I entered motherhood with expectations. Society gives us a long list of what to expect when caring for a baby, and since I had no experience, I read all of it and took it to heart. But just as with pregnancy, I let go of those expectations when they failed to become my reality. Not all women get crazy food cravings and wild mood swings. And not all women have difficulty breastfeeding.
Some women, perhaps the majority of women, do have breastfeeding complications. Many of my friends tried to the point of exhaustion and had to switch to formula for the health of their child and their own sanity. Breastfeeding support groups are promoted everywhere. The hospital where I gave birth had a lactation nurse on call at all times. I'm not discounting the difficulties a lot of mothers have with breastfeeding. But that wasn't my reality. Perhaps you can relate.
I don't recall seeing women breastfeed as a child. It wasn't what I was exposed to. Babies drank from bottles. The two were as linked in my mind just as much as babies and diapers are. It's a puzzle to me why my childhood lacked exposure to human mothers feeding babies the way all mammals do. But as an adult, I knew breastfeeding was an option that I wanted to try first. Even so, I bought bottles and formula just in case.
“You have perfect textbook nipples,” the nurse commented during one of my early prenatal appointments. I was startled and didn't know how to respond. Was that a compliment? It certainly wasn't sexy; any comment including the word “textbook” could never be sexy. I think I stammered out a “thank you” and changed the topic. Little did I know that textbook nipples would be a gift that began my breastfeeding journey with ease.
Friends with babies passed down nipples shields and cooling pads, just in case I needed them. I looked up various nipple creams and wondered if I should put them on my baby registry. In the end, I decided it was a bit much to ask friends and family to buy such intimate items. Good thing I waited.
I don't even remember when my newborn daughter first latched. I gave birth drug-free, but I was so out of it, I felt as though I was drugged. I don't have a clear memory of labor until around 15 minutes after birth. Somewhere in that blurry time, a nurse put my tiny crying baby on my chest and she fed. That was it. It was so hassle-free, I don't even remember it happening.
Those nipple shields and cooling pads went unused. Nipple cream was unneeded. I never cracked nor bled. I never engorged. I never had any complications at all. There were times when her suckling felt uncomfortable to tears, and in those moments I felt a small connection to those who struggled, but it was always so temporary. I have been very fortunate.
From the very start, I never let breastfeeding keep me from going out in public. I invented a wrap style (or perhaps it already existed and I simply figured it out) that completely hid my baby behind cloth when she fed. Outsiders couldn't tell if my baby was feeding or asleep. More than one person thought it was an arm sling, not even realizing a baby was attached to my bare breast underneath. Buying a wrap was one of my best purchases during my nesting “what will I really need for this baby” phase.
With my wrap, I took my newborn out to our local sports bar when she was just 3 days old. I nursed her at church. I took her to social outings and work events. I dragged her along to conferences, listened to talks, and conversed with colleagues with her feeding and sleeping on my boob. I was both mother and professional, progressing my career and growing my child at the same time. To this day, I can hardly believe how well it worked out!
As my baby grew, my ability to feed her discretely in the wrap declined. I've since transitioned to using a simple blanket over the shoulder when I need to breastfeed her in public, which is rare. At nearly a year old, she delights in the diversity of solid food and only nurses for comfort and sleep now. It won't be long until she is weened. I am thankful that my breastfeeding experience with my firstborn has been complication-free. Motherhood has enough challenges!
Now, getting her to sleep, on the other hand, is my daily thorn...