Why I Didn't Breastfeed

modern anatomy

When I found out I was pregnant, I had just turned twenty-two. I had moved down to Florida after graduating college in Chicago and started dating my now husband. We hit it off right away and went on this amazing two-week long vacation down the East Coast. We spent hours in the car talking, finding out every facet of the other’s life---all of our wants and dreams, hopes and fears. After the trip, we were pretty sure we would get married. After six weeks, SIX weeks. That was before I even knew I was pregnant. At our wedding, my husband’s friend James gave a toast. He talked about how just a year earlier, when five of the engineers, including he and my husband, were cramped in a too-small office under lots of stress, they played “Would you ever”? The question was: Would you ever marry someone after only six weeks? The oldest employee (who had been married already for over twenty years) said he would, and he did. He and his wife were married after only a few weeks. Every other person said, No way, that’s crazy! And then the question came around to my husband. “Yes, when you know, you know.”

And then, a few weeks later, amidst throwing up daily several times a day and watching bad television, unemployed lying on the couch, reality hit me: OH SHIT, I AM HAVING A BABY. I didn’t know how to escape, didn’t know if I wanted to escape. If there’s something my generation is defined by, it’s this attitude of feeling lost without a purpose. Before getting pregnant, I was just floating along. I’d quit my job and moved in with my parents. I was considering graduate schools, and thinking about moving to the west coast. I thought in some naïve way, that this baby would give me a purpose. I would wake up everyday thrilled to take care of this little human being, pack lunches, and dry tears. I would have a job, and it would be mother.

Except you are pregnant for nine (practically ten months) and during that time I didn’t have a job. I was depressed and spent most days in bed looking at blogs online and shopping. My body turned on me. After weeks of throwing up and being sicker than I had ever been, the weight just started to pile on. 5, 10, 15 pounds, all the way up to 50 plus pounds as the due date neared. The truth is I stopped looking at the scale towards the end. The first time the nurse weighed me above 150, clunk . . . clunk went that second weight, I started to cry. Never in my life had I had the two clunks. Boom, boom went my old life. By the time Charley came, I had gone from a size 4 to a size 14.

Even though I only threw up in the first trimester, the entire pregnancy I felt sick. I had heartburn, my body hurt all over, and I couldn’t sleep. The only things I wanted to eat were sugar and carbs (hence the weight gain). I couldn’t even look at a vegetable without feeling something rise in the back of my throat. I was miserable and I wanted my body back. I wanted to have sex with my husband, without this giant belly. I wanted the old me back. The labor took hours and hours; I had an epidural and then Pitocin, then the epidural wore off and the Pitocin increased. It was terrible. But even still, immediately after giving birth, shivering under warmed blankets and tea from the missing heat in my body, I felt better than I had the whole pregnancy. It was amazing how quickly it took for me to stop feeling sick. As soon as he came out, the apple juice tasted fantastic, the air felt cooler, I was comfortable; I could have run a marathon. Then they handed me this squirming tiny alien, his eyes closed, and I tried to breastfeed. And PAIN, PAIN, PAIN, he was tearing apart my nipples! Just as I had started to feel better and like myself, he’d attached to me like a clamp. The nurses didn’t know why he wouldn’t latch properly. They kept trying to reassure me it shouldn’t hurt and I’m telling them, through my tears, it does, it really does. And just like that I gave up.

Psychologically I couldn’t do it. Truthfully, I’m uncomfortable around breastfeeding. I admit it. I’m a woman, and a mother, and breastfeeding makes me embarrassed. Am I just a product of our society’s fascination with breasts as being purely sexual and disgusted with breasts for their biological purpose? I want to feel that it’s natural and amazing, I read blogs where women profess their love for breastfeeding---“I’ll be doing it till he’s five, or in college, it’s so easy!”---and I think, good for them, that sounds wonderful, and then they whip out that boob in front of me, in my living room, and I have to turn my eyes.

Maybe it’s my age. I talked to a breastfeeding friend recently who mentioned how her mother-in-law was a huge breastfeeding advocate, but didn’t breastfeed her first child. My ears perked up. I want to be a breastfeeding advocate, I’m intelligent and educated. I read the studies about how it’s better for everyone: better for the mother, healthier for the child. I hear stories of how women lost ALL of their weight within weeks; it just came right off! (Mine didn’t, still hasn’t, hello permanent size 10). And I wanted to do it, wanted to try it, I really did, but I just . . . couldn’t. My friend said her mother-in-law had her first baby at age twenty-two and didn’t want to breastfeed. She felt like it was her body and she didn’t want to share. She wanted her breasts to remain sexual, not utilitarian. A light bulb went off---that’s me! That’s exactly the psychology of it. After watching my body morph into something it never was, and being so sick and depressed for so long, I wanted my body back. I wanted to own it, be in charge of the weight and my breasts. I wanted to just be me, not just mom.

We are a naked family, and sometimes I’ll take a bath with my son, just for fun; it keeps him entertained. Lately when he sees me naked, he is fascinated with my breasts---wants to touch them, pour water on them---and I think dammit, he’s a male, how did it start so early? Because he wasn’t breastfeed, will he just be obsessed with them as he gets older? Or did it really not matter? And when he reached for my breast, just like he did when he was only a few hours old, a pain shot through me, and I thought, don’t touch me.