Do you enjoy breastfeeding?

uncategorised / Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

I’ve been asked this a lot. I find the whole subject of breastfeeding very hard, not least as it is so knotted up with so many heartfelt emotional issues. I know many women who carry feelings of guilt, worry, resentment about breastfeeding or being unable to do it as they might have hoped. Me? I feel quite ‘meh’ about the entire enterprise.

I had a relatively easy time, actually. I fed Spider-boy exclusively for months and months. I even managed to keep him exclusively breastfed on demand through insane expressing when I was back at work. With Newborn we’re still going great guns, even though he is weaning fast.

Breastfeeding appealed, or rather suited me, partly because I am quite lazy (it was convenient) and partly, I suspect, because I am competitive. The competition was with myself, not other women. A complex dare to myself to get something right after Spider-boy’s horrible entrance, and now , inevitably, I find my attitude to breastfeeding is lost in a muddled up sensation that for as long as possible I must do the same for his brother. I love all the benefits, and think that for lots of women there are many pitfalls and disappointments which could have been avoided with help and support and a bit of good fortune.
Like almost all parenting issues, from the expense of children’s shoes to the guilt associated with uncontrolled or ‘failure’ births, we think our generation invented it. But my 90 year old Grandmother talks with real sadness (immediate and only just not raw) about not being able to feed her children in the 1950s.
Often people have remarked on how impressive my feeding Spider-boy was, both when I had post-natal depression and when I had a month of hospital admissions because my body had stubbornly refused to get rid of his placenta. They congratulate me, and are enthused. I still feel slightly blank. I kept feeding him, mostly because it never occurred to me to stop. Even when I had mastitis and other problems. I’m lucky, even when I was pretty ill – I couldn’t lift him up when I was readmitted – I still found it instinctive to bumble on, breastfeeding was just a part of our lives like getting dressed or brushing my teeth. I’d do things like stroke his feet, tickle his toes, allow him to push against me as he scrambled at the tit without knowing why. And feed him every couple of hours because, well, that is how he ate and what he seemed to want.
More luckily, both my lads were instinctive too. As they were placed on my deflating belly, so perfect and incredible having transformed the labour room by the neat trick of being born and forever changing the universe with their presence, they both snortled onto my boobs, lifted them and adjusted their latch. Tinkering like aged mechanics, as if they had been breastfeeding for all time rather than just seen a nipple for the first time in their life, they both started up on their own terms within minutes of birth. I just let them move around, entranced as each son fiddled with his position and latch and then sucked like crazy until he stopped. Whether to drift into a drunken milky snooze, pull off and look around or resume reedy screaming.
After Spider-boy and I stopped feeding, at 14 months, and because he simply smiled, went to go in for a suck then grinned and clambered off me, I began to wonder how someone as anxious as me, could have been so laid back? For example, I never worried about whether he was getting enough milk. I just kept feeding when he was grumpy or hungry. I fed him when ever he cried or complained, and soon he had his own cues (like Newborn after him he lacked subtlety, their main cue for a feed is lifting my top and making to open my bra).
I never even felt they loved it, or enjoyed it themselves especially. Not for us the NCT catalogue, Madonna and child tableaux, all still baby sucking half asleep as mother looks wistfully down. They both adopted a different tack -indignation and fury when they weren’t being fed, frenzy when being fed, always treating it like it was their last chance for food ever in the world. They both concentrate hard and go for quick massive feeds. They scratch and hit and grab and squeeze. They don’t look all peaceful and sweet, they don’t lie still on my lap – they buck and writhe and suck and suck and suck, barely stopping even to be sick!
And yet I am often asked if I like it, and people assume I love it. I don’t like the sensation of breastfeeding much, and though I appreciate the weight loss (and occasionally consider a life of expressing twice a day to undermine my chocolate habit) and feel mildly content that I’ve fed them so long, I can’t quite say I like it at all. I appreciate my luck and circumstance in feeding both of them. And from a distance I can even see I ploughed through tough moments (most recently, for example, Newborn’s razor incisors slicing a bit off one of my nips. No, really). But the feeling is still neutral (ish).
I feel a bit invaded and wish I could wear dresses. I hate the complexity of showing my tits in public, especially as the only way to conquer that one is to just do it and people assume you are so brazen and self-confident that you don’t care that you have no mystique left at all. I can’t talk about my dislike of showing off other surrounding flesh, especially my crepe paper tummy, and I fucking despise breastfeeding bras having never found one which makes me look human, let alone womanly.
I am not even sure at all about the positive spin on being the ultimate final point of contact, the place where the buck rests, whenever they are upset. I can see why some enjoy that centre of the world position, always the last one to turn to, the woman with the magic, but I find I am cowed and occasionally resentful of the responsibility.
I sound so passive, in this post, and perhaps that is my real lucky strike, breastfeeding being something which I didn’t find it too hard to work at; even though it was a bit like a chore it was something I seemed to be able to just do. Mostly though, I’m neutral. Happy to do it, pleased for the benefits (for them, for me, for society as it is so green and good in terms of public health), and aware many women I know were not lucky enough to have good role models or advice or a bit of early luck with their latch or sense of supply. But I am still struggling with whether I ‘enjoy’ it.
As I wrote this post though, Newborn demolishing a TV remote control, his brother trying to enjoy Mr Tumble I did think of something I liked about breastfeeding. Something which was palpable and gooey and the stuff my new mum days will always be touched by, and that’s the view. The aerial view of my lads, their concentrating face and perfectly soft round heads. I love what I see when they are latched, squirming on my lap, snarling slightly and feeding like I may never offer it again. Perhaps they are greedy, or aware, deep down, of my ambivalence as they go into battle with my tits? But mainly, even in the frenzy, they are beautiful. Peachy featured, perfect and intense. And captured forever in time as their face from this over-boob vantage point has hardly changed from their firstborn moments when, all sticky and brand new they were handed to me and pushed through my flesh to find ‘their’ place.
Here’s looking at you, kids.

14 Replies to “Do you enjoy breastfeeding?”

  1. Yet another gorgeous post. No, I didn't enjoy it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat and, like you, was lucky enough to have two babies who latched on like they'd been doing it all their lives … but no. I didn't enjoy it.

  2. Great blog post. My niece will tell you that she didn't enjoy breastfeeding, but she fed her son until he was one because she didn't see why he shouldn't get her milk. She's expecting her second and will do the same. Maybe this time round she'll enjoy it, maybe not, but her second son will get what his brother got. The milk that was made for him.

    Love your blog!

    Mars xxx

  3. I feel quite relieved to get it out of my system, going public about not exactly loving it. Am wondering if I'll feel nostalgic when I stop – it certainly has a pull on me.

  4. I didn't really ever enjoy it – I did it because eventually it was easier and well it was the right thing to do. Yes we had pain and problems at the beginning, expressing was horrid and I hated every moment of it (and there were a lot of moments) and breastfeeding whilst pregnant made my skin crawl BUT it was best for the girls and they loved it and so in a way I loved it because of them

    Does that make any sense at all?

  5. It does make sense. I think that's the pull it has. I know I'm lucky to have found it okay, and gotten through the tougher times, and that meant I could do it for them. And being able to do something that was/is so good for them is a really good thing, a nice feeling if you like. Unlike having your nipples suction pumped by a toothy child or a plastic udder machine, which isn't a particularly nice feeling.

  6. I had a rough start both times, but stuck with it out of sheer bloody mindedness. I don't love it, it's just something I do. And I'm far too lazy to faff with bottles, who can be bothered? I'm dreading this one starting solids because it means I'll actually have to remember to do something other than stick a nipple in her mouth.

  7. We're 8 months in, and battling trush (although to be fair this is the first time we've really had any problems) I'm stuck now as V is allergic to pretty much everything dairy-wise (soya and goats milk included) so I have no choice but to become an 'extended BFer'. I don't love it, and find it a bit of a bind. i totally identify with what you are saying, I love the feeling that she is happy. I resent the tie, and hate pumping at work.

    She has her first tooth, and boy is it sharp!

    Solids are graet and V loves them, but EBF was so much easier. I have to remember her little tummy might want something other than boob…..

  8. Beautiful post. Made me smile and also brought a tear to my eye. It's really given me an insight into my own feelings about breastfeeding, not something I've particularly reflected on before.

    Yes, it's also definitely driven partially by laziness in my case! And an element of this as well, The competition was with myself, not other women . That sentence made me catch by breath in recognition. I'm sorry that you had a difficult time with your first little boy.

    I love your description of breastfeeding, so very different from the NCT tableau and much closer to my own experience. I was beginning to wonder if all that bucking and scratching was normal. And that view is lovely.

  9. Thank you, all three of you, for the comments. I don't know how I missed them so sorry about tardy replies. I'm so pleased to hear things chimed with others – that I wasn't a lone voice in my feelings both of loving the view and feeling a bit ambivalent about some of it.

    Dorothy, I so hope the thrush has cleared up. Weaning from BF on demand – that is a whole other post. I felt there wasn't a lot of help out there (apart from other Mums) in the transition so I hope it is going well.

  10. Wow, the most honest thoughts about breast-feeding I've ever read. Love how you acknowledge all the issues (the good and the bad) and how as the reader I can see you working this out as you write – blogging as a type of therapy, isn't it grand? I also have things in my life that I feel so ambivalent about that I wonder about myself, but often conclude that I'd rather feel ambivalence then intense dislike – there are enough challenges in life and parenting that I suppose one should feel grateful for those things that remain fairly angst-free.
    Sounds like you've had your fair share too. One of my good friends had PND and another the stubborn placenta issue so I've witnessed the damage done by both – but to have them both at the same time! Lordy woman.
    I'm feeling sad for your Granny too, I think (hope!) our mental photos of the aerial view of our children while feeding stay with us forever – so sad that she doesn't have them. Great post, thanks.

  11. Thank you! I'm so pleased you recognise some of the thoughts and the journey. Ambivalence is one of the weird unspoken areas of parenting I think.
    I can attest the pnd and placenta double whammy was pretty crappy, although I guess it took me a while to realise it wasn't that normal!
    So glad you found the blog.
    L x

Leave a Reply to L Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *