When I was pregnant, I was all about the attachment parenting. I thought Dr. Sears was neat-o. Yes! I will sleep with my child until he’s 23! No, I will never let him cry alone in a cold, dark room! I will wear him in a sling, also until he’s 23! (23 will be a hard year for him, but hopefully his career will provide a distraction.) I will Nurse Him Down and Night-time Parent and we will be so attached, our skin will fuse together and we’ll be conjoined and then we’ll need surgery. And I will nurse, oh how I will nurse! Yes, attachment parenting—yes I said yes I will yes.
The various tenets of Attachment Parenting were kicked to the curb by the time Henry was a few months old. The sling caused searing neck and back pain. Pain wasn’t mentioned in the Attachment Parenting rulebook. We stopped sleeping with Henry after I rolled over when he was asleep on my chest, causing him to slide off me and plummet to the floor. (Luckily, we were at my parents’ house, where they were wise enough to carpet their rooms in a deep, plush pile.) We began letting him cry it out (no angry emails, please! I’m sensitive!) because after a few months, he would not fall asleep if we were in the room. Would not. We tried and tried. We rocked and joggled him. He glared at us. We crooned lullabies. He found them hilarious—and stimulating. So we put him in his crib, or “prison,” as Dr. Sears put it somewhere or another, and he cried for a bit, then he fell asleep. Maybe he was more comfortable feeling like a convict.
But then, the nursing. How I wanted to nurse. I could laugh off most of Dr. Sears’ pronouncements, but not the chapters on nursing. When I was pregnant, I read book after book on the subject. Scott and I attended a breastfeeding class (where we watched a Nordic filmstrip featuring—I would never joke about such things—beautiful Scandinavians tweaking and massaging their nipples, all in the name of milk production). We practiced with foam boobs and rubber dolls. I had it down. I had a midwife who happened to be, and this is fact, Paulina Porizkova’s mother, and since she was hot, I figured my first post-birth nursing would be just like we saw in the movie—a gorgeous blond goddess helping me guide my engorged teat into the baby’s waiting lips, the milk flowing like the Hardanger Fjord.
As it turned out, after delivery my midwife was engaged in all kinds of postnatal unpleasantries. So when Henry was ready for his first snack, the nurse was the one who helped us out. And although I had done all the reading there was to do, although I had watched the soft-core breastfeeding film and practiced with the foamy boob, I laid there quietly while I watched this nurse twist my nip into some crazy point and shove Henry on in the wrong way, at the wrong angle; everything about it was all wrong. But I had just given birth and I was as helpless and weak as a newborn kitten, and Henry was getting something, so I said nothing. Then he was whisked away for warming and measuring, and I got an eyeful of my poor, poor nipple. And it was bleeding. Hey, nurse! Thanks! You suck!
Thus began four months of such pathetic, painful breastfeeding that even Dr. Sears would have reached out a fuzzy-parenting paw and handed me a bottle. First there was the bleeding, and the pain, dear God, the blinding pain. Then there was jaundice, which lasted and lasted, which caused Henry to sleep the days away and barely eat. So my milk supply dwindled, despite all the pumping. Then I was told he had a weak suck, and we did all kinds of insane mouth exercises. Then I was told he had a high palate. And he wasn’t gaining enough, so I had to supplement and pump more. Then, adding even more pain to the pain, I developed a YEAST INFECTION in my MILK DUCTS—which, unlike the yeast infections in the ol’ down below, causes searing, shooting hot daggers of pain, causing you to CRY OUT and CLUTCH YOUR BOOBS, often in public. And Henry had ideas about where to suck! And it was never anywhere near my nipple! I’d have to wrench his head in the right direction, and I learned that infants are strong little buggers. I would be sweating and cursing and crying and trying to just get him on the damn nipple, THAT’S WHERE THE FOOD IS, and he’d be all, “You’re not listening! It’s over there, by the armpit, I just know it!”
Throughout it all, my milk supply remained somewhere below a trickle. I pumped, I drank Mother’s Milk tea until I wanted to throw up, I took herbs that tasted a little worse than ass, I pumped more, and still, Henry would have a few halfhearted sucks, and then pull off to look up at me like, “Okay, this is cute, but seriously, where’s lunch?” Everyone thought I should stop nursing--everyone but Sexy Midwife, who was so hot that I figured her opinion meant more, right? I was convinced giving up would brand me a Failure as a Mother. Dr. Sear’s Baby Book told me that formula would make my son a bumbling half-wit (I may be exaggerating), and I cried and cried. I live in Park Slope, where the ratio of Women Nursing to Everyone Else is, at any given moment, 3:1. I would be shunned. Rocks would be thrown. Henry would grow up to learn how I had failed him, and he would struggle to forgive me. I had become a little nuts.
Then his four-month doctor’s appointment came, and I learned that he was only 11 pounds and hadn’t gained an ounce all month, and BAM, just like that, I gave it all up. I packed away the boobs, I set the pump on fire, I bought the formula. I wiped away my tears. And in the months that followed, I watched Henry change from a gaunt skritchy infant with visible cheekbones to a plump-cheeked, laughing baby who, miracle of miracles, no longer cried for hours every night. And I wasn’t even the least bit shunned. Although, while he was still using bottles, I made it a point to avoid Norway.