Posts Tagged ‘La Leche League International’

Bursting with Milk, Smelling Like Coleslaw: One New Mom’s Journey

Friday, October 24th, 2008


The baby monitor started squawking as I finished the dinner dishes. Walking into his room, I found my 10-month-old son, Matthew, sobbing and clutching the crib railing.

We settled into the rocking chair, the glow from the night light shining across his pudgy cheeks, highlighting a tear and a quivering chin. As we rocked and I hummed a lullaby, I could feel Matt’s weight sink into my chest. With each rocking movement, he let go a bit more, until, with his trademark little shudder-sigh, he fell asleep.

It was a scene I dreamed about when I was expecting. That is, when I wasn’t devouring pregnancy books. I didn’t have to be hit over the head with a breast pump to get the message: It’s All About Bonding.

Talk to my baby in the womb? Check. Play music that he will recognize later? Check. (I even bought a tape, “Yosemite Sounds,” to commemorate the vacation my husband and I took while I was pregnant.)

But these were small potatoes compared with the two mommy-baby-bonding biggies: natural childbirth and blissful breastfeeding.

I never missed a Lamaze or breastfeeding class. I even stopped by a La Leche League meeting, looking for tips. By my eighth month, I was more than ready to bond with my little guy, who was probably ready to bolt from the womb screaming “Mom, enough with the Yosemite tape!”

Somehow my well-planned birthing experience turned into 32-hours of labor, an hour of pushing and finally — with the mother-to-be cursing and “hee” breathing all the way to the operating room — an emergency C-section three days before Christmas.

So much for placing the naked baby on my chest while my husband and I wipe away tears of joy.

Actually, there were tears of joy. And I did get to touch my son while the doctors sewed me up. But I could almost feel the experts’ disapproval.

In the Bonding Olympics, breastfeeding wasn’t our strongest event, either. After consulting with two obstetricians, three lactation specialists and one nurse, I still found myself in a frustrating, exhausting, every-two-hour cycle of pumping milk while my husband fed Matthew with an eye dropper. I think we all were relieved when, after several weeks of round-the-clock angst, we threw in the towel and switched to formula, at our pediatrician’s suggestion.

But even quitting was no picnic. I had to bind my chest to decrease milk production, but my breasts still ached miserably. Then I read somewhere that applying cabbage leaves could reduce swelling. So there I stood in the kitchen, in tears, holding cabbage leaves to my breasts while my husband wrapped my chest with an Ace bandage.

Looking back, I can laugh. But standing there in the kitchen, full of milk, pain and guilt, I felt like a failure. By the experts’ accounts, I had blown it big time.

Never mind that I held my newborn son on Christmas eve as we listened to carolers singing “Silent Night” outside our hospital room.

Or that, after bringing him home on Christmas Day, we’d spend evenings in the living room, lights off, listening to Bing Crosby while Matthew clutched my finger and stared, wide-eyed, at the twinkling tree lights.

And never mind that he gazed into my face as we snuggled in his grandma’s afghan for 3 a.m. feedings, with Matthew eating happily until every part of his tiny body was asleep except for his bottom lip, which kept making little sucking movements.

Never mind that 10-month-old boy who nestled peacefully against my chest that night as we rocked, heartbeat-to-heartbeat. Or the happy squeals that greeted me the next morning. Or that little tango we do that makes him giggle in anticipation of the “dip” at the end. Or the hundred other simple ways we weave ourselves into each other’s hearts.

When it comes to “proper” bonding with my son, the experts would probably throw the book at me.

But finally, I can honestly tell myself, it’s OK. After all, my sweet Matthew, you and I didn’t do it by the book.