Every day I willingly subject myself to grueling torture at the mercy of an adorable bundle of nine pounds and eight ounces of joy. How can something so natural be so difficult and painful? Repeatedly, about every two hours to be exact, I engage in an excruciating tug-of-war battle with my nipple and a formidable cherubic ninja jaw warrior. After the conclusion of each skirmish, I sulk as I dress my battle wounds and fervently pray that a truce would soon commence. I am never the victor. I long for the days when the pain was but a mere migraine, easily fixed with a warm compress, temple massage, and a long nap (or a strong prescription drug if I’m being completely honest). Daily, I wish for a personal medic or, better yet, a magical nipple fairy who could wave a wand and “bippity- boppity-boo” make all things right in my universe again. But of course, I am not afforded such luxuries.
Gently, I slowly lower her down into a purple and pink flower adorned crib, sweating as if I am handling an un-plugged grenade, afraid that at any moment her tiny lungs will emit shrill cries that no ear drum should ever be subjected to. Contact between her body and the mattress is made. For a split second, she flinches and I grow completely still, holding my breath, willing her to stay asleep. Success! Somehow, I become Houdini and manage a great escape without a sound, which is a huge feat considering our floors creak incessantly. Though the quiet is comforting, the pain still lingers.
It is mind boggling that only a week ago I was still toting her around like an internal accessory. A miserable fifty additional pounds, skin tags, discoloration, back pain, stretch marks, and bloating also hitched a ride. However, the glow seemed to skip me and chose to journey with another preggo. A major plus, however, was the perky new D cups that I sported. Score for hubby. If only I knew then what would become of those extremely plumped fun bags I would have run screaming for the hills.
As I force myself to try to nap, (because I should sleep when she sleeps, so I’ve been told?) My mind races, stirring up frightful images of bloody nipples chasing me through dark fields of razor sharp baby gums. Symbolic or forewarning? I try convincing myself that the next feeding will go better; that she will not clamp down with jaws of steel and latch on shallowly sparing me from thirty minutes of “someone please put me out of my misery” pain. While in the hospital we were doing so well, I mean after all this is not my first time at the rodeo. The doctor and lactation specialist praised our nursing efforts with phrases like “that’s a perfect latch” and “you’ve mastered this” so what the heck happened? Had I duped myself and the hospital personnel into thinking that after two years I still remembered how to do this? After all, it is like riding a bike, right? Once you’ve mastered it you never forget what to do or so I thought but oh the contrary. This new tiny human being is different from the last and she clearly has her own agenda and that is to try and rip off mommy’s goody gum drops. Oh, the woes of breastfeeding. “I’m not a quitter”, I say to myself. (Yes, sometimes I talk to myself. It keeps me sane). “I will figure this out."
My watch ticks the minutes away and with it, my heart beat quickens in succinct rhythm as she begins to stir. The palpitation continues and anxiety gets the best of me. I watch her cues signaling that she is coming out of sleep and is ravished with hunger. I prepare for battle.
As her tiny mouth opens I feel as though I am staring down the barrel of a loaded 9mm gun. She clamps down and a pain that is indescribable shoots through my body causing even my toenails to experience pain. I think she broke my soul. I feel the milk flowing and I try to use the knowledge that I am providing life sustaining nourishment to my angelic child as a distraction, a sort of a focal point. After all, it was concentrating on a focal point that got me through labor, so surely it should work now as well…. it’s not working. What have I done to deserve this? Who have I wronged? Was my womb not comfortable enough? Did I not eat what she wanted? Hadn’t I suffered enough for thirteen hours travailing as she made her grand entrance? I wonder how long it will feel like I am feeding a teething lion cub. I force myself to watch as she nurses. Seeing her sweet face suckle so peacefully reminds me that she isn’t intentionally trying to inflict pain on me.
I access the damage after losing yet another fight. Looking down at what had become disfigured, I wondered if they would ever look or feel normal again. I apply nipple cream and a cool compress, replace the milk pads and latch the front hook of the nursing bra. What do I have to show for all my troubles? A pleasantly plump, extremely happy, doll of a baby. Is it worth it? Well, of course, but I wish it could be worth it without feeling like I’d been engaging in a fight to the death. Now, before anyone tries to console me with the “there is a silver lining and this too shall pass” clichés, pause, I know all that but none of that helps while my lady pearls are under fierce attack. Once past the stage of extreme pain, nursing is one of my favorite experiences and will be one of the things I miss most when my daughters are all grown and nursing their own children. This is a bonding tool that no one will ever have with my girls but me. I am thankful that I can nurse my babies, BUT, as I live in this moment I am in PAIN and I just want to go numb, forever if necessary, so I don’t have to feel like I’m being shredded to pieces any longer.
For all the momma’s out there struggling through the new stages of breastfeeding you are not alone. You are strong, you are women, hear you roar- or cry, and whichever you choose to do, it’s okay. Keep showering that baby with painful love and keep working on that latch. Nurse those battle wounds and they will begin to heal. Eventually, those little angels figure out what to do and relief comes. The pain won’t last forever, I should know, this is my third time signing up for this tug-of-war battle and I’ll keep fighting for at least a year, or until my girly tid-bits are gnawed off; whichever comes first.