Don’t worry, it’s not Mormon Feminism. It’s breastfeeding! Is that worse? Probably. Oh well.
As my pregnancy progressed, I planned to breastfeed. I spent $300 on a double electric pump and somewhere in the $40 to $60 range on a c-shaped pillow and extra cover. I signed up for a 3-hour class at the hospital and watched Robert fumble with a plastic baby doll in the football position. I packed my hospital bag with lanolin and gel packs and nursing bras. I collected bottles with nipples that look like, well, nipples, and I told my firm I was taking a five-month maternity leave in large part because I knew that making it to six months of breastfeeding would be a lot easier if I could put off pumping until well after my supply regulated. I worried about the possibility of a c-section because I’d read that allowing the baby to latch immediately would improve our odds of establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship. I made sure Robert knew he would be an essential component of the breastfeeding machine, bringing me icy water and pulling back grabby baby arms and burping and changing diapers because if I was handling input, he could certainly deal with output.
So I planned to breastfeed and I prepared for it. But I did not look forward to it, nor did I really expect it to work. Based on everything I’d heard and read, it sounded painful and limiting. I had no longstanding or deeply ingrained desire to do it. I knew I’d be upset if I couldn’t, but also knew that I wouldn’t be too distressed if we had to use bottles and formula. I knew for sure that I had no interest in extended breastfeeding.
I did deliver via c-section, so Robert held Dylan before I did and the first thing I remember noticing from my spot on the operating table was that she was so big and fat and babyish. Like a three-month old instead of a wrinkled little infant. I marveled at her perfect fat face for a few minutes? seconds? and then, I remember this part in slow motion, she stretched her mouth wide open and started rooting around for something to eat. The burden overwhelmed me: I had to feed that baby. It was on me. She was hungry and I needed to fix it. I couldn’t, of course, because my insides were still on the outside and I was practically seizing on the table from the epidural medicine, and I wondered if the doctors realized that they needed to hurry up because the baby was surely going to start crying at any moment. Like OBs have never heard a crying baby before. More than knowing I needed to feed the baby right now, I knew with an immediate and distressing certainty, that I’d be carrying that burden of keeping this baby alive for a very long time. I still don’t have the words to describe this feeling, but I’ve become somewhat more accustomed to it.
Dylan is almost eleven months old and sometimes it feels like thinking and worrying about her sustenance has preoccupied most of the last year. And truly it has, even more so now that we are balancing adult human food, pureed baby food, and breastmilk. I wash so many bottles, every day. I can’t drink my favorite tea because it is highly caffeinated. I’ve left meetings early and endured uncomfortable conversations to pump at work. Today I faced the wrath of a grumpy opposing counsel who didn’t understand why I needed more than 45 minutes for lunch in the middle of a deposition. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I spent an hour sitting on my suitcase on the floor of an assisted care restroom in the Hartford airport this evening. When Dylan sprouted top teeth, she forgot how to latch and started doing this stupid painful scraping thing. I spent hours online “researching” issues with supply, poop, sickness, whatever, as they came up.
The purpose of thid post is twofold. First, I want to make clear that even though I like to complain when things are terrible to the point of absurdity that these moments stand out because they are rare. I know that every mom is different and every kid is different and that I am both extraordinarily lucky and privileged in this (and so many other) regards, but I want other women who will potentially be in the same position as me — going back to work with a baby — to know that it won’t necessarily be terrible. With some luck and planning it might even be awesome! At this point, I don’t want to stop when it’s socially appropriate. I know there is no shortage of breastfeeding stories out there on in the blogosphere and the positive and negative ones are equally liable to make women feel like crap about their circumstances, but when it comes to working and breastfeeding, the narrative often starts and ends with the soul sucking (get it?!) misery of pumping. I don’t hate pumping, though. I am happy and relieved that it’s worked for me as long as it has, and proud that I’ve stuck with it, and it makes me feel close to my kid when I’m at work. I never imagined that I’d be able to make it to a year with my intense work schedule and travel, but here we almost are.
Second, I want to make clear that we are here thanks in no small part to the fact that I live in a progressive city where I’ve never once felt uncomfortable feeding my baby, that my employer has been beyond supportive, and that I have a job with lots of flexibility and amenities (like a door that locks and the ability to pump whenever I need to) that make pumping feasible. It doesn’t matter how much you love breastfeeding, it’s going to be a massive and unsustainable chore if you have to do it in a bathroom stall every day. This is why I will never embrace any form of lactivism (stupid word, I promise never to use it again) that is focused on women and what they should or can do instead of on policies that make breastfeeding possible in the first place. This will never be a major cause for me, but I do think it’s possible to encourage small changes. For example, I try to never hide the fact that I need to pump at work. It doesn’t need to be embarrassing and people in the corporate world (and all worlds!) need to know that there are nursing women among them. I ask for accomodations even if I don’t expect to get them. Sometimes people are surprised, but more often than not they are understanding. My hope is that going forward this makes breastfeeding just a little bit easier for other law moms.
This post has been brought to you by flight delays and the particular form of zombie mom brain that makes me think that the fact that something takes up a lot of space means other people want to hear it. Just be glad there are no gratuitous baby photos (or, worse, breastfeeding photos–they can be gorgeous, mine are not, and I’ve got a professional reputation to think about).