. So she switched to formula and now she and all her five healthy children are going straight to hell.
My mother breastfed me until I was 22 months old, an age at which I was able to walk up to her and ask for a “sus.” I am personally of the school of thought that once my child is old enough to walk up to me and ask me to whip out my tit, IT MIGHT BE TIME TO MAKE A CHANGE. But my mother insists that I wouldn’t eat anything else, and the only way she was able to wean me was to leave me alone with my father for four straight days where I was left with a decision between starving to death or eating solid food for the first time. When she returned on the fourth night she found me alive and in relatively good spirits as my father had introduced me to chocolate milk and Oreos. I had basically replaced one dark circle with another.
During my pregnancy I looked forward to breastfeeding and the possibility of bonding with my baby while simultaneously providing her with gobs of antibodies and tailor-made nutrients. I didn’t need to be convinced that “breast is best,” and every time I picked up a book to read more about the process of breastfeeding I had to wade through at least two to three chapters devoted specifically to convincing me that formula feeders are terrorists. Apparently, everything that has ever gone wrong in the world can be traced back to some evil woman who fed her baby a man-made imitation of breast milk via a plastic nipple. The literature on breastfeeding is obnoxiously fanatical — there is one book that actually says that needing a good night’s sleep is a myth perpetrated by the bottle feeders of the world! — and if we took it to its logical conclusion we wouldn’t be looking for Osama Bin Laden in the war in terrorism. We would be looking for his mother and her stockpile of deadly Similac and Enfamil.
I don’t personally think that my sister is a bad person because she decided to feed her babies from a bottle — my sister is a bad person for entirely unrelated reasons involving aerosol hairspray. I have a lot of respect for her and the difficult decision she made for herself and for her children, and after three weeks of wielding my own torpedo boobs, I can say with a tiny bit of authority that breastfeeding IS NOT EASY. They will tell you that it is easy. They will say, It’s good for you, it’s good for your baby, and it’s easy! And they will be lying to you. SHOVING A BLUNT PENCIL INTO YOUR EYE IS EASY, TOO, so there is no merit to that claim, and you shouldn’t believe them.
I have already described what it feels like during the first few days of breastfeeding, and that description involved staples, a chopping block, the delicate tip of a man’s penis, and lots of mad stabbing. I totally stand by that description and when I think back to those first few days I am overcome with agony because I know that there is some new mother out there right now who had her baby hours ago, and she is trying to get that baby to attach and her penis is lying on that chopping block and that baby is just madly stapling away. I am so, so sorry, new mom. In case they didn’t tell you, breastfeeding isn’t easy.
A woman’s nipples learn quickly, however, and after a few days of successful feeding they become immune to the stapling, and instead of piercing pain I began to experience dull, merely uncomfortable pain. Some feedings are worse than other feedings, and in Leta’s case, the worst feedings are the ones in which she is holding conversations with my breast. And I’m talking pages of dialogue, single-spaced. Usually these conversations are upsetting, because while she’s talking to the breast she’s scrunching up her nose and throwing her knee into my other breast, and she’s bobbing her head back and forth to emphasize the point she’s making. Bobbing of the head really hurts because when her head bobs my nipple bobs and NIPPLES WEREN’T MADE TO BOB.
During conversation feedings I have to pull her off the breast several times, look her in the eye and say There is no talking in baseball, Leta. She’ll sober up immediately and get this look on her face that says Me? Talking? You must have mistaken me for that OTHER baby. And then she dives head first back into the breast and picks up where she left off at the bottom of page four where she and the breast were discussing the Democratic National Convention.
Perhaps the hardest thing about breastfeeding, which also happens to be the hardest thing about new parenthood, is nighttime when her sleep schedule often interferes with the agenda of my breasts. Sometimes she won’t fall asleep for two hours after her last feeding, which means she’s supposed to eat in about an hour, but there’s NO WAY IN HELL we’re going to wake her up in an hour. My boobs, which are used to being emptied all day long start to fill up with milk, and I end up lying on my back completely awake as my breasts harden like freshly poured cement baking in the afternoon sun. By the time she’s been asleep for two hours my boobs are literally exploding, and the only relief I can get is in a handheld breast-pump which CREAKS as I try frantically to elicit milk from my nipples.
The other night I sat there in the dark, nipples CREAKING, my hand cranking the pump like a well in the desert, and nothing would come out of my boob. I cried quietly for a half hour, screaming MY BOOB DOESN’T WORK! in muffled whispers so that I wouldn’t wake the baby, until Jon had finally had enough. He sat up in bed and said, “Put down the breast pump. Come to bed. Your boob totally works.”