A tour of the Labor and Delivery ward gets Jen thinking about breastfeeding.

About three weeks ago we finally went to tour the labor and delivery ward where our baby will be born. Unlike my last pregnancy, my doctor's office is not attached to the medical center, and although my husband works in that very hospital, it was all new territory for me. It was fun to get to look around.

The birth center at the hospital is very new. All the literature touts the wonderful labor, birth and recovery rooms where a mom stays for her entire time in the hospital (except, I hear, during full moons, when the ward gets over full!), and advertise sending the new family home with a pasta dinner gift basket. All the rooms have Jacuzzi tubs, among other amenities. One side of the ward has rooms that overlook the medical center helipad and I don't know what would be more exciting to my older son coming to visit: the new baby brother or the helicopters. Obviously there is great competition in our area for the birth dollar.

Among the other giveaways touted at the tour were the little T-shirt and hat emblazoned with the name of the university that owns the medical center, and the giveaway diaper bags. The giveaway bags set me off.

I know the bags are supplied by formula companies, and at least there are two types - one for mothers who intend to breastfeed and one for mothers who intend to formula feed, but the formula samples in the breastfeeding mother's bag really upset me. They send such a mixed signal to a new mother! When our older son was born - at the hospital where Similac was developed, no less! - the staff removed the formula samples from the breastfeeding mother's bags before distributing them. This hospital easily could do the same, but they do not.

Yes, I am a strong believer in breastfeeding. But if you had known me five years ago, this might actually come as a surprise to you. Breastfeeding was something I was determined to do for a set amount of time for the baby, because I knew it was the best thing to do, but mostly the idea of it repulsed me.

I've always had a hate-hate relationship with my breasts. I knew there was a reason for them, but mostly they were these annoying masses on my front-side that were always somehow inadequate. I was never chesty; I could barely fill out anything. This was most evident when my father made a most unfortunate comment when I tried on my junior prom dress for him. It was pink satin and strapless (hey, it was the early 80s!). My father said, "Either there is more of you than I thought or not very much of that dress." The latter part of the statement was the most accurate - but, boy, did that bruise my adolescent ego. Those feelings of inadequacy played right into my already poor body image.

When my son was born, my breasts were, well, huge by comparison. Then I tried actually feeding my son. And, lo and behold, these things actually worked! The first couple of weeks were hard (I wish somebody had told me that they might be, but that's a separate issue) as Aaron and I learned this task. He learned the latch on one side very quickly, but the other side took longer, and hurt like hell in the process. Once we got things going, however, and found our rhythm, I found a certain satisfaction and sense of achievement when I would nurse my son. I like to think that it was more than just the nice hormones my body released during nursing. Even on the days I felt like a human dairy farm, usually during growth spurts, there was part an underlying feeling of awe at what my body could do. I was growing a healthy, strong boy. My husband said once about him, "He's completely made of you," and he was right.

When I went back to work, I chose to start pumping milk for my son. It was a pain, yes, but it was how I managed my mommy-guilt at having to be away from him in the first place. If our situation wouldn't allow me to be at home with my son, at least he was going to get the best possible food - something made just for him. In addition, our morning, evening and night nursing sessions were a way for my son and me to reconnect after our busy days. I wouldn't trade those moments for anything.

I nursed for longer than I thought I would - about two and a half times longer in months - and I regret how it ended. Aaron had dropped down to just one nursing a day (early mornings) on his own, and then he had a stomach bug and wasn't interested in nursing for a day. I decided to stop. But the next two mornings were so awful. I persevered, but I wish that it had been a more mutual decision. I really don't know how that would have happened, but I still wish it were so.

As much as I have come to believe in breastfeeding and can be militant about it at times, I am also very thankful that the experience turned out so well for us. I know it's harder for others, and there are societal obstacles. My own family was pretty much horrified by my breastfeeding decision (mostly because of misinformation about the process). I wish that the experience could be as good for everyone, and the right kind of support were readily available to all women. To me that includes (but is not limited to) taking the formula samples out of the giveaway bags at the hospital, or not distributing them at all. I also try to have a bit of a sense of humor about the process. How can one not laugh when your child unlatches, but you still have letdown going and you release a stream of milk across the couch!

So, do I plan to breastfeed this new baby? Of course I plan to. Will it be as good an experience as the first time? I have no idea. I sure hope so.



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