My husband and I watched a movie together and I found myself not in the least interested in the plot, the cinematography or the costume design. Instead, I wondered which of the A-list actors and actresses had been given formula as an infant. Whose mother had, as I have very recently, exchanged sweet and ignorant dreams of tenderly taking her child to her breast for the hard reality of little fists beating the air in frustration, for nipple shields, helpless sessions with lactation consultants and hours spent chained, literally, to a hospital grade breast pump?
Feeding Miss E and failing at it is all I can think about. I no longer have any sense of what day of the week it is or what time, only that today is breasterday and tomorrow is, too, and every two hours is boob o’clock. Sometimes when my alarm goes off and I’m woken from a dream of having already nursed her and realize I haven’t yet, I cry. Of all of the things that I expected to be difficult, breastfeeding was never at the top of my list. Now it’s items one through ten.
In my basement I found a calendar my mother kept of my first year, with notes on each day of the things that she or I had done. In the first three days of my life she had written “Breastfeed,” but on the fourth day she’d placed a little sticker, one that says “First Bottle.” Is she any less of a woman for having made the switch to formula, or am I for not having benefited from a longer commitment on her part? Of course not. But will I let myself off the hook and Miss E off the breast? No. I just can’t.
I started writing this when we were having a bad day, and I’m finishing writing it on a good day. But I’m still not sure what to expect when she wakes from her next nap, and maybe that’s the lesson I’m learning as a parent. It doesn’t matter how much I prepared for this, how much reading I did or advice I sought, I can’t predict or control the relationship I have with my daughter. Nursing is considered by some to be an infant’s first form of conversation, an intimate exchange between mother and child. It’s not one-sided. We have to work and learn together.
And I’ll consider any exchange between us that doesn’t end in tears a positive one, whether she’s two weeks old, two years or twelve.