My tiny family struggled with nursing, and I wish my friends had told me how hard it would be ahead of time. Now, when I mention that things have finally taken a turn, almost everyone, mom or dad, mentions how hard things were for them too at the beginning. Where were these stories when I was preparing to be a parent? When I needed them most?
First, I want to clarify that, truly, it was my entire family that was caught up in the nursing drama. Remy was having a rough time figuring out how anything on his freshly minted body worked. To make things even more frustrating for him – and terrifying for me – he had Epstein’s pearls: tiny deposits that feel like dagger teeth. Oh, and a second ridge on his palate. Like a shark. Due to terrible latches paired with Remy’s scary shark mouth, I quickly developed fissures that would not heal and vasospasms that lasted for hours. My sainted husband tried everything to help us improve our position, checked Remy’s latches, and held him when he cried as I pumped, every feeding, for more than a week. Sorry dads, but the trauma of nursing involves you, too.
As one of the last couples in our circle of friends to create offspring, Tom and I had the benefit of watching many people become parents, try things out, and develop parenting strategies. Our wonderfully supportive community told us a lot of stories and gave us a lot of advice. But we only had one couple who prepared us for the terrors of nursing. They shared their story, and assured us that, even if I had to pump every meal, even if we eventually moved to formula, we would still be feeding our baby in the best way we could. We would still be good parents. Their words were a much needed balance to the rest of the world. Even with recent evidence that breast-feeding is no better than formula http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/04/is-breast-feeding-really-better/ , there is enormous pressure to instantly and completely excel at nursing. A fiction, I discovered, that nearly no one realizes.
It took three solid weeks of crying and pumping and frequent visits to the lactation specialists to admit to any of my friends that things were not at all as natural or easy as I had been led to believe. Imagine my surprise (grateful but flabbergasted surprise) when suddenly I was confronted with frustrations and reassurances aplenty. They helped me immensely, and I wish I had been brave enough, or known enough, to solicit them earlier. If you can, help your expecting friends by telling them what they don’t even know they want to know. If nursing nirvana is your story, by all means share it; but don’t hold back if your story is not all that you had hoped it would be.
I don’t intend to scare future parents with everything that could go wrong. But I do plan to let them know how rough it was for us, and that it is normal to need time to learn a new skill, and that sometimes things get better, and sometimes they do not. I plan to tell them that, no matter how they feel at 3am those first few terrible nights at home, they will be doing the best they can, and that there is the chance they will still be good parents. As least I’m fairly sure we still have that chance.