The journey of motherhood has brought many amazing people in to my world. It’s also solidified bonds with old friends already on the parental path. I find new wonder, interest and respect for moms and dads from all walks of life, curious about their views and parenting styles, what works for them and what doesn’t. I love to be inspired and as a mother, nothing inspires me more than a parents love and care for their child. On occasion I will invite an inspirational mom (and maybe even a dad) to guest post on Yay Baby.Today is such an occasion.
Jessica S. Marquis is a wonderful woman I met during Jax’s swim lessons. I was drawn to Jessica’s laid back aura as our babies splashed around. I found comfort in our conversations and there was something I knew about her, just by looking at her beautiful daughter, Moxie. A lactation consultant told me that babies that nursed almost always had flawless, smooth skin, tended to be chubbier and were often happier than their formula-fed counterparts. When I saw Miss Moxie, perfectly content with her tiny hands on her mother’s bosom, her alabaster skin glowing with health and her chunky thighs beneath the tutu of her pink bathing suit – I knew for certain she was breastfed.
While Jessica’s birth plan and experience was very different than my own (I was all about hospitals and epidurals), I found a kindred spirit in her and a shared belief that boob is best for our babes.
Here is her story about her path to the land of lactation:
Her finger swiped the air as if to underline the phrase. I watched her hand, she the orchestra director and I the lead violinist, anxiously awaiting her next stroke.
“You’ll want lots of nipple butter.” She nodded with herself in agreement and settled back into the chair. I nodded along with her in an attempt to fit in. I was not yet a mom, accustomed to having my breasts exposed to strangers by a hungry infant, and this talk about nipples wasn’t in my repertoire for the workday. Yet there I sat, across from my veteran-mama coworker, who was giving me the hard truth about breastfeeding.
She leaned forward. “You know those pictures of moms serenely looking down at their babies as they quietly nurse? Fake. You’ll be dripping sweat and wrestling them while your nipples bleed. So, nipple butter.”
How had I missed this crucial detail about breastfeeding: That it totally sucked?And yet, as the months wore on, I was privy to a growing album of battle hymns about plugged ducts, infections, tongue ties, supply issues, pediatrician concerns over malnutrition, and the miraculous blessing of formula. “It’s fine to supplement if you need it,” a growing line of women assured me.
But why did everyone seem to need it? And why was something my body did so naturally such a cause for disgruntlement?
Before my little peanut started growing in my gut, I didn’t have much of an opinion on baby stuff. I knew for certain I wanted to deliver at a birth center because I didn’t want a hospital birth (unless medically necessary), and I wasn’t gutsy enough for a home birth. All other decisions flowed out of that one conviction.
As my husband, Bob, and I attended the prenatal classes that came as part of the birth center package, my arsenal of knowledge grew and, with that, the responsibility of more decisions. Cloth diapers or Huggies? Strollers or babywearing? Delayed cord clamping or cord blood banking? Formula or the boob?
Upon a review of relevant research and some conversations I never expected to have in this lifetime, I realized I was a breastfeeder. I was dedicated to doing everything within my power to ensure the only thing my baby tasted during her first six months came out of me.
And so, as I gazed into the dark newborn eyes of our mini Marquis for the first time, I inhaled intensely in preparation for the pain and frustration of that first latch.
And then she found my nipple on her own. And then she drank deeply.
That night after she fell asleep, I set my iPhone timer for two hours so I could wake her up to ensure she received adequate nutrition. And an hour-and-a-half later, she woke me up with a hungry whimper. And I never set an alarm to feed her again.
My breasts were available on demand, and we both found that arrangement quite pleasing. Sure, it meant a lot of sitting – I finished five seasons of Friday Night Lights in three weeks and read Mike Doughty’s The Book of Drugs in two days. I was at the whim of her expanding tummy, yet I never felt more relaxed. My body was supplementing her body, and it was supremely symbiotic.
I saw how breastfeeding was benefiting us both. I lost a ton of birth weight, and she didn’t get any of the illnesses that floated around our home, including three times I ended up with a fever and had to nurse her in a zombie-like state. There were no ear infections, no freaky constipation, and every time she hurt herself I could calm her down immediately by offering my arms and my nipple. When I got plugged ducts, she was the one who cured them for me. And every time she spit up – which was a lot! – I didn’t have to worry she had reflux from something inorganic.
We were in rhythm, in an intimate dance that these nourishing skin-to-skin moments choreographed. It was a great way to start off as a new mom: Not worrying.
However, the statistics weren’t great for long-running breastfeeding commitments, despite strong advocacy from the American Association of Pediatrics. Many mamas started, some continued to the six-month mark (when solids could be introduced), and a handful made it the recommended full year. I was encouraged during those early days of nursing to discover the numbers were on the rise: nearly a half of mamas (47.2%) were still breastfeeding when their kiddos were a half-year old, an increase of nearly 3 percentage points from the stats used in my breastfeeding class.
Nonetheless, I knew I would need solid cheerleading to see this through till she was ready to wean. Bob was great, as was my mom in the Hungarian apartment where she and my dad lived as missionaries nine hours in the future. But I needed other females who would reassure me during those 2 a.m. nursing sessions and 4-hour long marathon feeds.
So I started watching. I conducted surveillance in restaurants, waiting rooms, church chairs, and grocery stores, looking for mothers with tiny feet protruding from their sides. I chatted with moms at my daughter’s swim class, and in local boutique baby stores with wacky names that sold organic pacifiers. I joined a Facebook group through my birth center, through which I met a friend whose kiddo also liked to nurse more than sleep. We sent messages back and forth like, “Treasure these moments because you’ll miss them when the little one is 13.”
It was through this observing and interacting that I grew more confident in my stance, both emotionally and literally. Just yesterday, I was nursing my nursling in a restaurant sans cover as customers passed by. My dining companion beamed at me as she remembered her own bonding time with a son who is now a father of three.
The fact is, I was blessed to be able to take a 3-month maternity leave, and then become a stay-at-home mom who could nurse at any time. I was fortunate my body worked to produce the right amount of milk, and that my infant could drink it to the point of being in the 90-something-eth percentile at six months. I truly realize how lucky I am, and I don’t take a beat of it for granted.
But I do not think I am an exception. I believe the weight of it comes down to commitment and support. If a mama really wants to make a go of it, she needs to say so and then surround herself with people who also share that value, including new mamas, tried-and-true mamas, and experts who will share medical knowledge and inspirational tales when things get tough.
Oh, and the nipple butter? Tossed it in a drawer before week two was through. I was too busy serenely looking down at my child to notice I needed any.
Jessica S. Marquis is the author of Raising Unicorns: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Starting and Running a Successful – and Magical! – Unicorn Farm (Adams Media). Her work has appeared in Redbook, Geek Monthly, Going Bonkers?, and the Quirk Books blog. She blogs at Unicornomics.com and spends the rest of her time in Phoenix with her husband and daughter.
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