In praise of the boob or How my daughter put me back together

You may have read about my worries over how my little baby was going to manage feeding herself off my titanic baps.

How much of these great orbs of areola did we need to get into that mouth really? [Quick biology lesson: the areola is the dark bit around the nipple. Babies take this into their mouths to get a good suck.]

This was my first concern when Talitha was handed to me for feeding.

Feeding soon after birth had been in my birth plan.

But like so many things in my plan, I felt like I didn’t care about it anymore. I was too tired, out of it and disconnected. I looked down and saw a baby but couldn’t yet think of her as mine. Thankfully, feeding was not phrased as an option.

They [I was still a bit drunk from all the entonox and exhaustion so when I say “they” I’m guessing my mother or a midwife but I really don’t know who] handed her to me and I hadn’t a clue how to hold her let alone how to stuff the moon into a golf hole.

When I got her on there, I was sure that I hadn’t got it right. Was there *any* areola in there? Was she comfortable? Could she feel how scared I was?

“They” assured me that everything looked fine and I was left to feed her for what felt like hours before having a bath and being wheeled to the ward for the night.

The birth had been rough – I suppose labours generally are – and I’d been delirious for quite a lot of it. I’d forgotten a number of times that I was having a baby while lost in a dream world.

Talitha thought she’d suck me back to reality by staying awake until 5am, which I thought was impressive, considering she’d been born around 9pm. In those hours, she sucked and sucked and sucked.

In fact, she sucked so much that I worried she wasn’t getting what she was looking for. I asked a nurse about it the next day and she taught me to hand express. When I saw the clear fluid [colostrum – they call it “liquid gold”, it’s so good for babies] I could have cried. My body knew I was her mother even if my mind wasn’t ready to acknowledge it.

Breastfeeding has not been easy. Every time I think I’ve learned the rules, Talitha changes them. There is no schedule other than “whatever the day feels like”.

But the unpredictable nature of early breastfeeding has done me a lot of good.

It’s taught me to focus on the present. I’m looking down at her now, nestled into my side in the “clutch hold” and know that I’ve got a sweeter view of her face than anyone else will – even though she tends to frown loads while feeding.

It’s physically putting me back together. In the first days, whenever Talitha would have a good, strong suck, it would be accompanied by contractions in my uterus.

They weren’t too painful – obviously nothing like labour – but the uncomfortable movements reminded me of what had happened.

In fact, the night we took her home, I had to detach her, hand her to Laurence and go to the bathroom to regroup. I was shaking with cold, similar to the shock I’d experienced after the birth.

This hurdle was in my mind. Paracetamol couldn’t shift it. My mother prayed with me and I returned to feeding.

The next morning, my community midwife said that I was well contracted. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how quickly my jelly belly has shrunk.

And with each suck session, she’s also putting my mind back together. I’m less disappointed about the absent love-rush at her birth and about the disconnection I felt at first. I’m less angry with my body for not doing all that I wished it would.

Every time my daughter waps herself onto my boob, I grow deeper in love with her even when it’s hard. And it is – we’re working through oversupply at the moment*. I’m making milk for Britain and it’s not been comfortable for either of us.

Yet even so, I am amazed at how something so difficult and, at times, stressful, can be so satisfying, so healing.

Images: Laurence Jarrett-Kerr

*We later discovered it certainly wasn’t that.