Jaws, the milk-drinking kind
It is no coincidence, to my conspiracy-afflicted mind, that Shark Week shares the same month as World Breastfeeding Week. If G.d bestowed pain upon women during childbirth as a consequence of Eve’s sin, then the Devil invented breastfeeding for kicks. It may, in fact, be a lost verse of Genesis. Lest you get the wrong idea, let me tip my public health hat to you by saying, Breast is best! And I do it, as much as I can. Because when the baby cries, I do not hear the loving pangs of my spawn communicating to me that it is hungry. I hear the hair-raising ostinato of E and F notes warning me that the Great White cometh to prey upon my nipples.
Enfamil, my family whispers to me as I see stars, as if it’s the hottest drug on the streets.
Enfamil, just try it.
Oh how tempting it is to switch to formula, to have my milk packaged like a “Happy Meal”, no sweat, no pain, no worrying where I’m gonna be when I suddenly need to be topless. On the subway? In a cab—willing with all my might—for my breast to undergo mutagenesis and gain the elasticity of Mister Fantastic and reach into the car seat? On a cold sidewalk during a climate-change blizzard? On a park bench with inebriated seatmates donning their latest hospital bracelets?
Enfamil, I wonder, staring at the toothless mouth smiling at me with milk dripping down its chin, a piece of my flesh hanging from its lip. My bloodied nipples look like I rubbed them against a cheese grater. Still, the infant is spy-hopping them, ready to breach from the sea of her swaddle and make me her prey once again.
Even my doctor is passively pushing formula for the sake of my breasts, and sanity.
Enfamil, I whisper as I drag myself out of bed at 3am after a full two hours of sleep, just to start hell all over again.
Enfamil, my husband whispers, wanting to reclaim those suckers for himself.
Lest you think this be an affliction on us mere mortals, breastfeeding was a duty even for the goddesses. They tried to pull one over on Hera, sneaking little love-child Hercules to her breast at night so that he could gain immortality. Such is the power of breast milk. Of course she woke up when the serenity of sleep was interrupted by the bite of a little warrior on her nipple, spraying her milk out into the heavens and forming the Milky Way Galaxy (Gala=milk). Here we are, living in a celestial puddle of breast milk. Let’s do away, then, with the phrase “Don’t cry over spilled milk”. The creation of our galaxy is a big deal, or does that get overlooked in the debate about public breastfeeding too? And hell hath no fury like a mama who has seen hubby spill the milk her tired-ass body spent hours creating, and that she painfully extracted for Jaws.
Only in our misogynistic world do we get so little support to help a natural process have its course, and (hopefully) settle into something more angelic. Oh, to be like Madonna Lactans! Divine infant suckling peacefully at a non-afflicted breast! Buy me the icon of Galaktotrophousa and I shall plead to it every time Jaws comes back for another feed. We are given pumps like cows, arbitrary maternity leaves that defy the needs of both infant and mother. We are given a finger that points to the bathroom for where to pump, and dirty looks when we participate in the nomenclatural function of our animal group. Don’t like the sight of breastfeeding? Ask G.d to reincarnate you into an insect during your next round, not a mammal. That said, covering up is not a big deal to me and allows the public their modesty to keep breasts on the sexual shrine that they have been delegated to for the last century or so.
Health professionals sometimes use “Are you still breastfeeding at 2 months? No?” as a measure of breastfeeding campaign failure (the goal is an eye-popping-are-you-f-ing-kidding-me one-year minimum). Ladies, if you make it to two months, you are a hero to me, as I indeed felt about myself. The kid didn’t starve, and I somehow hadn’t been institutionalized from the trauma of making my body a martyr to a shark with an insatiable appetite.
Think you are safe sleeping? I guess you never watched Nightmare on Elm Street. Just when you think Jaws can’t get to you on land, they invent Sharknado. Breastfeeding stalked me in my sleep. How I craved sleep because it was something suddenly snatched away from my life, but how I feared it because that’s when the milk machine went into hyperdrive, making (what I was convinced was gallons of) the bait that’d bring Jaws back. But it had nowhere to go! The clogged ducts, the pain of the factory working away making more, the pins and needles of let down that happen when you simply think about breastfeeding. Oh, it was that bad… I couldn’t look at Jaws without the pain starting and the milk oozing out. I embarked on meditative chants to void my mind of anything remotely milk-inducing, considered walking around with a blindfold like a Medusa was loose in the household to afflict me with more milk… But none of that works when you also love being a mother to a bundle of love.
This is just my experience you see, among a sea of so many. Because I have friends who can juggle three balls, paint their toenails, SLEEP FOR G.D’S SAKES with Jaws latched onto them. So when mastitis kicked my butt (twice) and my milk was reduced to about a third, I thought the end of hell approacheth (without me having to enter the next level of hell, which is weaning). Enfamil was introduced… and then I worked hard to get the bait back. I wanted Jaws! I would find a way; pump the afflicted breast that gave me no reprieve, and let Jaws gnaw away at the other. I scoured the shelves of Whole Foods for galactagogues that’d help bring Jaws back again. I forgot about ounces and gradually just put her to the breast when she was hungry. Call me Ahab, Quint or George Castanza, for that matter. F-you breastfeeding! became my own campaign, a middle finger to this Goliath. Take that, NYC shuttle bus and the MTA for their weekend subway schedules meant to keep the outer borough folks away! Take that, Yankee Stadium! And as if I had learned to fly, I did it while walking, Jaws in a carrier. If someone had told me this last feat was possible beforehand, I wouldn’t have thought that breastfeeding meant you needed to stay in a cave with a perfectly-positioned glider for a year. This all happened under a modesty cover, of course. Still I worried I’d be mistaken for a pervert pumping in the playground, when people have been summoned for simply playing chess.
Everyone’s got their own breastfeeding story. Basically, you need support. Besides not letting your toddler near the knob controlling the extraction strength of your pump, the best advice is to talk to other lactating moms, or if you can, a lactation specialist. Because for some reason this most basic process (put child to breast, child shall do the rest) ain’t so easy in our modern world. Yes, breast is best! But you are not a failure if it doesn’t work out. For me, I’ve reached a state of breastfeeding Nirvana at four months into the game, round two of reproduction. The right made it, the left is a casualty kept alive by a Dyson-like ventilator that extracts milk much in the same manner as a Muon Trap slurps up ghosts. And I clench my teeth when I can’t pump and let Jaws eat away, her bite softened perhaps from getting better at it, perhaps because the passive
bottle has tamed her, perhaps she is now merciful, perhaps because my nipples have toughened up…who knows? Enfamil sneaks in where I can’t (and it is a gateway to weaning ladies, so use it only if you want to and are ready to lose some home-grown liquid gold). Jaws is a myth (only when it’s not). This, too, shall pass. And you’ll both come out fine, either way it goes.
UPDATE at 10 Months: I kicked the formula and pump habit & reached the elusive state of exclusive breastfeeding nirvana. A fellow mom of two pulled me aside during my failed early attempts to enjoy a mommy-and-me yoga class (another story) to say (get ready)… that I’m a breastfeeding inspiration, her hero, because of how easily I breastfeed in class (I did it while doing yoga, folks). The irony. I wasted no time to tell her that I breastfeed like an Amazon (one-sided) in fear of the vicious breast (I have since overcome that obstacle too). That it took work and tears and discovery and ignoring societal feelings towards that sort of thing (being a mammal). That it wasn’t that way with my first. Now, the kid actually weaned daytime feedings away on her own. My own personal victory.
Stephanie Nina Pitsirilos is a lactating mammal, public health crusader, writer and mom. Her two novels are on the market for an agent. She can be followed @zoehealth
Breastfeeding Support images taken from the World Health Organization website www.who.int/en
Baby Jaws image is my parody of Roger Kastel’s paperback and movie poster for Jaws.