For the better part of 2014, I was in a women’s group led by my therapist, Leslie. After our miscarriage and the passing of two of Matt’s grandparents, I had started fearing the future. Leslie described us all as high-functioning people who were grappling with anxiety and/or depression. The women I met in that group were really impressive. They were smart, warm, and led interesting lives. During one session, a mother with two young daughters described not being able to watch the numbers count down on her microwave as she heated something up. It triggered her anxiety to see so explicitly that time was passing. Now that I have a son, I know better what she was feeling.
I have a strange relationship with time these days. It’s almost the end of January. It’s a new year. Sometimes I can’t remember the time before Oscar could flash us his wide-open smile, and those newborn onesies that I know he wore for weeks seem completely improbable as clothes. At the same time, I had a lot of pain when we first brought Oscar home from the hospital and that first week passed excruciatingly slowly. Lots of the reading I was doing about infants held up 12 weeks as the end of this difficult fourth trimester. That finish line might as well have been 12 years away.
We measured time in days that first week, or tried to. We were supposed to keep track of Oscar’s poop and his feedings, but with our crazy sleep “schedule,” it was so hard to remember what day it was that first we kept track in a notebook and then we downloaded a synced app.
One of the hardest things I experienced as a new mom was learning to breastfeed, and it made every day feel like an eternity. Establishing Breastfeeding is a phrase that I heard all over the birthing world, and I did not fully appreciate what it meant until, oh, probably this week. I thought Establishing Breastfeeding meant: Is there a good latch? Is there enough milk? Yes and yes? Cool. You’re established.
That is not the case. Because I had a C-section, we stayed in the hospital for a night longer than if we’d had a vaginal delivery, and still we were only there for three nights after Oscar’s birth. That’s not a ton of time, not to mention we weren’t the only family the nurses were working with. So: Oscar was able to latch after a few tries. My colostrum was present and filling his tiny almond-sized tummy. We were “good” to go.
I don’t remember much nipple soreness in the hospital for the following reasons: 1) our lives had undergone a radical change in a dizzyingly short amount of time, and 2) I was on some serious painkillers to combat the one-two punch of pushing plus abdominal surgery. But I did notice that first one and then the other nipple developed dark red slashes across them. Two nurses, independently of one another, also noticed and commented to me that anecdotally, redheads are more susceptible to nipple pain because of our fair skin.
By the time we brought Oscar home, I was starting to brace myself for the latch. When I sat down to nurse for the first time in the comfort of our own home, I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath, and brought Oscar close. Strangely, he pulled away and when he turned his cheek, I saw a smear of blood on it.
I felt instant panic. I cried to Matt, “I’m bleeding and it hurts so much and he can’t eat because I’m bleeding. He doesn’t like the taste and what if I get an infection?” I was a mess. I just fell apart. At the very heart of it was the intense pain that my baby was hungry and I couldn’t feed him. I couldn’t soothe him, our tiny little innocent baby whom I loved so, so intensely and wanted to do everything for.
The next morning, I got a call from Oscar’s clinic, offering a home visit with a nurse. I cried with relief. Matt also got in touch with Justine, our doula, and she arranged for a well-recommended lactation consultant to come to our house as soon as possible.
The nurse, whose name I regrettably cannot remember, was so kind and reassuring. I stayed in our sunny bed while she checked Oscar’s latch and arranged an elaborate garden of pillows and towels around me to help bring Oscar more in alignment with my body. I told her I didn’t know when my milk was going to come in, and she told me it already had. The nursing pain persisted, but Oscar was four days old, and I was feeding him, and we were doing okay.
The lactation consultant, Jen Mason, came to see us early the following morning. Like the nurse before her, she was so gentle, affirming, and nonjudgmental. She noticed tiny details about Oscar’s mouth, and she taught me about nursing while reclining to help Oscar improve his latch. I’m a type-A perfectionist sort, and I had convinced myself that I just wasn’t “doing” the different nursing positions I’d learned correctly, and that was why I was in pain. Jen alleviated that anxiety when she told me that there wasn’t just one way to do any position, and that Oscar and I could figure out together what worked best for us. I asked her about pumping occasionally, to give my damaged nipples a break, and she showed me a way to bottle feed that would mimic breastfeeding. At this point, I’d never heard of “nipple confusion,” and she didn’t bring it up once. I think she sensed that I’d probably freak out and that I needed to give myself the option of occasionally pumping to get through those first painful weeks and continue breastfeeding. I also think she’s a caring person who doesn’t believe in scaring new moms.
Jen and the nurse helped me to give myself the gift of time and patience with my body. I kept nursing, and eventually, the breastfeeding pain passed. It is crazy how far away those early October days seem now. It took a few weeks, but by November, breastfeeding was nearly pain-free, and I could nurse Oscar in places other than the one spot on the couch that was set up with my pillow entourage. By December, I realized how much I enjoyed even the late-night feedings, a scenario that was impossible for me to imagine two months before.
There have been two nights since he was born that Oscar didn’t wake up until morning; during every other night of his little life, he and I have spent anywhere from 15 minutes to two and a half hours together in the dark. It’s not convenient, and of course I would prefer to sleep for an uninterrupted seven to eight hours…but. When he’s done eating in the middle of the night, he tucks his knees up, draws his tiny legs into my chest, and nestles his head into my shoulder, and because of his perfect round cheeks, I can feel him smiling in his sleep. And I know, I know, that nothing gold can stay. So I ignore the clock, and we linger in the dark for a few minutes longer.