Pregnancy and parenthood are full of occasions for “things no one tells you.” During the nine months of waiting for your baby/ies to be born, there’s a lot of time to read articles online. How should you be feeling now? What will labor and delivery be like? What about breastfeeding, sleep, diapers? Everywhere you look, a writer is making a point to tell you all the “things no one tells you” about the whole experience.
At some point, though, there’s pretty much nothing someone hasn’t already told you. Might you literally shit the bed during labor, for example? You might. And pregnant women have been told this dozens of times already, so there’s really no need to keep bringing it up. Please. I assume people like to go for the “shock” value of talking about poop, but by now we’ve heard this so many times that we simply cannot be shocked.
Then why am I writing a list of Things No One Tells You? When I read about breastfeeding twins, I thought I knew how things were likely to go. I pictured myself learning to tandem-feed the babies, the three of us comfortable snuggled up together in a pleasant, nutritious pile. That’s not exactly how things have gone down, though. I knew it would be difficult, of course, but I guess it turned out that, on the subject of breastfeeding, there actually were a few things no one told me.
1. You might not be able to do it. Women are often spoken to as if we have a choice in the matter. We should choose to breastfeed plain and simple. “Breastfed is best!” “It’s natural!” “Your body will create the appropriate supply according to your babies’ demand!” “Your milk will come in any day now!” Or, you know, not. The uncomfortable reality is that these things aren’t always true. Not everyone has the freedom to make that choice. And don’t get me started about the moralizing and the judging and the policing of women’s bodies. Hoo boy.
2. It hurts. They say it doesn’t hurt. They say if it does hurt, you’re doing something wrong. Lies. Sometimes it just hurts.
3. You might stop, but you that doesn’t mean you have to quit. We had a case of thrush not too long ago. One of the descriptions of the pain of thrush is the feeling of broken glass shredding your nipples during (and after!) breastfeeding. Unfortunately, I am in a position to inform you that this description is accurate! In my case, even once we started treating the thrush, the pain persisted. It got to the point that I shifted to pumping exclusively, which was significantly less painful. Afterward, I figured we were done nursing. I was a pumper and formula feeder now and forever. I didn’t feel like I really had a choice in the matter; I’d had to stop. And fine by me, you know? The babies were getting fed. Are we feeding our babies? Great! End of story.
But then, I happened to try again — L was crying inconsolably not long after he’d just eaten, so I didn’t think he was hungry. (He does this not infrequently.) I tried every other method of soothing but to no avail, and finally, in desperation, I decided to put him on the boob. I didn’t want to put him down to go to the kitchen and make a bottle if he might not even want food, you know? But my boobs were right there. Before I even got him near enough to try to help him latch on, he just… helped himself. I didn’t have to do anything; dude just went for it. This had never happened before. And it didn’t hurt. THIS had REALLY never happened before. Much like quitting, starting again didn’t feel like it was my “choice” either. It just sort of happened. Since then, both babies have been nursing successfully more and more — even in tandem! — but it’s not their primary source of food, which brings me to the next point.
4. It doesn’t have to be about the food. Since re-starting breastfeeding, I’ve begun looking at it differently. In that one moment, it was a way to help my crying baby get some comfort and calm, and it worked. It wasn’t about the food. Now I’ve stopped caring how much they’re getting when they nurse or how long they want to stay on. If they want to, I let them, and they stop when they decide they’re done. I get my cozy pile. They still get their normal bottles at their normal meal times, about half breastmilk and half formula. My supply hasn’t magically increased, so knowing they’ll be fed no matter what has taken the calorie and nutrition stress completely out of the equation. [I’m very thankful to be living in a time of breast pumps and formula. Yay, science!]
5. It makes you have to poop. Oh shit, here we are again with a “no one tells you about the poop” scenario, and I apologize, I really do. But this time, really, NO ONE HAD TOLD ME and I feel like that information would have been helpful. Here it is: breastfeeding, especially in the first weeks, makes you have to poop. Seriously. You may as well be wandering the stacks at the library, sipping hot coffee and eating a bran muffin. And now someone told you.