BREAST MILK (Part One)

Dr. Gold Taraji is a physics professor who enters a new phase in her life as a woman who just turned 43 years old and is the mother of a 2-year old.  She reflects on past relationships and anticipates the beauty of new relationships as she becomes reacquainted with herself.   Below is part one of Gold Taraji’s reflections on breast milk.

I romanticized breastfeeding.  I thought as soon as I breastfed my baby, I would instantly feel an overwhelming rush of affection for her deep within my bosom; I imagined being completely content, holding her in my arms day and night.   I thought we would share an unspoken understanding that I was hers and she was mine, and we would remain in tune with each other forever–even beyond the grave.

A host of stories told by other mothers, as well as loads of workshops and literature discussing the joys and benefits of breastfeeding all fed this belief.  I even believed this  on the day she was born,  when the doctors raised her up to me, and placed her on my breast.  Immediately, she began to nurse and I wept uncontrollably.     It wasn’t the mere sight of her that caused my tears to fall.  Truth be told, the instant Baby left my womb and entered the cold open air, her face didn’t immediately tug at my heart.  It didn’t completely register that she was the reason I’d been pushing.  Instead, I was more relieved that the cold chills, the trembling, the teeth chattering, the waves of pain radiating throughout my whole body, feeling like the worst case of dysentery known to humankind, had all come to an end.  I was so happy that all of this was over that I forgot why I was pushing so hard. When they raised Baby toward me, I thought, “Oh yeah, a baby!”  Then, my first experience of breastfeeding came and Baby began suckling.  She knew exactly what she was doing–at less than 1-minute old. What a mystery to me!  I crossed the waterfall of my tears and entered her world.

During the first three days, colostrum came from my breasts; some said it would be thick and yellow, but for me it was a clear and slightly thin gel with rich proteins and antibodies good for Baby’s immune system.    During this time, I wasn’t exactly sure if she was latching on properly.  I was also worried that my breast milk may not come.  I didn’t have any real basis for this.  I had a tendency to imagine the worst case scenario so I could be “emotionally equipped” to deal with the disappointment.  In other words, I have often prepared to be disappointed.  It’s a worn-out coping mechanism that served its purpose for a time and proved itself to be quite useful.  However, it was not necessary now, nor was it healthy for a new mother.  I thought that if something were to go wrong, it would happen to me, though I had no evidence of anything “going wrong” throughout the pregnancy or even during labor.

Perhaps my breasts wouldn’t yield milk because these were the same breasts that came out lop-sided in the 7th grade.  First the left, then later the right.  And even when they did become the same size, it wasn’t as though a bra was all that necessary.  There was little to hold up, push up, or show off.  It was just like, “Ok, I guess I better wear a bra just in case I get hit during kickball or volleyball or something.”

I worried and waited. The second day came.  No milk.  The third day came.  No milk.  My worries were becoming a reality.  I called Kaiser, scheduled a phone appointment and spoke with Dr. Deeptah Dubashi.  She said that my milk might still come in but if not, relying on a bottle instead of breast milk would be just fine.  After all, she had to eat.  “She’ll still grow up healthy and strong.  I was a bottle-fed baby, and I think I turned out pretty well.”  She and I laughed for a quick moment while I held in my real question, “But would she ever bond with me?”  No matter how much reassurance Dr. Dubashi gave me, I wasn’t satisfied.  Giving my baby formula was not how I imagined caring for my child.

My husband, Baby and I went to Longs Drugs (my all-time favorite store) to look for baby bottles and formula.  I sat with Baby in the back seat while Daddy drove.  I could tell he was worried about me.  He caught me staring out the window.  “How are you?” he asked.

I was awful.    Lifeless, sleep-deprived, and disappointed.  I  was convinced that after three days of parenting, I was a horrible parent.    What kind of mother can’t breastfeed her own child?  I was beating myself up for something I couldn’t control.  And yet at the same time, I had to accept the fact that my child had to eat and if she needed formula because Momma’s breast milk didn’t come in, then so be it.   While Daddy waited in the car with Baby, I walked alone to the infant section of Longs.  I walked in cold, having done no research, hoping the labels on the packaging would give me clues as to what was best for my baby.  There were too many choices, and I cried as I examined the labels of bottles, nipples, and formula, surprised by how many brands and shapes and sizes and colors these things came in.  I didn’t bother to research any of this while I was pregnant because I was planning on breastfeeding.  But there I was, overwhelmed and confused.   I finally made a decision, bought everything, and left.

Daddy gave Baby and I some privacy as I tried to feed her.  Feeling nervous and somewhat useless, he poked his head in to ask, “Is she eating?”  Then, two and five minutes later, again he pops in, “Is she eating?”

As I brought the bottle close to her, she took a taste and then immediately wrapped her little forearms around my wrist and pulled the bottle into her mouth.  The child was strong.  And apparently hungry.  “She’s eating, she’s eating,”  I yelled.  She had about an ounce to two ounces of formula.  I was happy, and yet still disappointed.

Our doula came later that night, the end of the third day, and showed me how to express milk from my breasts.  It didn’t work, and this first-time mom was anxious and sweaty.  The doula gave it a try and expressed two large drops of breast milk and said, “See, it’s here.”  I cried the same tears I wept when Baby nursed for the first time in the delivery room.  My breast milk actually came.

Copyright © 2011 Janet Stickmon

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One Comment on “BREAST MILK (Part One)

  1. I can relate to these challenges of breastfeeding, and the emotional rollercoaster of frustration and elation that you go through when you feel like you’re not doing it “right”. To me, it’s almost like learning how to ride a bike: you analyze the technicalities (what angle does the baby’s neck need to be for the nipple to go in far enough in her mouth?), and then you get into a repetitive phase where it starts getting easier with each try, with moments of “What if I CAN’T do it? Should I give up?” in between. I laugh now (but definitely not at the time) remembering how my husband and I watched an animated video on how to get the right latch, after excruciating pain from an incorrect one, and we were scrubbing through the video in slow-motion, with a play-by-play of each action–you would have thought we were watching ESPN.

    I like the description of the nervous father of the baby in this post. There’s an interesting dynamic that happens when a mom decides to nurse her baby. The partner is there to ‘support’, but nursing is done by one person and it’s an experience that can’t be shared equally. Raising a child is a shared and collaborative experience, but when it comes to breast milk, I think it’s one of the few opportunities for a woman to fully take charge in the relationship and say, “Only I can do this.”

    Like

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