Can Feminism and Breastfeeding Coexist, Take 2

If you have goats around, they might be fun for your babySeptember 11, 2012. Despite my best efforts to give birth on any day other than 9/11, a squalling Babygirl enters the world at noon and almost immediately settles down to breastfeed. I have two black eyes from labor and can’t see too well. Is she doing this weird getting-sustenance-from-my-body thing okay? No one tells me and I can’t tell. Later, once I’ve been transferred upstairs, a lactation consultant gives me some tips.

Late September. Babygirl is growing like a weed, tough and stringy and unstoppable, so I guess it’s going okay. Over my six weeks of (unpaid) maternity leave, I become an All-You-Can-Eat Breastaurant. Thank god for smartphones. I play a lot of Words with Friends while she nurses. At night, Ben reads to me. We make it through the first few books of Harry Potter and Babygirl absorbs Rowling with her mother’s milk. I think it improves her digestion.

October. In preparation for going back to work, I buy three pumps and use only one:

My pick is the light, user-friendly, tube-less, and affordable Ameda Purely Yours Electronic Pump ($160), which attaches nicely to the Simple Wishes Hands Free Bra ($25). Voila! You can express milk and write for the Billfold at the same time.

Besides the pumps, I have not spent any money on feeding the child beyond $5 for a used Boppy. My boobs, which I have lugged around for nearly twenty years, are finally pulling their weight. Thanks, ladies! Once I start pumping, I invest in storage bags and bottles. The costs are still minor. Back at work, I share an office with a 4o-year-old beatnik, so when it’s pumping time, I have to ask him for privacy. Early on, he cheerfully mansplains to me, “Don’t worry, someday your breasts will be fun again and not just functional.”

November. THRUSH. Burning pain, searing stabbing fire-type pain at every feeding. I grit my teeth in agony for weeks, including while traveling to see in-laws in North Carolina over Thanksgiving, because a) I expect it to go away on its own, and b) I have been indoctrinated into the cult of Exclusive Breastfeeding for Six Months No Matter What. Sure, French mommies have all switched to formula by this point, meaning their kids sleep through the night while the ladies get svelte and have their pelvic floors massaged for free by the state, but as we’ve established the French are quitters. I am determined to stay the course.

En route home from Thanksgiving, I have a massive anxiety attack. I throw up before getting to the airport and again after getting on the plane. At last, when we make it home, I diagnose Babygirl with thrush, paint her mouth purple ($13), and gradually heal.

I don’t quit work or breastfeeding. I consider quitting my in-laws but I don’t do that either. The pointless, useless lady hired in my absence gets fired and I get my own sweet private blessed office back. Eventually the beatnik gets fired too. My boss likes firing people. I keep my head down, pump several times a day, store bags of milk in the kitchen freezer, race home to relieve the babysitter, occasionally forget the pump at home or the milk at work, but everything largely goes fine. Once I make a mistake and my boss screams about baby brain. Mostly though she comes to rely on me more. I am leaning in! It is working! I negotiate myself a raise.

January. Babygirl is four months old. I buy my first can of powdered formula from a small pharmacy in Guatemala and bottled water to mix it with. I’m in Antigua for my father-in-law’s destination wedding, and after a couple of days I’m tired of being tethered to the hotel instead of out doing fun exciting stuff with the other guests. The last field trip sounds amazing: climbing a volcano! Unfortunately the excursion lasts all afternoon and there’s no way I can pump enough to provide the hotel babysitter with sufficient sustenance for Babygirl.

After wrestling with guilt demons for way too long, I let my mother, who’s there too, persuade me. She had three small children in the ’80s and worked full time; we were all Formula One race cars and we ended up mostly okay. It’s not heroin, it’s canned help. It’s also expensive, which feels appropriate, like penance.

Climbing the volcano is fun, though I am out of shape and have to do much of it on horseback, but I am so nervous the entire bus ride home I almost throw up again, sure I’m going to be punished for putting my own wants ahead of the child’s needs. Instead, when I arrive, I find Babygirl sleeping soundly.

We both make it back to the States in one piece.

March. Hurrah, hurrah! Six months! I cut back on the pumping at work and start supplementing breastmilk with real food and, at last, formula. I would probably do more except I am so cheap frugal and Simulac is like liquid plutonium or something, ridiculously expensive even in big bulk cans of powder. I google “when can i give my baby real milk dammit” and the answer is when your child is one year old. This advice is, no doubt, brought to you by Nestle.

May. It’s clear from snatches of phone calls and the occasional misdirected email that, despite everyone’s best efforts, my office is going to go under. Criss? Or opportunity?

July. I quit my day job in order to try DWYL for a year, starting with some crazy overseas travel. A coworker condescendingly tells me to enjoy my time with Babygirl. “I’m not leaving to be a SAHM,” I tell her. “I’m going to write.” “Sure you are,” she says, patting me on the arm.

My little family hits the road, buying Lithuanian formula in Lithuania, English formula in England, and Spanish formula in Spain, but it’s all really the same formula labeled differently and even more expensive for being in Euros. The child supplements that blandness with more adventurous forays into restaurant food: herring, hummus, paella. She’s healthy. I’m calmer.

On the plane back to the States in August, I breastfeed her one last time. I feel sad and nostalgic and full of love and gratitude that she and I have been able to share this experience. Then I say “goodbye to all that” and start gleefully stockpiling whole cow’s milk by the gallon.


16 Comments / Post A Comment

Hindsight is the best – marveling at what you survived! Also, I have been listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks while nursing my 4 month old. My 3 year old got to listen to Friday Night Lights and the WTF podcast. It’s like a sociological experiment!

callmeprufrock (#5,158)

@xtinamartinson Oh my gosh, coolest comment ever. I can’t wait to try this when my babymaking time comes.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

At the risk of sounding like an Old Person On Facebook, you sound like a great parent.

Katni (#6,141)

How in the BLEEP do you get black eyes from labor???? Oh god maybe I don’t want to know. This might be the final nail in the coffin of my uterus.

@Katni From pushing. She came out wrong side up, so I burst the blood vessels around my eyes trying to get her out. It was kind of amazing — I looked like I’d been in a bar fight. :)

dotcommie (#662)

@Ester Bloom HORROR

My boss just had a baby and I swear, the things I’ve learned about childbirth has given me second thoughts.

@Ester Bloom Holy crap.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@dotcommie OMG why did they let you push her out if she was the wrong way? Isn’t that when the doctors do a C-Section? I thought that’s what C-Sections are for.

@TheDilettantista We had a super great midwife who felt confident she could guide me through the craziness, and she did. But we were also in a birthing center inside a hospital so if things got out of hand, surgeons could step in.

SkipToMyLou (#2,438)

@TheDilettantista Mine was wrong side up, and I had a c-section after 40+ hours of hard labour (actually, they both were wrong side up, and no.2 was 50+ hours of hard labour) anyway- the c was HORRIBLE. Subsequent to this, I’ve met tons women over the years who’ve had a first c-section and then a VBAC or a vag birth and then a c-section, and who’ve had two or more of either kind. I’ve never EVER met anyone who said that the c-section was better than the vag, even if the vag included drugs, tears, dislocated pelvis or whatever. It’s so not an easy out. Even if the alternate is two black eyes (do you want to have a baby now? ;) )

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

…This still makes me not really want to breastfeed. I am going to be a horrible mother should that day ever come, oi.

But thank you for sharing this was all incredibly informative. (Seriously how did you get black eyes from labor? Eesh).

Hater in Heels (#7,547)

I had a rough time breastfeeding (BabyK’s fault, I am sure) and thought I would quit as soon as my jailtime was up. Oddly, after the pressure was off, I found I enjoy it & we do a morning nursing session much longer than I ever ever thought.

theballgirl (#1,546)

After exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months I decided that I am pro-formula.

SkipToMyLou (#2,438)

1. All formula sold in a developed country meets that country’s standards- whatever brand you use will be fine. 2. I breastfed my kids for a year each, intro’ed cow’s milk at six months (I think??) and then switched to cow’s milk entirely at a year only because I was at home for a year each time- so how the fuck does anyone do it at work. I have no idea. 3. Breastfeeding and feminism can co-exist. Breastfeeding and capitalism, I’m not so sure about. You need long maternity leave (PROPER, PAID LEAVE) if you’re going to breast feed exclusively for a year, no two ways about it.

eatmoredumplings (#3,808)

@SkipToMyLou Even six months seems like a lot if you have to work! Maybe if you have a job with flexible hours or a private office (or a dedicated space for nursing if your employer is large enough) that’s difficult but doable. But what if you’re in a customer service job without any extra office space to dedicate, and with your only legal break being a lunch break? Do you just switch to formula when you head back to work, or try to fight with your bosses to give you more breaks and close off some space even though it screws up everyone else’s schedule? A bunch of people have told me “oh you can pump at work!” and I’m like “….I’m really not sure how that is going to work.”

This capitalism thing, man, it’s a drag sometimes.

:( Yeah people talk about pumping at work but that’s just not reality for everyone, even though it SHOULD be. I would first see how nursing goes during maternity leave, and as you get closer to going back, ask your boss to give you another break during the day and the space to pump. Maybe a conference room or something? They might surprise you.

If you can only pump at lunch, your boobs should survive, engorgement-wise. And as far as getting the baby through 8-10 hours, it will depend on your supply but you may be able to feed the bb in the morning plus get in some pumping, too. Lots of people make a lot more milk in the morning. Or an extra session at night? Or just you know, supplement with some formula during the day and still breastfeed when you’re home, if you are liking it.

But take it as it comes — day by day — and keep your sanity in mind. It might be seamless for you, you might love it and find it totally worthwhile. Or you might feel like it’s killing you. I would be open to either outcome and reevaluate as you go!

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