It’s funny how experience is the ultimate teacher. I had no idea what it was like to be pregnant, nursing a baby, being a mother. All my best laid plans flew out the window. And every baby/child is different. And every mom has circumstances that often prevent the best intentions of all soon-to-be moms. I guess that’s why I can’t judge another mom — I mean simple things like breast-feeding or bottle feeding is often specific to each baby and mom and circumstance.
I was going to be a medical doctor. But I changed plans and had my first baby in 1981. I was going to have one of those wonderful Lamaze childbirth experiences — no drugs, all natural — a real bonding experience. Instead, my baby was breach, I had drugs and a c-section and heart palpitations and barfed in that kidney-shaped plastic bowl during the procedure. Not what I planned. Not what I wanted.
When the nurse brought me my baby, I was so groggy and tired, that I could barely get her to my breast — her first latch-on was not my nipple, but the fleshy part of my breast. It left a mark — what we called a “hickie.” I had no idea that it was going to be so hard. I could barely roll over in that hospital bed, and holding my newborn baby across my recently incised abdomen — now stapled closed — was not what I had envisioned. With my hospital gown opening up the back, I crawled off the bed backwards to reach my toes to the floor and find my way to the baby bassinet. I hate hospitals. And I hated staying there for full three days.
The breastfeeding became the best part.
But the breastfeeding was not as easy as I expected either. I had way too much milk, my 32 DD breasts had swelled to unknown cup sizes. I had so much milk I had to relieve the pressure by hand-expressing some milk into the bath towel that had become part of my feeding routine — along with giant nursing bras and those round gauze breast pads that I had to tuck inside my bra to hide the leakage. Just wearing a bra to sleep was something I had never planned.
At first, I thought I was going to nurse my baby on schedule, but it quickly became “on-demand” feeding. It was just easier for both of us. At three months I was still leaking milk and still feeling over-weight and overly buxom.
But I persevered. I finally lost weight without trying and my milk supply adjusted. By six months it was getting better. By the time my baby was one year old, I felt comfortable in my new mom mode — nursing my baby, and enjoying the benefits of no bottles to clean. I received guidance and mentoring from other nursing moms and Le Leche League.
I don’t know how it happened, but I continued to nurse until I became pregnant with my second child, when my first was about 19 months old. And no, at that age, I never breastfed in public.
I had five children and two miscarriages. I nursed my babies until they were about 2 years old. I know, some people thought it was wrong. Perhaps you are raising an eyebrow. Sometimes people shamed me for my choice to breastfeed. And to breastfeed for so long. I have about 10 years of breastfeeding to my credit — how does that look on a resume? Even Time magazine ran a piece making fun of moms who breastfeed older babies. Shame, shame they said.
Some people can’t handle a mom breastfeeding an infant. Women in scantily dressed clothes, revealing cleavage is fine, they say.
One time, with my second baby, I was sitting in a chair at a poolside at the Marriott hotel in Palm Desert, California. I was fully clothed, and only my sister and our kids were at the pool. I never bared my breast to nurse, as it was really quite easy to slip a young, 3-month old infant under my shirt to nurse. Anyway, a couple in their early thirties came to the pool, and figured out I was breastfeeding. The woman was clad in her bikini, her breasts heaving out of her top — and yet she and her male companion walked up to me and scolded me for feeding my baby in public. My breasts were not even showing. It was one of those times when you’re taken by surprise and I didn’t have a good come-back. I think I gathered my stuff, with my tail between my legs, and left. They had shamed me and I felt ashamed.
I think as we age, we become more confident. I don’t know what the perfect comeback is when someone scolds you for nursing your baby. But I’m glad I did not let it deter me.
When I started the process of weaning my kids, around age two, I usually had to tell them that the milk was all gone. (A little white lie.) And distract them with other things to do and I could never sit down, or they would climb up on my lap to nurse. It’s some of my fondest memories. The hardest part was my lack of sleep, but I remember telling them when they woke up in the middle of the night, that they had to wait to nurse until the sun was up — I would show them the window, the dark sky and say, not yet. In the morning. And eventually we gave up all the nursings.
Some babies wean themselves — I would never have believed it, but then I saw it with my first grandchild. Yes, all babies are different. They all have different needs. (Truth be told, my husband sucked his thumb with his red blanket, falling asleep in the closet, until he was almost 8 years old.)
I have fond memories of breastfeeding. Maybe we can chalk it up to chemicals — the oxytocin that floods into your veins when you’re breastfeeding — it’s the feel good hormone. I miss it. That feeling that everything else is on hold because my baby needs me, and needs me to sit down and nurse, and read quietly while we bond and share the moments. Moments that come with humor and even irritation — like helping them find something to do with their one wandering hand that can poke you in the nose or the eye, or examine your teeth.
I have fond memories of being a mom to my five kids when they were babies, when they were dependent on me — and in a way, I was dependent on them. It’s not something you understand until you experience it. And it’s not something that will always go as you planned. But it can be a favorite memory. Especially now that my babies are adults, with their own babies.
My husband snapped the photo above, 1989, at a park bench somewhere near Zion’s National Park in Utah. We were enjoying a breakfast of bumble berry pie, a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream, and of course, my 3-month old got to nurse. Great memories.
*Thank you to the Honest Company for reaching out to me and asking me to share my story of nourishing a new babe — the conversation is more assessable now with the Internet, but nonetheless, as timely as the 1980’s and 90’s when I was gaining my experiences.