I suppose I could start at day four post-partum, when the lactation consultant instructed me to make a breast sandwich. She was straight faced. What didn’t I understand? Perhaps pump and nursing bra shopping is a better place to begin. Maybe it’s the way my face looked the afternoon my milk came in and I turned dressing-room-circles in the hospital mirror; the way I whispered, Getta load of this. I don’t know how best to describe the maternal, girls gone wild world of breastfeeding so let me just tell you this: My brother saw my left nipple two months ago. It was weird. We’re dealing with it.
Now then, let’s talk about boobs, shall we?
To say I was ill prepared to breastfeed my daughter is to say the truth. Hours before she was born, around 6pm that Friday night, I asked my husband, “Will there be anyone around to help me feed her? Do lactation nurses work nights?” I was utterly intimidated at the prospect of feeding a newborn. And shy. I double checked my overnight bag. The nursing cover sat right on top. I asked, “Will the hospital staff knock before entering our post-partum room?” (Spoiler alert: No. See also: My pain is a six and I still haven’t pooped, now if you’ll excuse me I am going to resume being milked like a farm animal by this contraption on wheels.)
Not even a week later I would be hollering for help in the NICU, tangled in cords and more importantly, topless. Help would arrive in the form of a male nurse, who seemed completely unfazed by my wardrobe malfunction. It would be only after the beeping alarm stopped and my baby was re-swaddled that I would notice my unfortunate disrobing. I couldn’t muster any real care.
How does one get to the point in life when exposing level one private parts to strangers and siblings alike gets labeled “what are ya gonna do?” The same way a 30-something woman goes out publicly whilst visibly leaking bodily fluids and wearing yesterday’s lunch on her pants. The same way you buy fifteen dollar, organic, plant-based pacifier wipes in January and by Halloween let your kid eat Honey Nut Cheerios off the floor.
If there were ever a job based solely on picking your battles it was this: motherhood.
And there are battles aplenty. It starts right out the gate. Bottle or breast? Co-sleep or crib? Cloth or disposable? Vaccines? It continues into toddlerhood: time-outs or spanking? TV or no TV? Can your’s have sugar? I don’t think it ever stops: homeschool or public? Helicopter or free-range? Sports or piano or everything or nothing or don’t you want your kid to go to college or are you trying to kill this exhausted eight year-old?
The way I see it, my brother is going to see a whole lot better and and a whole lot worse than my left boob. Or, to put it another, less Faulkner way, we always parent with an audience and every decision we make has the potential to be more painful than mastitis, more nourishing than the richest milk, and more taxing than a newborn on a 45-minute eating schedule. The most important, most long lasting decisions, they will probably be the ones that require the most sacrifice.
If there were ever a job about fighting to the death in the battles you believe in, it was this: parenting.
My adopted son was bottle fed. He had his share of formula, but he also had quite a bit of breastmilk. Two friends with infants pumped for him. I am still in awe of their gift. We chose (we continue to choose) to love each other’s children. We stand up during baby dedications at church and we affirm that we will come around one another as we parent and walk close as we teach our babies about the God who made them. Sometimes that looks like putting your tired breasts in a pump and making milk for a baby boy who is not your own.
We fight the battle best together.
My daughter is breastfed. It is a full time job. Full time. Around the clock. I worry about low supply, high supply, weight gain, weight loss. I’ve learned the word galactagote. I am drinking tea that tastes like old ladies smell. But my baby girl has gone from five pounds to over twelve in four months. I am still in awe of the way God created our bodies to perform. Sometimes your boob pops out at the worst possible time though.
We fight the battle best when we don’t care who is watching.
Our job as moms, our fight, is to feed our children as best we can. In the 18 or so years we are privileged to have them, it is our job to feed their minds and hearts, and their stomachs. I do not need a new study to tell me breastfeeding decreases the risk of heart disease. I do not need ten photos of celebrity bottle feeders.
What I need is to set before my children the deliciousness of real, lasting joy. The good news? That doesn’t cost a dime. And I probably won’t need to flash any relatives, either.