Yoko's Breastfeeding Story Vol.1
In August we celebrated World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month in the US. Thank you all for being a part of this awareness-raising month.
Throughout the month, we were lucky to have a lot of real moms sharing their breastfeeding experiences in their own voices. We also shared stories on the benefits as well as challenges of breastfeeding. This whole month also gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own breastfeeding experience, which I thought I’d share.
Breastfeeding did not come natural to me. Like I heard from many women throughout this month, breastfeeding was like riding a tandem bicycle for me: I fell many times until my baby and I learned to do it well together.
I had a relatively easy pregnancy after the initial nausea–ridden first trimester. My career and personal life were very important to me and I use to say cliché things like ‘having a baby won’t change me’. I actually had a serious identity crisis early in my pregnancy where I could not bring myself to accept my pregnancy and let myself be happy about it due to the enormous fear I felt towards this big unknown called impending parenthood. I refused to slow down (though I eventually had to …) and even competed in triathlons pregnant (*with my doctor’s support, of course!). I refused to read any parenting books. I even hid my pregnancy until about 6 months. I missed the birthing class I signed up for. I showed up to the infant CPR class with take-out sushi. I was basically not a very nice pregnant lady who was trying to act as if nothing new was happening while my stomach kept growing and it got so big that I could not ignore it anymore.
Then finally, well into my third trimester, I started reading and researching about pregnancy, labor, and birth. Based on what I found out, late into my third trimester, I decided that I wanted to have a natural birth and my husband and I interviewed a doula. What she said to me in our first meeting stuck with me to this day. She said “I bet you spent more time researching about what stroller or baby monitor or crib to buy than how you want to bring your baby into this world.” It was absolutely true. We hired her on the spot and set up a call for the following week to get to know each other better in preparation for the birth. Little did we know that the ‘next time’ we talked was when I called her just a few days later, at 4 in the morning, with contractions sitting at my computer looking up ‘what ‘losing a mucus plug’ looks like?’.
I will save my birth story for another day (I had no idea I had to deliver my placenta after delivering my baby!!!!) and fast-forward to when I came back to the recovery room with my son. In the delivery room, I had my son on my chest for a little while to have skin to skin but then a nurse took him to clean him up to wrap him in the hospital swaddle blanket. Though I had no epidurals, I was still in shock and somewhat dazed that I actually birthed a baby. I had a bloody nose from pushing so hard too that I looked like a troll. Somewhere between delivering my placenta and getting stitched up, it started to dawn on me that I have this little creature called a son. Once given a wheelchair with a rubber donut on the seat with a baby in my arm, I was ready to go to the recovery room. This is where my real breastfeeding journey began. A nurse came to show me how to hold the baby and help me with the ‘latch’. My son immediately started sucking. It was, I have to admit, a weird feeling at first. I was wearing one of those hospital gowns that opened in the back but I was wearing it backwards so that I could do skin to skin with my son and the nurse opened the front, touched and massaged my breasts and said ‘your milk will come in a few days so keep feeding him on demand’. It was also the first time that a complete stranger casually opened my shirt and massaged my breasts.
Though I was going through so many motherhood ‘firsts,’ like wearing a combination of a ginormous pad and a ginormous icepack in giant meshed underwear, the first night passed by in bliss while my hormones busily worked on erasing all the labor pains from my memory. The next day, with still in so much pain down there, I went down to the breastfeeding class in the hospital, sitting on a rubber donut on a wheelchair. I joined other new moms in their hospital gowns and their partners looking oh so fresh (not) with their messy hair listening to the nurse demonstrate different breastfeeding positions with a fake plastic baby while we tried to copy her with our own real babies. After the class, we exchanged congratulations with other parents and headed back to our rooms where I was visited by a nursing bra consultant! Hooray for stripping down naked again, in front of another stranger! I tried on different utility-looking. Nude-colored nursing bras and declined to purchase them right then and there, thinking “I don't need a nursing bra, I can just survive with my regular ones!” I discovered a few days later that I really could not live without them, leading me to spend many hours on my phone (while breastfeeding) ordering nursing bras.
After a few days, my milk came in. I went through engorgement, which was painful. My breasts were so engorged and hard like soccer balls that my son could not latch so I had to pump in an effort to soften the nipples so that he could latch. I tried the frozen cabbage leaf technique. I took pain killers for the pain. I had a cooler right next to my bed so that I did not have to go downstairs to the kitchen to put the breast milk in the fridge every time I had to pump and feed. The pamphlet that the hospital gave us upon releasing us explained how to take care of myself and the baby during the first few days and weeks. I remember reading specifically that I was not supposed to go up and down the stairs, but that was nearly impossible given all the things I needed to do just to feed my baby (let alone other stuff like diapering, changing, etc. etc.) like pumping, washing the pump parts, getting the frozen cabbage leaves, re-freezing the leaves, getting water (hydrate hydrate hydrate), getting up to go sit on the ‘sitzbath’, recording the feeding and pooping schedule, etc., etc. Has anyone told you that breastfeeding involves so much effort?
At first feeding took a long time. I spent a lot of time marveling at this little creature’s face but I also spent a lot of time scrolling on my phone. I had a Blackberry back then but becoming a parent necessitated me to purchase an iPhone both to make my scrolling and online shopping (Amazon prime was a daily affair) life easier, and to take gazillions of photos of my son.
At this point, I was oblivious to more breastfeeding challenges down the road.
My story is TBC…