(I realize I’m about to venture into a virtual minefield of controversy, but believe it or not, the point of this little vignette is not actually about breastfeeding itself, or the merits or drawbacks thereof. My choices work for me, and if you want to comment on how wrong/awesome I am for making my choice, watch your tone. There are a bajillion places online to fight about this topic (and its myriad accompanying baggage), and this site is not one of them. Please to be taking your metaphorical grenades and sniper rifles over to another public forum to vent your spleen.)
My relationship with the practice of breast-feeding is…rocky. I want to do it, I try to do it, but sometimes my body just doesn’t cooperate. Whether it was the C-section, or the fact that my firstborn child was a giant who emerged with a never-ending pit of hunger in the place of his stomach, or that my boobs are the wrong shape/size for optimal production, or that the hospital whisked the Podling away to the nursery without even letting me hold him before I was banished to the recovery room (and where I suspect they bottle-fed him before bringing him back to me), or my metabolic/thyroid/insulin/PCOS issues that were the problem, the point was that with my first child, my milk production sucked. The lactation “specialists” I had the misfortune to encounter while trying to figure out how to fix my uncooperative body were…shall we say, well-meaning but completely out of line and ultimately counter-productive. The worst thing you can do to a frazzled new mother in the throes of wildly swinging hormones, terrible post-surgery pain, groggy from no sleep and insufficient pain medications, and on the cusp of post-partum depression is imply that, because she accepted the advice of the medical professionals keeping her and her child alive in the hospital, she ruined her chances of ever properly breastfeeding. Or, to break it down to those who haven’t experienced such a state, EVERYTHING IS ALL WRONG FOREVER AND IT IS, IN FACT, ALL HER FAULT. This, unfortunately, is a common technique to prod “misguided” or “lazy” mommies into Doing The Right Thing No Matter How Hard It Is.
I’m not kidding. One of them actually chided me for being lazy. Had I been in my right mind and able to get up off the couch on my own, I would have physically kicked her out the front door. I can kick, too. I took a lot of karate and have a year of cheer-leading under my belt. My thighs are deadly weapons. (Well, they were. Now they’re only lethal if you haven’t the sense to move were I to sit on your head. But I digress.) The end result was that, after gritting my teeth and letting her leave, having a good long ugly cry, I burned her business card in effigy and never called her again. Unfortunately, I never called anyone else to take her place. I never called anyone for anything, at all, when I needed help. I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone knowing what a terrible, lazy, selfish mother I was.
The Podling and I never did really get the hang of breastfeeding. We kept at it, but neither of us enjoyed it at all, and it was a relief when he weaned himself around 6 months old. He had discovered solid food by that point, and maybe I was being lazy, but after a few meals of cereal and formula, he actually slept four hours in a row. For the first time in five months.
Enter: the Peanut. I knew I wanted to give breastfeeding another try, but to say that I was apprehensive really doesn’t accurately convey my feelings, here. This time around things are better than they were, and maybe it’s because the hospital was more in line with what we wanted to do, or because the nurses were very knowledgeable about breastfeeding, or because the hospital’s lactation specialist took a look at the big picture of me rather than just the pointy bits on my chest and was thus actually helpful, or because the second time around the body tends to do a better job at production, or because the pain management was better and I was able to rest, or because…yeah, the list goes on. The point is, this time it was better, but we’re still not at 100%. So I’m trying everything I can think of to keep up my supply.
One of the oft-touted ways to increase one’s milk supply is to take supplements, whether via capsule or tea, that supposedly stimulates….things. Fenugreek is one of those herbs that Certain People swear by. I suspect it’s like the chondroitin/glucosomine supplements people take for joint pain; there might be a wee bit of actual change, but by and large it seems to be a placebo effect. In the case of the tea I’m chugging down, it might just be that I’m drinking an extra 3-5 cups of tea a day, and plenty of fluids are a necessary component of successful breastfeeding.
Trouble is…it’s fenugreek. It smells. It smells bad. The tea that my grocery store carries in the health food aisle is chock-full of herbs you may have never heard of, and for good reason. They have no business being consumed together as a beverage. NONE AT ALL. Some of them aren’t so bad at all: spearmint, lemongrass, verbena, marshmallow root…those are actually quite nice. The big players, though, are bitter fennel, aniseed, coriander, fenugreek, and something called blessed thistle which I am unfamiliar with on a taste level. The combination of all these is something I have described on Plurk as “feet stewed in black licorice.”
But, I drink it faithfully. It’s expensive, given how much I consume every day, but I drink it. After weeks and weeks of choking down this foul-smelling beverage, I think my nose is slowly shutting down out of self-defense. Little by little, it gets easier to swallow. I don’t even have to hold my breath anymore. I don’t hover over the cup waiting for the water temperature to drop to a tolerable level such that I can gulp it down before it cools too much and I can taste it too much. I’m becoming accustomed to the funk.
Others, however, are not. Just after the Peanut was born, Fezzik got outside and we couldn’t find him. For three weeks he was gone, and then a few days before Christmas he showed up, thin as a rail and obviously cold and tired, as if nothing had happened. Ever since I have been shoving food into his fuzzy, orange kibble-hole, branching out from the dry stuff to give him higher-fat, higher-protein wet food. Unlike her highness Isosceles, Fezzik never had trouble eating the wet food. He has no trouble eating people food, either, and now and then we have to scoop up the contents of the garbage can in the morning because he (gasp) saw the bottom of his bowl and panicked. (Not that he ran out of food, oh no. No, all he has to do is see the bottom of his bowl between pieces of kibble and he is scouting in cupboards and on counters and the garbage for more food. When we once ran out of food, he got into a box of biscotti and ate every one before we returned home with more, all the wrappers stashed tidily in his cat house.) As a result of me giving him a can of wet food once a day, now whenever I’m in the kitchen and there isn’t a lump of brown goo quivering moistly on a saucer, he follows me around hopefully…and loudly. This cat can eat, and he ain’t picky.
This afternoon, I was making myself a cup of tea and wandered too close to the stack of cat food cans. Immediately I had someone winding around my feet and making it inevitable that I step on something and promptly fall over (again), so I decided to show him exactly what I was pulling out of a paper and plastic package. I swung the tea bag down to his face, and he lunged at a chance to see if it was edible. In his enthusiasm, he bumped the tea bag with his nose.
Fezzik leaped (not moved, not cringed, not sidled) away from me, his eyes slanted shut with disgust, his ears flattened back against his head, his back arched, and he huffed out sharply. Then he did something I have never seen or heard him do before.
I was certain that I was about to have a pile of cat food to clean up, and I froze wide-eyed with horror. Fezzik shook himself, huffed again, gave me a look, and has not come near me the rest of the afternoon.
Clearly, I am not the only one who isn’t a fan. And yet I sit here, with another cup of the stuff. The things we do for the people we love….it defies comprehension.