Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Second Chance

I am quite emotionally attached to my blogroll. I keep it small, because I actually read every single entry on every single one of those blogs (and for most of them, I've read years' worth of their archives, back when I had a government job and tons of time on my hands). I don't have time to check them every day, but once or twice a week I'll find myself with baby asleep, dishes and laundry done, and I'll grab an hour or so to catch up with all the other mommy- and daddy-bloggers on my list.

Two of my favourites, Amy and Emily, recently posted about issues close to my heart. What else? Breastfeeding.

Amy and Emily both had a lot of difficulty with breastfeeding their firstborn sons. Amy just had her second son, and Emily is expecting her daughter in December. So they are both facing the same issues again.

Emily writes: "I always wondered if the reason Asher and I had such a frustratingly terrible nursing relationship was because he was born so small and weak (one of the effects of preeclampsia is compromised blood flow to the placenta, which results in retardation of fetal growth and nutrition).

"No one ever speculated on why we were so crappy at it, but in the 12-ish weeks that I breastfed, we never once had a nursing session that lasted less than 50 minutes, unless it was because I ended it myself. I heard from eighteen million different people—friends, doctors, the Internet, CERTIFIED LACTATION CONSULTANTS—that when he was full, he would pop himself right off. As GOD AS MY WITNESS, PEOPLE, this never happened to us. Never. As in, not even once."

(I can so relate.)

After a pledge to stop breastfeeding without (too much) guilt if the same thing happens again, Emily reaches the crux of the matter:

"But I’m also terrified that it will go well, especially if this baby is born a little bigger and stronger than Asher was. I’m terrified that it will go well and I’ll still hate it. I’m terrified that it will go well and I’ll still feel resentful. I’m terrified that I won’t know how to do it right, especially since one of the things I’m looking forward to MOST about having a second baby is knowing exactly what to do with it. I know how to formula feed; been there, done that, and did it SUCCESSFULLY. Breastfeeding? Still kind of a big, fat mystery, since my entire experience with it is clouded by feelings of sadness and confusion and anger and also a lot of hysterical crying."

My emotional response to this is a great deal of empathy. Emily is one of the biggest reasons why I blog, specifically her entries on breastfeeding which - long before I even became a mother - I recognized as groundbreaking for the simple reason that she was being honest about her experience of motherhood, putting her guilt and pain and vulnerability out there for the world to see, speaking with such raw emotion and honesty about how damned hard it really is. While she likely made that post just as a way to work through her conflicting emotions, it has come to mean so much more to me (and, I'm guessing, to others): because women out there having the same difficulties now knew they weren't alone. There's a lot of propaganda out there about mothering in general and breastfeeding in particular, and it all depends on us not copping to the fact that this is really hard, instead pasting smiles on our faces and chirping mindlessly it's all worth it!

The fact that Emily is still facing the birth of her upcoming child with fear and doubt in her heart really resonates with me. Her post perfectly sums up the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" nature of much of motherhood.

Meanwhile, Amy writes:

"During the five months that I nursed Noah, I can probably count the number of times I could have described it as "blissful" or "wonderful" or even "pleasant." It was...mildly tolerable, most of the time.

"This time has been completely different. Unbelievably different. When the nurse first plopped Ezra rather unceremoniously across my chest in the recovery room post-surgery, leaving me to struggle with positioning him while mostly numb and immobile ... I was able to get him on and nursing vigorously almost immediately -- you'd never know that his birth had been such a rude surprise for him, and so heavily medicated. He was awesome. I'm using words like awesome and wonderful and blissful a lot these days. We're good at this. It works. It insert-Keanu-Reeves-style-WHOA works.

"He'll take the bottle grudgingly, suck it all down, and then demand one more go at the breast to fall asleep. Because he loves to nurse. And, amazingly, so do I.

"I had one recurring dream during pregnancy: I gave birth to a baby boy, and I breastfed him. And everything was fine, and then I woke up. So while I will resist the urge to end this post with a trite and corny saying about dreams coming true, you should know that I'm totally thinking it."

Oh, this one breaks my heart. Amy has gotten the nursing relationship she always wanted, and while I'm so very happy for her, it also hurts me deeply to know that there is one less mom out there in the "breastfeeding FAIL" boat. Though obviously drastically different in terms of scale, I compare it (very humbly) to the way it must feel when someone on an infertility message board announces their pregnancy: yes, you're happy for her, but you're painfully aware that that leaves one less person in your situation, and doesn't that just mean that she figured out something you didn't, and doesn't that really mean that you just suck somehow?

The books and the lactation consultants and the health care professionals and the Internets all use these words, "bliss", "wonderful", "beautiful", "bonding", "natural", "peaceful", when describing breastfeeding. It's so much more comforting for those of us who don't feel that way to cynically believe that no one does, that it's all a sham perpetrated by the patriarchy, that all moms dislike it but some are just better at tolerating it (and lying about it) than others. It's a bit of a blow when it turns out that one of the cynics changes her mind and says (in effect) "Oh, NOW I get it! THAT'S how it's supposed to work!"

The part that's hardest for me to swallow is that I will never get that second chance. Gwen is going to be an only child, a choice that I am perfectly happy with and have no conflicting emotions about. Still, when I read about Amy's experience with Ezra and her newfound love of breastfeeding, it does make me sad that I'll never have that. Not sad enough to reconsider having another child, because dude, what a crappy reason to reproduce - but just wistful. Then again, when I'm in my more rational mind I think, "If I hadn't already decided to only have one child, the disaster of breastfeeding definitely would have convinced me."


Kat said...

You write good.

I read it and have no personal anecdotes to add cause i dont breasfeed or think about it at all unless you write about it.

I love you for writing about stuff that makes me think about it and how you must feel. You rock.

Amberism said...

I totally understand that feeling, not in terms of breastfeeding ( I decided that the "bliss" was us falling in love with our children, and that happens whether we breastfeed or not. heh.) but in terms of the birth. I wanted an easy, drug-free birth SO badly and that so didn't happen. We had decided on two children, but it still took me some time to let that go, and with every "easy" birth story I heard, I was heartbroken and wondered "Why not me?". Which is so silly considering birth is like a blip on road of life, but we're Mommy's for the rest of our lives.


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