See the funny side
When I went to my six week checkup with the midwife who delivered my baby, I took a postpartum screening survey. One of the questions made a big impression on me because my husband and I had just been talking about it a few days earlier. It was something like this:
My parents, who live close to us, went on a trip for two weeks to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and I noticed how much I missed talking to them and having them drop by for short visits. School hadn’t started yet and my older children were frustrated by being at home with me and the new baby all the time. Not many people were coming by and we weren’t going on any adventures, so maybe we all had started to feel trapped. One thing I really picked up on was that I was taking everything so seriously. I was trying my best to breastfeed the baby and heaven help anyone who threatened our success. I was not allowing myself to relax or laugh. Everything seemed like a really big deal because I was concentrating so hard on giving the baby enough milk and burping her and fixing my own meals so that my milk would taste good and be nutritious. A joke my older children thought was hilarious would make me angry and instead of laughing along with them I would yell at them.
But, I recognized what was happening, and then my parents came back from their trip so I breathed a sigh of relief. My husband and I talked about what I needed from him. I made it a priority to relax and smile. My parents got home on a Saturday and then my appointment was on that following Monday. I filled out the postpartum survey and told the midwife about my experience so far. I said I hoped to be able to get my sense of humor back, but I confessed that breastfeeding was taxing my body. The midwife sympathized with me and told me to keep watching for signs of depression. I scored an 8 on the survey and she said that a score of 12 or more would have made her worry. We both agreed that what I was feeling was normal, but that I could handle it, especially with more help from my husband and parents.
Another month has gone by and I still use my Twitter stream to complain about the difficulties of breastfeeding, but at least I am able to see the funny side of things. On Tuesday of this week, I dropped my oldest daughter off at her school and then dropped my son off at his school. I was driving home with the baby, thinking I would nurse her and she would nap. But then I remembered some things I wanted from the grocery store: bread, cheese, children’s toothpaste, and I thought I had better get some pads to put in my bra since my milk letdown is so strong. So I took my baby into the store and was pushing her around in the cart, quickly crossing things off my mental list. Since we were there early in the morning, there were lots of employees stocking the shelves. One employee in the face wash section wanted to “oooooh” and “ahhhhhh” about the baby so I was delayed a few seconds. I hurried to the baby aisle to see how much the absorbent pads cost. I saw that they had washable, reusable pads so I decided on those. And then since I was thinking so much about milk and leaking and trying to beat the clock . . . I looked at my watch and then started thinking about what I was wearing. “Hmmmm,” I thought. “I don’t think I’m wearing any nursing pads here in this grocery store. I hope I can make it home without getting my shirt wet.” Well, that thought was all it took to provoke a let down.
As I went towards the front of the store, I recognized that it was funny to be buying two packs of absorbent pads with big dark circles on my chest betraying the fact that I was the kind of idiot who would leave the house without wearing any. I went through the self checkout line in a lame attempt to avoid eye contact with anyone. When I scanned the pads, the coupon machine printed out a coupon with a message from Enfamil: “Thinking of supplementing your breastfed baby?” it asked, mocking my pain. I stuffed the coupon I didn’t need into the grocery bag and smiled sheepishly at an elderly employee as I left.
Just as I did with my other two children, I am avoiding the hassle of pumping (I’m too lazy to wash the equipment and the bottles). I count on eventually reaching that point where my milk supply matches what my baby needs. Some mornings I fear I am only an hour away from developing mastitis and I spend all day offering my baby opportunities to nurse. I can’t even hold her against my chest without wincing in pain. Having to ask your older children (with your teeth bared and your voice resembling a primal growl) to back off while the baby is nursing is not funny. Being in agony because of hard lumpy breasts is not funny at all, but getting a coupon for formula and thinking of how to respond. . . that’s really fucking funny.
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(I realize that every woman’s milk supply is different. My intention is not to make judgments about women who supplement breastfeeding with formula. I’m just sharing my personal experience. Also cotton pads are not really working for me, but I am learning to wear shirts that will make the leaks less obvious. I want to try wool pads.)