My mom thinks she was a super paranoid, protective parent, but in some ways she failed because she allowed me to ride the school bus when I was in sixth grade, and our school bus driver, Rodney, later was fired (and arrested) for drunk driving. And this was all before the orthodontist she so carefully selected for us was indicted for felony cocaine possession. (No wonder my jaw clicks to this day.)
Rodney wore a dirty, white undershirt, looked like he hadn’t showered in months, and often reeked of alcohol. He was also short tempered, making the occasional afternoon pit-stop to the grocery store parking lot, which preceded our stops, so he could
threaten to force the troublemakers to walk home totally lose his shit on us.
Still, these afternoon pit-stops were preferable to our daily arrivals to the middle school parking lot, where, before allowing us to disembark, Rodney would often summon our assistant principal, Roberta, to enforce some much needed discipline, because Roberta was one hardcore bitch. Years later, she’d make the front page of our small-town newspaper after chasing her live-in boyfriend down her street, wielding a knife, in a midnight drunken domestic dispute. And Roberta wasn’t even fired for her shenanigans (I love this word), because apparently this is an acceptable example to send to America’s youth, but I digress.
But, back to the bus, and to Rodney. In his defense, his life couldn’t have been easy, because he definitely drew the short straw when he was assigned to our bus route. I mean, my cortisol levels would have risen too if, on the regular, motorists were calling the police during their daily commutes as their windshields were being pelted by math textbooks and frosted pop-tarts. And I also would have been stressed to have to deal with Butch, who should have been enrolled in an alternative school but somehow wasn’t.
Each day in the grocery store parking lot, Butch would agree to settle down. But each day, not even ten minutes later, as we passed the K-8 Catholic school, Butch would open his window, stick out his head, torso, and arms, throw up both of his middle fingers, and yell, “Fuck you all!!!” as all of the parents in the pick-up line cringed, some attempting to shield their kids’ ears and eyes.
And stories like this are often the source of arguments between Mark and me. Like he thinks his Lutheran school upbringing might have been more wholesome or pure or holy or whatever (as if his childhood was freaking perfect). But I argue that my more diverse public school experiences were more interesting and colorful, serving as an irreplaceable form of enrichment.
But anyway, my point is that when Matthew died, I pulled a Butch, throwing up both of my middle fingers to the universe, and to most everyone in it, yelling (mostly silently, but loudly in my mind), “Eff you all!!!” retreating into my “circle of trust,” only doing “safe” things and interacting with “safe” people for more than a year in an effort to be as gentle with myself as possible. And, because I agree with some that exposure therapy does nothing for grief, I feel like my approach was absolutely warranted and healthy and productive.
But now, with Joel here, while I’m not exactly going to attend a large group gathering any time soon, I do recognize that it won’t be long before I will be forced to step back out into society more regularly. So I figured my first step should be to attend this local “breastfeeding support group,” which is so not my type of thing, but I also thought there could be some benefits to attending…
My “journey” with breastfeeding up until this point has been painful and rocky and stressful and confusing, and also moderately successful in that Joel is gaining weight and regularly loading his pants.
Going into it, I had zero preconceived notions about breastfeeding (because I was focused on my child making it here alive) other than what I’d been told – “Breast is best, so you better try to breastfeed, or else so many people will judge you and call you a loser and a failure,” So I was like, “What the hell? I’ll try it. How hard could it possibly be? And if I fail, I’ll just use formula, because, honestly, FED is best.”
But then, I quickly realized there is actually a lot more to it than this. And it starts immediately in the hospital, when everyone flips out about how you must get the baby to latch YESTERDAY. And it HURTS so much that you drop some f-bombs and wonder if your nurse is judging you, but she kind of snickers so maybe she isn’t judging you.
Then people give you all sorts of advice like, “Don’t pump – your supply will unnecessarily increase. Pump – it will give you a break. Don’t offer a bottle – it will cause nipple confusion. Offer a bottle – nipple confusion isn’t real. Don’t give formula – it will ruin your baby’s digestive tract and cause him to be obese. Give some formula – he has borderline low blood sugar.”
Heck, one of our nurses even engaged in a small catfight with one of our lactation consultants. It went something like this…
Lactation Consultant – I bet Joel’s latch hurts because he’s tongue tied. His tongue is shaped like a heart.
Me – Okay….
Lactation Consultant – I’ll call your pediatrician to give him a heads up.
Me – Okay…
Nurse – I don’t think he’s tongue tied…
Lactation Consultant – He definitely is. (Nurse leaves the room.)
Lactation Consultant – I think she’s actually tongue tied (referring to our nurse). Did you see her tongue? It’s totally shaped like a heart.
Nurse (several hours later) – Your son’s tongue is perfect. I’m not sure what the hell is wrong with her (referring to lactation consultant). NOTE: Joel isn’t tongue tied.
When we arrived home my confusion continued, and I cried through 90% of our feedings for Joel’s first four weeks of life. And I was super embarrassed by how much of a wuss I was being, especially considering that I should be thankful in all situations from here forward for the rest of my life considering I have a living baby to feed (no pressure), which I am thankful, but I was still crying, because OUCH.
And I was also super pissed off, because everyone kept saying, “It gets better after two weeks.” And then it wasn’t better, and everyone was all like, “Oh, it gets better after four weeks,” and then it wasn’t better, and I was like screaming, “When in the actual heck does it get better?!?”
And we had a couple of moments when I actually managed to pump some milk, and I viewed this milk as liquid gold. I dreamed about how, at some magical point in the future, after my supply was established, Mark might be able to feed it to Joel, and I could have a desperately needed BREAK. But then Mark spilled two ounces of milk on the kitchen floor and unfroze another six ounces of milk which we then didn’t use fast enough to avoid spoiling it, which in turn sparked an emotional breakdown from me.
And then, one night, at the advice of the pediatrician (to get me some more rest) Mark gave Joel four ounces of formula so he didn’t have to wake me, and then upon discovering this in the morning, I was irrationally enraged to the point where I was concerned I could be the subject of the next episode of Wives with Knives (much like Roberta), at which point I realized I somehow am committed to continuing breastfeeding.
So even though I still have difficulty interacting with most “normal parents,” I decided to suck it up and go to this support group because maybe I could get some of my burning questions answered like, “Is Mark the devil for giving formula? If Joel eats every two hours one day and every three to four the next, how in the hell will my supply ever regulate so I may avoid this painful engorgement? How does one exercise (or do anything) AND breastfeed – like how do you avoid the feeling that two sacks of hot milk are about to hit you in the face?”
So upon arriving there were already three mothers there with their babies, and I sat as far away from them as possible, because I’m still pretty anti-social as a result of Matthew’s death.
By the time the meeting got rolling, there were at least 15 mothers there with their babies, mostly close to Joel’s age, which I considered far too big of a group. We were then asked to introduce ourselves, and I realized I do not know how to introduce myself to a support group that involves living children. I decided to keep it short, “I’m Christine. This is Joel. He’s five weeks old. Breastfeeding was horrible. It’s going better now.”
A woman named Ashley sat next to me, and she seemed like a kindred spirit. I was also encouraged that I could look around the room and not feel too personally offended by all of the living babies. In this regard, Joel’s arrival has been healing, and I also think this was because these babies were closer to Joel’s age than they were to Matthew’s age. Though, to be clear, I was still very sad to think I should have one older than all of them. I was also annoyed at all of the implications that C-sections and certain breastfeeding issues are somehow tragedies.
In the end, although I don’t know that I’ll return, I was proud I went. Though it wasn’t necessarily enjoyable, and I don’t think I made any friends, it didn’t kill me either, and several months ago (or maybe even just on a different day), this sort of situation would have emotionally incapacitated me for days.
Additionally, I gained some perspective, realizing my issues with breastfeeding are in no way unique. In fact, by comparison, my current breastfeeding issues aren’t as severe as many in attendance (though my other issues are another story), thus I didn’t really get my questions answered.
And it was reassuring to see up close that no one knows what they’re doing, and everyone is truly just a hot mess, winging this whole parenting a living child thing.