I wrote this over a year ago, when my babies were only a few months old. I never published it at the time partly because I wasn’t sure how it would be received–I never read about these kinds of opinions and experiences. And partly because after I wrote this, I realized that I felt a lot better. Getting it all out on virtual paper proved to be truly cathartic, and a year later, yes, I’m still annoyed, but nowhere near as upset and emotional. I decided to publish it now in order to get it out there for anyone else who might be able to relate. I have edited a few details and fleshed out the links at the end, but kept it mostly how I wrote it. Sorry that it’s a little disjointed.
If you talk about or read about birth, chances are you’ll hear about a woman who is devastated about her birth plan going awry and having to endure interventions that she didn’t want. That the birth went completely opposite of how she wanted a beautiful, natural experience. You might also hear about someone who was ‘forced’ or coerced into using formula, or who wasn’t encouraged or supported in breastfeeding.
I had the opposite experience.
I’m still irritated, angry, sad, about breastfeeding. It wasn’t my attempt, it wasn’t something I wanted to happen. For two solid days someone was poking and prodding at me, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t know why it was happening.
I think during the intake questions before the c-section, the nurse asked if I wanted to breastfeed. I think I said, sure, I’ll probably try it. I guess I thought they were asking just for informational purposes or something? But that was it. Nobody laid out what would happen or what that would actually, logistically mean for me and these two new babies. Nobody asked me anything about it after the babies were actually born. Certainly nobody told me that whatever I had said would result in such a frenzy of unwanted activity.
It literally only occurred to me like 5 months post-partum that I could have said STOP. I had just had two people cut out of my abdomen, and my system was full of various drugs. I felt completely helpless and I was completely out of it, physically and emotionally. Half the time I wasn’t sure if I was awake or asleep. I had no idea what was happening but this stupid breastfeeding thing CLEARLY wasn’t going to work with no milk. Duh. What the ever-loving fuck did they think was going to happen?!
It never even occurred to me to say no, any more than it would have occurred to me to start tap dancing on the ceiling. I was in the hospital and nurses were taking care of me. They knew what was going on. I didn’t know what I was doing; I had never done any of this before!
I think back to that recovery room. My first minutes with these brand new babies, but I didn’t get to enjoy them–I mostly remember that dumb frazzled nurse trying unsuccessfully to latch two 36-week-old babies to my very dry boobs. Seriously, what did she think would happen? Even I knew it wouldn’t work! Why couldn’t they have just left me alone? Why couldn’t they have ASKED me what I wanted to do? If someone had asked me if I wanted to breastfeed–as in, right then, not as in a hypothetical, sure I’ll try it–I would have said no.
She (and the other nurse she brought in because she couldn’t handle two babies) must have eventually backed off or given up. I so wish that I had a better memory and know why and how. Did I tell them to give it a rest? (No. I so wish I had.) Did they just get tired of trying to force something that wasn’t going to work? What made them finally go away?
It makes me kind of mad, and kind of sad. It’s such a frustrating thing to remember and I really wish I could go back in time and slap that nurse’s hands away from me.
But again, it literally didn’t seem like it was my decision. It’s like my body wasn’t mine.
And I feel like I’m the only one who feels this way about breastfeeding.
The hospital was a great hospital, and I loved the rest of the nurses during my stay there. I felt cared for and cared about. This hospital–and many hospitals–boasts of being ‘baby-friendly.’ The more I learn about what that actually means, I’ve come to think of it as ‘mama unfriendly.’ There’s no nursery to give you a break. One nurse sort of broke a rule and took the babies for two hours one night. And those two hours of blessed silence made a huge difference for us. If we had had that first night to sleep and rest and, I don’t know, start to RECOVER FROM THE MAJOR SURGERY I’d just had, I would have felt so much better and more with-it. I understand that rooming in with your baby gives time to bond and a better chance at breastfeeding. But why didn’t we have an option? A choice? Why weren’t my boobs allowed to be in peace? Why on earth are the baby and the boobs more important than the mama who owns the boobs and who just birthed that baby?
I think that’s a key factor–all these well-meaning lactivist folks are thinking about the baby. I guarantee you that the baby has no idea what’s going on. The mama is the one you need to worry about. There need to be guidelines, sure. But why can’t there be very clear questions, options, or statements given before and after the birth happens?
They need to re-name “baby-friendly” to “breastfeeding friendly” because, really, that’s all they’re trying to do. Apparently that’s all that matters–not what mamas may actually want or need. All the things they do are done solely to encourage breastfeeding. (That’s not hyperbole, either–go look at the policies.) If the goal were to encourage bonding, they would give mothers the OPTION to get some goddamned rest. Our hospital apparently no longer had a regular baby nursery, so we were forced to be woken up every ten minutes by our two newborns. I can tell you that both my husband and I would have been exponentially more sane had we had at least one night of good, solid sleep in the hospital. And I promise, our bonding with our new babies would not have suffered one bit. It might have even been better, if we hadn’t been so desperately exhausted.
Here are two semi-relevant articles that really spoke to me:
We were in the hospital for four nights, and I would have happily stayed a lot longer (well, if they would have stopped waking me up every two hours, that is). It was a relief and a blessing to have knowledgeable people coming in to help and advise us all day long. To not feel alone.
“The problem is that no one recognizes the new mother as a recuperating person, and she does not see herself as one.” I actually did–but didn’t always have the luxury of acting like it, with two babies to care for.
“Perhaps if we started talking about the time and energy it actually takes to recuperate from childbirth, women wouldn’t feel the need to return as quickly as possible to “normal.””
And a Jezebel piece about that same article: Stop Acting like Bouncing Back from Labor is Even Possible
THIS: “What’s really cool is that, on top of all this you’re-on-your-own-sucker bullshit, the conversations a new mom will likely encounter are along the lines of: “Do you love it?! Is it everything you dreamed?!””
I have no doubt that many women have a blissful, zen-like post-partum experience. I was not one of them.