Breastfeeding⏤A Multi-sensory Affliction
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Originally written for Breast Friendships.
It’s one of those fiddly motherhood moments. Here I am, standing at the open door of a parenting class with my obviously adopted black baby in my arms, waving to the group of first-time mums seated around the room.
The group facilitator points me to a plastic chair sandwiched between Jennifer #1 and Jennifer #2. The Jennifers must’ve exchanged dress code memos because they’re wearing identical, slim-fit Bravado nursing camis.
“Oooh, your baby is sooo cute,” Jennifer #1 says.
“Are you breastfeeding him?” asks Jennifer #2.
“Umm, no,” I say. “I adopted her, actually.”
I brace for impact as the pseudo-sympathy bomb drops.
“Ohh!” coo the Jennifers in unison.
To my surprise, another bomb goes off across the room.
“Ooh, that’s such a shame,” says Melissa from Missouri, shaking her head at me.
I can’t hold my tongue anymore. “Excuse me?”
“Oh no, I just mean... The breast feeding—I mean, not the ‘breastfeeding’…” Melissa tries to back-track, to no avail. ‘Oh, I’m just so... clumsy with my words. Mummy Brain, right? Huh? Heh.”
“I think we all understand what you mean, dear,” the facilitator says, promptly rescuing Melissa from her word vomit. “Breast milk is the, er, best nutritional choice for infants…”
Melissa from Missouri, now afflicted with a particularly sudden case of Crocodile Tears, sniffles. “Yes, yes, I meant to say I am so sorry for you not to be able to share this special time with your baby, this... This ancient ritual that’s helped so many mothers bond with their babies for centuries. So sorry.”
My eyes are watery too. Damn weed pollen in California. Allergies fluctuate with the seasons, but breastfeeding is a year-round, multi-sensory affliction. I smile at Melissa, because these good-intentioned breastfeeding moms don’t need to know I’m not on their nostalgic wavelength. They don’t need to know that I actually chose to adopt my second baby, and that I’m not at all disappointed, nor emotionally overwhelmed by her. Nobody needs to know that I secretly enjoy not having to expose my naturally full and firm 36 DDs to nipple vasospasm, teething, or mastitis⏤the many harms of breastfeeding that I do not miss in the slightest.
“Oh, yes,” I say, swiping at my nose with my sleeve. “Such a shame, it’s crushing.”
But I remember the sleepless nights bonding with my first born, who insisted on suckling or grabbing at my breasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and oh God, the embarrassing incident when my husband accidentally served my breastmilk (pumped painfully for hours) to our neighbor’s son. With cookies. I remember my cracked and bleeding nipples stinging in the shower until my firstborn finally learned how to latch correctly.
“I hope I didn’t offend you,” says Melissa from Missouri, shifting her child in her arms. “I didn’t mean it.”
My youngest’s twinkling eyes in the crook of my elbow confirm that these sentiments are best kept to ourselves, but I have half a mind to tell Melissa how amazing the bonding between a mum and her baby is when she’s not constantly draining her breasts. And oh! The joy of being able to feign slumber in the middle of the night so that, when the baby wakes up, Daddy is obliged to feed!
The facilitator is rattling off tips and tricks, but I find myself at home again, as I look down at my daughter. I hold her against my heart and breathe in her scent—that sweet, new-life smell. She touches my face. My chest.
“You didn’t,” I assure Melissa with a head shake. “Don’t worry about it.”
I watch the other mummies lay down on their sides, but I’m thinking about Tacolicious, on University Avenue where we’ll celebrate over guiltless margaritas. Jennifer #1 places a pillow beneath her angel’s head, elevating her baby to reach her breast. Jennifer #2 does the same, but avoids my eyes.