I never thought I’d be so obsessed with anyone’s pooping schedule, including my own. But now that I have a new full-time job–dairy maid–basically all I do is breastfeed and write down how often Amalía poops or pees. In between I do manage to fit in the occasional writing of an article and attending of a happy hour–did I mention my newborn loves happy hours?–and sometimes a trip to the grocery store or to Target to buy something the grandmothers insist the newborn princess needs.
The good news is that this industrialized dairy schedule IS good news, as breastfeeding got off to a rocky start for me. Despite having been warned by friends that breastfeeding can be tough at first–but is so worth it if you can stick it out–I started with the best of intentions and the most romantic of visions of nuzzling my baby to my bosom, bonding away in mutual bliss. In our hypnobirthing class, we saw videos of babies born through natural, unmedicated births who shimmied up their mama’s tummies, found her nipple and latched on; it was the cutest thing ever. When we realized I had to have a C-section, we knew this wouldn’t happen to us, as the baby and I would be separated for almost four hours while I was stitched up and in recovery and she and her Papí were in the nursery, taking care of just-born business like weighing and bathing. Still, when we were reunited in our hospital room, Amalía latched right on to my breast (we made sure no one gave her a bottle or pacifier before this) and it seemed like we were all systems go and that this was going to be a piece of breast-milk cake.
But by the time we left the hospital, Amalía would alternately hang on the breast not doing much, sleep through feedings, and cry frantically when she woke up. At her two-day-old pediatrician’s appointment, the doctor said she had lost almost 10 percent of her birth weight and recommended we visit a lactation consultant she herself had consulted after the births of both her children. She also suggested that we supplement each feeding with a little formula after removing the baby from the breast, just until Amalía started gaining weight.
We had read all the stats about how breastfeeding benefits babies and moms–giving babies immunities, and, almost as appealing to my shallow mind and still-bloated belly, leading breast-fed babies to be fitter adults than formula-fed babies, and helping the mother’s uterus contract. Although I was grateful to the makers of Similac that I could reverse my baby’s weight loss, giving her formula felt like a failure. “I thought I’d be better at this,” I cried on the phone to my husband. First I couldn’t give birth the way I wanted to, then I couldn’t breastfeed as I had planned. When I couldn’t wake Amalía up for her next feeding, I called the pediatrician in tears, asking if we were in a “failure to thrive situation.”
She calmed me down, but the real A-ha moment came later that afternoon when we met with the lactation consultant, who was a magical blend of tough-love (Me: She cries. Her: So what? Babies cry.) and practical techniques. She advised. She tickled the baby to wake her up and shrugged off her tears, saying “Amalía, why all the drama?” She showed me how to slam the baby onto the aureole so that she latched on properly, in an attempt to save my cracked nipples. In fact, she got me so calm that when Amalía spit up the next day and I saw blood in the milk, I was able to remain sane enough to look up “blood in spit-up” in What to Expect in the First Year, and to realize that it was my blood Amalía was disgorging, not her own.
By the next morning, I was producing enough milk to abandon the formula with the pediatrician’s blessing. The day after that, at a follow-up doctor’s visit, we learned that Amalía had gained six ounces in two days. By her two-week appointment, she was a half pound over her birth weight. I started to feel like Amalía had a chance of surviving my parenting after all. And despite the sleep deprivation and paunchy belly, I started to feel like myself again. This is a major triumph, as the first two days after returning from the hospital, I felt so intimidated by motherhood, despite the help of three grandmothers and the best Papí ever. For the whole first week, every day at 4 or so I’d feel a wave of hormones wash over me, bringing me to tears. The first two days, I’d sob and say “I’m so overwhelmed!” But as the emotions evolved, that turned into me sobbing and saying, “All my dreams have come true! I’m so happy!” By the end of the week, the tears stopped and when I felt the familiar wave of emotion, I’d say, “I feel like crying–it must be 4:00.”
And I’ve discovered that breastfeeding has advantages the books don’t tell you, beyond the immunities and the bonding and the amped-up metabolism. First, when I’m sitting there feeding, using both hands, and Amalía’s eyes are closing in the middle of the night, I get to watch a fair amount of TV I otherwise never would. As frequent readers of this blog might suspect, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up on a number of “Say Yes to the Dress” episodes, which bring me untold joy. Second, I feel justified in eating chocolate croissants since I am burning 500-800 calories a day feeding the little gremlin.
That’s not to say we’re all paintings of the Madonna and Child over here. My nipples still hurt for the first few seconds, and Amalía snorts and gasps and swallows like an adorable little vampire while eating. I remain fully aware that I am at the mercy of a tiny dictator who weighs less than my first laptop did. But we’re slowly coming to an understanding as she says Yes to the Breast.