It hurt. Was it supposed to? He wasn’t latching on. I persisted. The nurse repeatedly walked me through the technique: Hold him and immediately insert your full nipple in his mouth, not half. That’s not right. Again, again, again… aaaand there’s the latch. I held my breath for fear he would let my hard-fought latch go. And he did… he let go. One feed took two hours. I didn’t sleep for weeks. This couldn’t be best for my baby, could it?
I went on to breastfeed for nine months. It had its highs and lows but it never felt easy. I’ve had an intense career, moved several continents, been through my share of heartbreak… but this, THIS, took every ounce of my determination. My life was measured in feeds; the frozen milk currency for freedom. For nine months I did nothing but churn out litres of milk. Sleep felt more like work than rest. If I didn’t get the right amount of REM, my baby would starve… and I would be stuck at home, bare chested and chained to his desperate wails.
I ate. I ate the ghee, the dates, nuts, fenugreek and coconut.
I drank. I drank three liters of boiled jeera water that I could only stomach when my nose was pinched tight, imagining the magical elixir being transformed into milk. Breath came in quick gasps between gulps. Oxygen was, after all, a low price to pay for milk.
So, why did I do it? Feeding my baby was the only time I really felt connected to him for the first few months of his life. It was all I had to give. So I did. I was barren emotionally… going through the motions like an automated mom-bot. But when I saw him filling up, watched his limbs grow, fat accumulate on his wrists, face and thighs… I physically witnessed the fruits of my labour. And so I laboured on. It was only when I stopped and the adrenaline had worn out, that I realised how ragged I felt with relief.
Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t natural supposed to feel easier? Natural, by definition, is derived from nature. Aren’t we derived from nature? Shouldn’t it be a way of life? Then it hit me. We no longer live in forests, supported by extended family; women work, gender roles have blurred. We no longer feed on berries and nuts… so why are we touting breastfeeding as the most ‘natural’ thing in the world, when in fact it doesn’t fit in with the modern day definition of natural?
In this new world when IVF and surrogacy offer hope and children, why are we not embracing the possibility of NOT breastfeeding our children? Formula is infinitely healthier than your smartphone. I have seen babies thrive with formula. Is breastfeeding the last connection we have to nurture the way we used to know it? Is this why we hold onto it?
Women are being pressured to give what we don’t have. Nourish in a way the world isn’t nourishing us right now. The trauma runs deep. Perhaps if we ate off of banana leaves, drank from copper cups not plastic, lived in large joint families where children were never meant to have only one caretaker, our bodies would be flushed with life-giving milk. But we never will return to where we came from, so perhaps let’s forge a new way forward, where we nourish our mental health instead of massacring ourselves to give what we never had.