In 1967, formula was the rage. Few breast fed their baby. By 1974, the year Rebeccah was born, the switch to breast milk was in full swing and formula had dropped from vogue. Neither view takes into consideration the individual situation for each mom and baby, how mom feels about nursing, how life interferes and sometimes demands flexibility. Normally, I’m not a middle of the road kind of person, but it seems to me there ought to be room enough for moms and dads to care for their babies in whatever way feels right and works for them.
I captured my own dilemma in this Bedtime Story written several years ago.
Stephen kisses me goodbye saying, “Call me if you need me. I’ll be home by 4:00, promise.” The door closes. I'm alone in our two-bedroom apartment for the first time since our ten-day-old son Matthew was born. He lies next to me on our bed. The Beatles croon “Norwegian Wood” on the radio. Invisible ropes tighten across my chest. My legs feel numb, my breath shallow. Matt yawns and grasps my finger, then relaxes back to sleep. His hand opens, releasing me. A miracle-I can move.
I leave Matt curled in the center of our king sized bed, shower and dress, forcing layers of accumulated fat into knit pants and shirt, three sizes larger than I wore six months ago. A vice clenches my head. Pain jabs at my neck. My breasts ache and leak against the front of my shirt. The tea Steve made for me earlier is cold and watery. I’m hungry, nauseous and more than a little terrified as I spoon my body next to Matt.
I consider calling my mother who is five hours away, but dismiss the notion. I have a baby; I am not the baby. My temples pulse as I plaster a bag of ice cubes over my head. Any minute Matt will cry, I will not have eaten anything and my head will explode into tiny bits. I call the doctor, who for a change, is available for a little chat.
“My head hurts. I can’t eat. What should I take?” I blubber into the phone.
“Two aspirin and you’d better eat. You’re the one who wants to breast feed your baby. If you don’t, your milk will dry up.” I chalk up his irritable tone and brisk demeanor to his pomposity, hang up the phone and resolve to find a new doctor. I wash down the medicine with three glasses of water, and reconsider my decision to nurse.
I was the oddity on the maternity floor, a nuisance to the nurses who threw Matt at me for his 2:00 am feeding and raced back to the nursery to stick bottles into the mouths of the rest of the newborns. Everyone else on the floor slept eight hours straight. Except me.
All my friends used formula, shrank back to size in two months, let the dad give the pre dawn bottle. When Matt sucks, my stomach pinches and nipples burn. Liquid oozes from every orifice. I no longer care that I am a baby and call my mother. The phone sticks to my palm as I reach for the Kleenex.
“This is killing me. What if he’s starving?” I rant.
“It’s for the immunizations.” she says, “Stop worrying. Drink a lot.” She pauses while I blow my nose. “Don’t you want a healthy baby?”
“Of course.” What a crock of guilt. “What about me?”
“Your uterus shrinks faster when you nurse. You need to be. . .” She hesitates, groping for the right word. “. . . to be patient.”
I hang up and sob into my pillow. In two days my parents arrive for a week and then we’ll see. A piercing, gurgling cry interrupts my pity party. Matthew’s fist searches and jabs the air. I change his diaper, lift my sodden shirt, and inhale deeply as his mouth grasps my tender nipple. It’s ten in the morning and my head is beginning to clear.