I wrote a post a little while ago about how often I inevitably end up nursing Margot throughout the course of any given night because she's a comfort nurser / Supreme Dictator who demands a boob in order to fall back asleep for any respectable amount of time (oh and I use the word "respectable" very loosely, since she prefers to sleep in a long series of nap-length stints rather than all through the night). (Side bar: I've talked to her pediatrician about it, who isn't remotely concerned about her inclination to wake up so often - as she says, some kids are just bad sleepers. She'll outgrow the habit eventually.)
But in the meantime, we're going on 18 solid months of intermittent nursing while the moon and stars watch over the chirping crickets and the people in our corner of the world who are resting their weary eyes.
But make no mistake - I dare not ever take one of these nights for granted, in spite of just how very fundamentally draining and exhausting they are. I know that my time with a little nursling is limited, and I know that aside from the deep bond we share there are numerous health benefits that we both gain, but foremost I know that I have the ability to breastfeed my daughter when so many mothers do not.
Directly after Margot's birth, during my 3rd-degree-tear repair surgery (one of two I would inevitably end up having), she latched on to my right boob and breastfed for a solid 45 minutes. Okay; wonderful! Great! What magic! She was a champion little nurser with a powerful suck. But after 24 hours or so, I realized that my right nipple was really sore. I knew breastfeeding was something we both had to perfect over time, but I was wincing in pain every time I'd nurse on the right - and was that a blister forming? A crack, maybe? What the hell is going on with my right nipple, now that I'm really studying it? Oh God, I thought. This is terrifying.
I had a lactation consultant come and take a look after someone had come in and suggested that Margot might have a tongue tie - thankfully, the woman we saw reassured me that actually Margot's latch was fantastic, that there was no need for any sort of tongue tie repair procedure, and that the likely cause of my nipple pain was due to an initial sub-par latch that irritated it. Forge on, she said, and handed me a tube of lanolin.
I'd love to have you relive the ensuing five weeks of Margot's life and our nursing relationship at the same pace that I endured that time, so that I could really hammer into you exactly what I went through, but I want you to stay and be friends with me, so I won't. Here's the quick version: something....happened. To my nipple. To this day neither my husband nor I can say exactly what, but it was something gross. Something horrendous. It wasn't decidedly a cracked nipple, nor was it obviously a blister. Suffice it to say it kind of looked like...uhhh.....like I could see something of the inside of my nipple that was never supposed to have been seen by the naked human eye. Just remembering what it looked like and what it felt like is making me weak in the knees. It stung, it throbbed, it bled, and it had its own heartbeat; and I can't say for sure that I've ever thrown out so many swear words at once in my life. Twice it brought me to tears - which may not sound like a lot of times, but it was. It just was.
I was determined not to lose my milk supply on that side though, so I never stopped nursing her on the right - but in hindsight, I really could have used a leather belt or something to bite down on. And I can't tell you how many times I'd find black specks all throughout Margot's poop because she was ingesting my blood along with my milk. (God help us both...in retrospect, what troopers we were! She and I should both have a medal. And maybe a tub of Haagen Dazs.)
But as you already know, I stuck it out. We made it. After the five-week mark and a dependence on lanolin that likened it to my own personal brand of crack, my right nipple healed. I know I never had an issue with milk supply, or with latch, which is the story of far too many women who have lamented a lost nursing relationship with their babies - but at the very least, hear me when I say that I know just how hard it is to establish that relationship in the first place, let alone see it through the days, weeks and months that unfold before you.
I've heard many a professional and layperson say that if you're doing it properly, breastfeeding your child won't hurt. Can I safely assume that all of us nursing mothers would love to punch that idea (and maybe those people, actually) in the face? Breastfeeding is a learning curve for both mama AND baby and it's incredibly misleading to make a woman think that she's doing something wrong just because the initial feeling induced by her newborn baby sucking on her nipples - her nipples, for God's sake! - ranges anywhere between unpleasant and downright excruciating.
And without excluding those who've been unable to establish or maintain a breastfeeding relationship with their children, I cannot stress enough how important it is to seek out - and simultaneously offer - support from and to our fellow mothers. Without a secure support system, the mere concept of nursing a baby can feel staggering and unsurmountable. There are also scores of women who struggle with supply issues. It should go without saying that not one woman or man need ever pass judgement on a mother for how she feeds and sustains the life of her child, whether it be milk straight from the boob, breast milk from the bottle, or formula; whether you're blessed with an oversupply of milk, you're the recipient of donor milk, or you've opted to formula-feed for any series of reasons, remember that what matters most is that you're doing everything you can for your child - and don't let anybody let your confidence sway.
So for those new mamas on that sharp learning curve, take heart - it'll come. You'll get the swing of it, as will your wee babe - and your body will adjust. It's working hard to give life and sustenance to another little person, and this comes at no small cost to both of you; both on a physical and an emotional scale.
At any rate, sit down, have a glass of wine and take some deep breaths. It'll help.