I don’t remember the first time that I breastfed my daughter.
I remember the first time that I held her; her little body warm and slimy against my skin after a grueling 44 hours of labour. I remember her being placed on my chest and watching, as if through goggles, as her little head turned in search of my nipple. I remember panicking as she didn’t find it and whispering the only words that I had; “I don’t know what to do…”
Then my memory starts to mist up and it all gets very foggy…I know that she is whisked off of my chest and out of my arms…I know that more faces are appearing above me…I know that there is an alarm going off nearby…I know that there is pain. A lot of pain…I know that my husband is crying…I know that I have to stay awake, no matter how difficult it is to do so.
You see, I didn’t only loose blood on that summer’s evening. I lost the memory of little bean’s first ever drink. It must have happened in the hours after I was stabilised, but I simply cannot remember the details.
I had once been under the impression that this elusive first-time memory was a given; a rite of passage, a milestone to remember for always. I had assumed that my daughter’s first breastfeed would be a love-at-first-sip kind of moment; an easy, organic, naturally beautiful landmark. Never had it occurred to me that my expectations could have been unrealistic. This was my milky fairy-tale, after all. And Cinderella WILL breastfeed her baby.
I had done my pregnancy yoga religiously, I had watched my birth hypnosis DVDs and planned my home birth to the smallest detail…and yet there I lay in a hospital bed, attached at three sites to intravenous drips with barely the strength to lift my arms after childbirth.
As the haze lifts slightly, I remember trying to breastfeed baby bean. I remember begging for them to remove my drips so that I could position her without feeling like my arms would fall off. I remember the cuts and blisters on my nipples, which only grew over the coming weeks. I remember the strange cocktail of horror and relief at the site of these lacerations: horror that my actual nipples were actually bleeding and relief that I had any blood left to bleed.
And yet, somehow, amidst all of this pain, this blood, this fog, my daughter drank nothing other than her mama’s milk…and she grew; never losing an ounce of her birth weight. Slowly but surely, I started to realise that breastfeeding wasn’t about the Big Ticket romantic gestures that I had so naively assumed. It was about the small stuff. It was about the everyday. And sure enough, without intention and with barely a whisper, breastfeeding morphed beautifully from the everyday, into the everything.
I started to see my breasts in a whole new light; I saw them through the eyes of my daughter. I saw the web of stretch marks as a milk map for baby bean…the ridges of my scars providing ample fidget material for tiny-yet-persistent hands. I viewed their lop-sided nature after a feed as a helpful reminder of which side to feed from next and their engorgement as a signpost for me to put my feet up whilst putting my baby to my breast.
In time, I started to understand that baby bean’s first feed, or second or third, did not define our breastfeeding relationship. Those first hours and days were not the sum of us. Because a love story is not written in a heartbeat…it is written in the middle of another dark night when we feel that we are the only person on the planet still sat rocking and nursing our baby. It is written every time we miss entire conversations because we are so completely mesmerized by our baby’s eyes. True love runs deeper than those grand gestures that turn heads, it courses through our bodies, our hearts, minds and souls…and whilst little bean’s first rooting head-turn wasn’t what I had expected, we have had so many every day and every night in the years since, that I no longer mourn that ‘lost moment’. Because in truth, the moment that her perfect little self was placed onto my chest, was the moment that I was actually ‘found’.
Mama Bean x
***Mama Bean blogs about unconditionally attached, gentle parenting and breastfeeding. Mama to a little girl bean, she is a big believer in peaceful, child-focused parenting and hopes to help normalise the very normal act of breastfeeding.