Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A difficult species

Let me preface this by saying how very glad I am that Max was born very near his due date and that I feel supremely grateful and lucky that he got to come home with us instead of staying in the NICU like Zoe had to for three weeks. However, that experience made me totally unprepared for the bringing-the-baby-home-with-you one. With Z, I went home from the hospital, sad and tired. But then I slept all the night through and was, the next day, just sad, not tired. It's easier to heal sad than tired. Then, when we lived 4 blocks from the hospital, I walked over to bring her milk (Erik tended to skateboarded rather than walk the breastmilk over) the next day. Today, I walked 3/4 miles. It took almost an hour. Last night, I slept intermittently between the 1 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. feeding and was poking the baby awake by 6:45 since I was up anyway. So, happy but tired and more sore and slowly-healing than I was with Z.

But the worst part is the breastfeeding. With Z, she couldn't eat the minute she was born. The suck, swallow, breathe talent takes a few weeks to learn when you're as preemie as she was. Max was born knowing how to do all three at once. Which is great for eating. Not so great for the nipples. There's a sharp shock of pain every time he eats that is getting better, but again, only slowly.

I'm surprised anyone breastfeeds. I don't think our species, and particularly me, is very good at weighing long-term benefits versus short-term ones. The short term benefits of bottle feeding are that it doesn't hurt your boobs. Also, babies sleep longer through the night. Sleep! At night! Directly home from the hospital, these benefits are pretty glaring. It takes a lot of commitment to keep it up.

Plus, the whole manner of convincing you to breastfeed is lame. Breast is best? Annoying, easy rhyme. The long list of health benefits is so obvious. Of course, I'll breastfeed! But at 2 a.m., when you think you're dying of the pain that stabs from nipple to to spine, you think your immediate survival would probably outweigh those nebulous immunological benefits.

Then, there's the whole "is the baby latching correctly" element to the breastfeeding campaign. Look La Leche people, it takes more than two hands to get the baby to open his mouth wide, hold him, and "make a sandwich with your nipple." Plus, no matter how you manage to juggle all these things, it seems the baby readjusts his mouth to suit him anyway. Holding the head "right", not crouching over, relaxing are really impossible tasks when you're not breathing from pain. I think the best campaign would be: Brestfeeding hurts for the first two weeks, pretty much no matter what. Suck it up. The female human species has suffered thusly for millions (right? millions? Lucy was 3 million years old) of years. You can do it too without the help of Enfamil or Similac.

Still, I'm surprised (and happy for those who can) that as many people breastfeed as they do. Although, when I really think about it, the stabby pain isn't so bad after a minute. And only I get to hold the baby for those eating minutes. And it's really kind of fun, in this life-sustaining, baby-connecting kind of way.

But still I wonder, do opossums' nipples hurt?


Dr Write said...

That is a good question.
I remember that pain, thinking I would use two million tubes of that nipple cream. But actually, I didn't even use one, because, as you rightly state, after the first two weeks or so, it isn't as painful.
And I do look fondly back at the breastfeeding days of yore. So you can look forward to that, as you suffer.

Kate Rosenberg said...

I could't breastfeed Miss P. and was so sad and miserable about it until I realized how little my breastfeeding comrades were sleeping. I sure liked sleeping 3 hours at a time right away. But L's right-- I wish I could look back fondly on the boob time.

Also, congrats on taking a walk at all. Everything you do beyond feeding and changing diapers is extra credit in the first month.

lis said...

I should stop reading your blog because I'm at that point where I'm worried about everything. My friend was giving me the "make a sandwich with your nipple" advice today (although I think she said cheeseburger) and I was thinking, "really? you're telling me about this now? please just let me birth the baby first. it's exhausting hearing about all the things I know are coming, but have really no clue about. I'm appreciating the millions of women have done this for thousands of years, you can do it too approach. I will keep focusing on that and worry about the breast sandwich when it's time.

Lisa B. said...

I love this as a piece of writing. It is wonderful and it exactly captures what this moment feels like.

[here is where I would insert my breastfeeding lore of yore, but I will forbear. I did love it, but it did hurt at first.]

I also just remember feeling so pleased, mystified and proud--yes! proud!--that my body could do all that.

Sandy said...

Oh that first three months of breastfeeding was SO HARD (I had pain, cracks, thrush, mastitis, you name it) but I'm so glad I stuck it out.

I think the problem is that humans now wear clothes (and bras) which keeps the skin on our breasts soft.

However, I happen to know a pig farmer in Nebraska who says that pigs have a terrible time breastfeeding. They have to put Lansinoh on their teats and some of the piglets never learn how to suckle and have to be bottle fed.

Anyway, great post!