Christine and Lisa were shocked at how good I looked. I’m not sure what they were expecting when they came to meet my daughter.
“You’re so relaxed!” Christine said.
“It’s like you just walked out of the spa. Your skin looks fabulous, did you get a facial?” asked Lisa.
At two months old, my daughter was sleeping through the night and napped frequently during the day. I couldn’t do much because she only napped draped over me; head resting on one side of my chest, one hand over my heart, feet dangling below my bellybutton. The minute I put her down in the crib, bassinette or bed, she would wake up. I propped myself up on pillows in the middle of the new king size bed and learned to nap when she napped. I kept one hand lightly on her back feeling the up and down motion of her diaphragm contracting and expanding. I was not going to drop her or smother her. My sleep was light at best. I could see the fingers wagging and the tsk-tsking from my pediatrician and people who “knew better” if I let this out.
Christine and Lisa don’t have kids, they wouldn’t know to judge me for sleeping with my baby but some mothers would. I had already gotten eye rolls and pursed lips when I told a few that Hudson was sleeping through the night.
The secret to my radiant glow was not due to long hours of daytime napping and a full night’s sleep. My crime as a new mother was far worse than that.
I was not breastfeeding and I was OK with that.
I had a C-section. I always follow that with “because I had fibroids removed three months before I got pregnant. There was a ninety percent chance my uterus would rupture during labor if I delivered vaginally.” Which is usually met with the look you give people in mourning when you don’t know what to say to them. If I omit the reason for my C-section I get that head tilt or eye brow cock that I now know means I’m being judged and labeled a bad mother.
I hold the C-section somewhat accountable for my not being able to breastfeed. I gave birth at 8:34am but by the time I was stitched up and in the recovery room an hour had passed. I had Matt pull down my hospital gown and bring the baby to my breast. She didn’t latch, she didn’t seem to know what to do. Maybe too much time had passed before we did skin to skin or placed her on my breast.
By the time I got to my room, my breasts were engorged and in pain but nothing would come out. The nurse showed Matt how to massage them to try to get the colostrum out. Matt’s strong hands got tired after twenty minutes of kneading.
The lactation consultant came in to check on my progress, she adjusted Matt’s hands as he massaged while my areolas were being suctioned by a mechanical contraption.
The hospital was baby friendly meaning that they subscribe to the mantra of “breast is best” but what if I couldn’t feed my baby? Were they going to let her starve?
I’ve never had so many hands on my breasts. My sister Ona, who breastfed her three year old and one year old in tandem insisted on helping. The nurse, lactation consultant, my husband and now my sister all took turns. Ona grabbed, pulled and stretched my breasts trying to extract milk. She tweaked and twisted my nipple so hard I shrieked, waking Matt and the baby, and making two nurses rush in to my room to see if I was OK.
In my posh hospital room in Santa Monica, on the other side of the map from my old neighborhood in Washington Heights, I reached my boiling point and went uptown on everybody.
“You all need to get the fuck out of my face right now and leave my motherfucking tits alone.” I screamed as Matt ushered everyone out, except for the baby.
“She can go a long time without eating, don’t worry. Your milk will come in soon honey.” The nurse tried to reassure me as she was being marched out the door by my husband. The ordeal managed to produce two dots the size of a pin head of thick whiteness. I dabbed the colostrum on my fingertips and let my daughter suck my finger.
No matter how many hot or cold compresses, massages and pumping there was no milk. On her first day of life all my baby had eaten was two tiny drops of colostrum. She was slowly turning yellow and placed under blue lights to treat the jaundice.
On the second day with no milk in sight, I told the nurse to give me formula. She had to check with the pediatrician. I was about to send Matt to the drug store but the nurse came in with enough formula for the rest of my stay and some for home.
“This isn’t giving you a free pass to stop pumping” she said loudly and then whispered, “I had to say that, your baby will not lack anything if you supplement or don’t breastfeed. Don’t’ tell anyone about the extra formula samples, I could lose my job.”
At that point nothing mattered. My baby was finally getting some food and within a few hours she had her first bowel movement all over Matt’s gray pants. I went online and bought a month’s supply of formula to be delivered when we got home.
During the four days at the hospital I pumped for twenty minutes every four hours with nothing but a few drops coming out. The day we got home I developed a severe cold. I spent my first two weeks at home with Matt doing most of the baby caring because I was knocked out.
The C-Section was a piece of cake in comparison. I was walking and moving well but the constant coughing, aching body and stuffed up nose did me in. Two weeks after Hudson was born, Matt had to go back to work. The cold was getting stronger and I caved in. I took the antihistamine even though it is known to diminish milk supply.
I was still pumping every four hours and feeding my daughter mostly formula every three hours. After taking the cold medication I went down to four times a day and was lucky if I got a total of two ounces. By the time Hudson was one month old I was down to pumping twice a day.
So when Christine and Lisa marveled at how great I looked, I told them it was due to not being sleep deprived. I didn’t dare tell anyone that I was barely breastfeeding.
Matt kept my secret but he didn’t think it was anyone’s business or that anyone had a right to give me a hard time about it. As a man, no one was going to label him a bad father. He was being hailed as a “rock star” and a “God send”. I was getting tired of the “you’re so lucky” and “que hombre tan bueno” choir of friends and family. My husband got the accolades for doing his job and I would have been ostracized for my dwindling milk supply.
“I’m supplementing” I would say which was technically true.
One of the promises I made to myself during my pregnancy was to be gentle and kind to body, not to beat myself up if I couldn’t do things like other mothers. After two miscarriages, four failed IVF transfers, and one successful pregnancy, I had to take care of my mind and body.
When Hudson was three months old, I stopped pumping all together. I had enough of the anxiety and self-loathing that came with the hissing sound of the breast pump.
I returned to work when my daughter was five months old. All our offices have floor to ceiling glass windows next to the door so there is no privacy. A new coworker took it upon herself to find me a lactation room. I insisted I didn’t need one. New Coworker walked into the one office that did not have a glass slat and kicked the person out of her office because “Lucy needs to pump.” Displaced Coworker got upset with me because I should have told her myself instead of sending someone to do my bidding. I used every ounce of restraint to not go uptown on either of them. Nothing would have pleased me more than to send them both with a one way ticket to carajo land.
I was tempted to fake pump at work, use the time to meditate or read but the thought of dragging the pump out of its hiding place on the top shelf of my closet and lugging it around would have been too much. Everything was sorted out when I told New Coworker and Displaced Coworker that “I’m breastfeeding before and after work, I don’t need a lactation room.”
This self-preservation/being good to my mind and body journey I’m on has taught me to choose my battles and tell a white lie when it benefits my greater good. It was a good reminder of what fights are worth my time and effort. Asking for and getting two extra months of maternity leave from my job was priceless. Schooling a woman to keep my breasts out of her business was not, at least not this time.