Coming soon to an Applebee's near you...
Due to infant-induced sleep-deprivation, my friend Tam didn't get a guest post written in time for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but she sent one along later, and it's too lovely not to post. Besides, her son the Gruffler turns two months old today, so it seemed appropriate.
For anyone who is new here and / or did not read the preceding sentence, all that follows is NOT ABOUT ME. I do have a ridiculously plump rack, but I do NOT yet have a child to blame, and cannot claim the blue-eyed heartbreaker you will meet below. Also, I am not British and Tam is, so that'll be another clue. (P.S. If reading about breastfeeding and boobies makes you squirm, you should probably just go do something else and come back tomorrow. You have been warned.)
I’ve always had a fairly amicable relationship with my breasts. They were a late, surprise arrival, as I was completely flat-chested until the summer before I went off to university. Then, miraculously, they arrived over the space of a few sunny months, ensuring that I started my undergraduate career as a perky and delighted 32C.
For several happy years, they were a source of endless free drinks. I’d take them out in a tank top, without a bra, and somehow, I don’t remember ever having to order a drink myself. The freshman fifteen all seemed to land squarely on my bust. At some point, I developed some morals, and my boobs developed to the point that I had to truss them into a cantilevered sports bra with the kind of underpinnings that you usually see holding up Gothic cathedrals, but they still passed the pencil test.
Now? Now, they are still a source of free drinks, but alas, not for me. And I know that I should probably spend this post rhapsodising about the natural, bonding beauty of breastfeeding, but people, it is weird. I only got an inkling of how weird it would be when few weeks into pregnancy, my nipples completely and dramatically changed colour, which was rather like having your eyes change from brown from blue overnight.
When the Gruffler was born, I’d written dutifully in my birth plan (‘Natural! No pain meds! And please don’t cut me up!’) that I intended to breastfeed. Of course I did. The truckloads of natural birth propaganda which I’d been absorbing for nine months were very keen on breastfeeding as a magical and bonding experience. Clearly, once I was done meditating through the surges and breathing my infant into the world, I would be nursing him. What all my reading omitted to mention was just how bizarre the whole thing would be. I can’t remember very well the moment they put the Gruffler, froggy and wet and flailing in wild distress on my bloody chest, because I was too dazed from shock and severe blood-loss. I do remember when they brought him back, and announced cheerily ‘You’ll want to be putting him on the breast, then!’ I looked down at his crumpled, unfathomable face, and thought ‘I do?’
My poor brother, aged twenty-one, who came to see me the afternoon after I gave birth, got to witness my first efforts as the midwife tried to help me wrangle the tiny Gruffler, all curled up like a pretzel, onto a vast breast which was about three times the size of his head. I couldn’t sit up, so this endeavour took place with me lying down, boobs all over the place. My brother coped with this sudden exposure of his sister’s knockers by observing the whole process with scientific disinterest. After much coaxing, as the Gruffler managed to get his tiny petal mouth around one nipple and suckle for scarcely ten seconds before falling asleep again, he said ‘Human infants are utterly rubbish, aren’t they?’
Despite this accurate pronouncement, the Gruffler and I struggled on. A few days after the birth, my milk officially ‘came in’, bringing with it a new set of stripey stretchmarks. The propaganda also omitted to mention that you might find yourself kneeling over a tiny, sleeping infant with both sides gushing like dual sprinklers all over the bed, while your husband flails around desperately for towels. The Gruffler does his best, but often he resembles a fresher struggling manfully with a beer bong. When he does pull away, gasping for air, milk sprays in all directions while my horrified husband ducks for cover. Wet nipple exposed to the air, I make a mental note to find everyone who ever wrote anything about the importance of ‘discreet breastfeeding’ and kick them to death.
The mess is vast, and extraordinary, and unending. I sleep on piles of towels, and get used to soaking through several layers of clothing. At five weeks, the Gruffler begins to projectile-vomit my milk back at me on a daily basis. He can cover a distance of some four feet, after which he looks rather sheepish, and then starts smacking his lips busily in anticipation of a refill. The doctor announces that he is a ‘Happy Spitter’, and that this is a laundry problem rather than a medical problem. At this point, we lose the cat, and find her attempting to tunnel her way out from under one of our laundry piles a few days later.
My husband is terribly supportive, despite making divorce threats on the morning that I brought him ‘Mystery Coffee’ with ‘Mystery Milk’ in it. He got even more supportive after I left him with the Gruffler and a few bottles of expressed milk for a night. The Gruffler likes to feed every two hours, all night long. When I suggested in a state of sleep-deprived despair that perhaps we should try formula, my husband blanched in horror. Did I realize how awful it was trying to warm a bottle at 4 am while the Gruffler wailed at the tardy service, he demanded. Did I really want to be getting up and making formula bottles in the middle of the night? Hmm? And what about the baby’s immunities? What about his IQ?
Then he made a quick escape. I expect he went to make offerings to the Creator for not giving men bosoms.
I am the daughter of a La Leche mother who believes that my postgraduate degrees are the direct result of her breast-feeding endeavours. Hum, quoth I. I’m not entirely convinced that Oxbridge and the Ivies are wholly populated by the breast-fed. But the Gruffler is two months old, now, and I am still at it. At seven weeks, my over-achieving bust calmed down miraculously, and stopped soaking through three layers of clothing on a regular basis. Also? I have discovered that paperback novels are preferable to hardback, because when you fumble and drop your book on your infant’s head, they’re less likely to suffer concussion.
It is still extraordinarily odd to sit in a cafe, and find myself undoing my top and taking out my breast. It is even funnier to notice the men who would probably have happily ogled my cleavage in my undergraduate days diligently averting their eyes away from the corner where I sit as if I were a nun who’d somehow lost her habit in a freak accident. There are certainly no free drinks on offer. It occurs to me that I could have gone my whole life thinking of my breasts as wonderfully ornamental - and occasionally happily recreational - without being able to announce, as I did the other day, that I have a Fast Let-down and an Oversupply. In dairy terms (I am a dairy farmer’s daughter), I am a good milker. The Gruffler’s rolls and dimples get more splendid every day. I grew that, I told myself in wonder when he was born, and I’m still growing him. Hurray for boobies.