I was 24 years old and single when my first child was born. I came to a vague decision while pregnant that I would try to nurse my baby for two main reasons: 1. It would be cheaper than using formula 2. It was natural. I didn't feel very strongly one way or another about it.
After my son was born, my mother came to stay with me the first week. It was a hellacious week. As "natural" as breastfeeding is, there was a huge learning curve for me. I had cracked and bleeding sores where no woman wants cracked and bleeding sores. Every nursing session was excruciating. I dreaded every time my baby boy woke up to nurse -- and he woke up every 45 minutes around the clock.
Near the end of the first week, I got up to nurse the baby. I sat down in the rocking chair my mother had lovingly refurbished for me and her first grandchild. When he latched on, I screamed in pain and thrust him away from me, very nearly dumping him in my mother's arms, sobbing incoherently. Just give him a bottle. I'm through with this. My mother encouraged me to give it another chance. She leaned over me and tried to correct the baby's lazy latch. That night I sat in the rocker and grit my teeth through the pain, determining right there and then to see this through to the end. I think it was that night I became a lactivist.
Despite the Unlikelihood of my success at breastfeeding -- a young, single, working mother -- I went on to meet my initial goal of nursing for 12 months, and then I went on to meet my secondary goal of nursing for 24 months.
Fast forward five and a half years from that night I became a breastfeeding advocate; I birthed a 6lb baby girl on my own bed in my own house. Moments after she was born, I placed her at the breast, confident that I could overcome the difficulties I faced with my son almost six years prior. Sure, nipples got sore, but I repositioned and re-latched until it felt better.
And then something was wrong. Two days, no wet or dirty diapers. Three days. Baby girl screamed painfully in between bouts of fitful sleep. Over a pound lost of her initial birth weight. Pediatrician visits. Heel pricks. The "Black Diaper Bag of Doom" -- filled to the brim with formula samples and serious conversations about failure to thrive, and "we'll have to hospitalize if this doesn't resolve...". But I was a lactivist. I had read the breastfeeding boards on Mothering.com for years. I took one look at my precious baby girl's gaunt, yellow face and warmed the formula and handed it over to my husband to syringe-feed our daughter. And I understood why some people give up. If not the sore nipples, the hungry baby.
Homeopathics, tinctures, hours hooked up to the double electric hospital pump squeezing out nothing but drop after disappointing drop, and nothing short of sheer unadulterated determination, and I am still successfully nursing my baby girl nine months later. I am three months from my initial goal of nursing for a year. I'm already planning on making our secondary goal.
If someone were to ask me why breastfeeding is so important to me, I might have a hard time coming up with an answer that makes sense. Sure, it is the biological norm for feeding a mammal infant. There's no denying that fact. Yet not as easy to enumerate, the bond I have with my nurslings is unequivocal and irreplaceable; the pride I have in providing nourishment for my babies is a warm, peaceful comfort in the often hectic, hormonal, harried days of motherhood. My baby's obvious lack of sickness in her short life in a nice bonus, and being able to calm many of life's bumpy moments with a snuggle and some milk is often reason enough alone for me to continue toward my goals. And if I am going to be perfectly honest, there's the lovely excuse of "I'm nursing the baby" to get out of other duties and responsibilities as I recline on the bed cuddling the cutest baby girl I ever birthed.
Reflecting on the journey of motherhood, and consequently nursing, is celebration enough of World Breastfeeding Week to me. That, and blogging while my little one nurses to sleep curled in the crook of my arm, peaceful and innocent.
(Now I'm off to go peruse www.elegantmommy.com -- I hear they're having a 25%off sale Bravado!)