Guest Post: Happiness Is A Gnawed Nipple

Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a writer based in New York City. When she’s not writing, she’s cooking, running, trying to control her spending here, or, most likely, building magnificent cup towers with her baby boy.

Happiness Is a Gnawed Nipple
The Perils of Ice-Cream Free Breastfeeding

I’m walking the five blocks home from the Gymboree Play and Music location where my 8-month-old son, Josh, takes classes. I have him in the baby carrier, his pom-pom hat brushing my chin.  I’m ravenous.

What to eat?  I’m on a restricted diet because I’m still nursing Josh and his lower intestines can’t quite process dairy or soy yet.  It’s a common intolerance, as the pediatrician has stressed, not an allergy, and he will likely grow out of it around age one.  But I haven’t had a chocolate milkshake since I was pregnant, and I hadn’t intended to give them up postpartum.

I walk past the three, yes, three, pizza places on the next two blocks.  I see fresh pies emerging from the oven as I pass the last shop. The 20 pounds of baby strapped to me dissipate as I make a hard left toward the door, ready to devour a whole cheese pie, baked ziti, even the “B” health grade sign the New York Sanitation department has displayed in the window.  Alas, nearly everything has soy in it, so the sign probably isn’t safe.

On the couch back home, I’m malnourished and cranky.  Mr. No Dairy No Soy is latched to my breast, drinking away.  I debate ordering a rare steak à la carte from the Argentine place up the street, when little blue eyes takes a break, smiles at me so wide I see all five of his adorable teeth, nuzzles me, then chomps down so hard on my left nipple that he breaks skin.

I scream.  He giggles.

The solution seems obvious.  Stop being a martyr.  Stop breastfeeding.  Eat a buttery cupcake.  But dairy and soy intolerance requires special infant formula.  When I give this special formula to my son (who will willingly accept a bottle from anyone), he takes a sip, scrunches his face to suggest I have poured toxic slime into his mouth, and shoves the bottle aside.

And there’s more to this than formula rejection.  Perhaps every parent has his or her thing.  Some take on sleep; others, sign language. I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding as surely as I also knew I wanted an epidural, preferably before labor pains started (success!).   Breastfeeding didn’t come easily but after two months of pumping and crying and infections and love and encouragement from friends, family, and professionals, it clicked.  (Go Michelle Obama for recognizing the critical need for support and workplace accommodations for breastfeeding moms.)

I like breastfeeding for the bond with Josh, for the financial break, for the gift of not having to smell the putrid special formula, but mostly for something else.  My husband and I for the most part planned our pregnancy, but getting pregnant still changed my theory of the universe from quantum to chaos.  Finally, in the last few months, I’ve started to see a few patterns in the randomness.  Nursing Josh forces me to periodically stop my day and breathe, which I find helpful these days for more than just physical survival.

When I nurse Josh without my iPhone nearby—something at which I’ve gotten much better—I watch him.  I play with his hair, rub his back, kiss his hands.  I catch myself actually not thinking.  And other times as he swats at me, pulls my hair out of my head, and unintentionally (I hope) picks my nose, I do think, a lot.  I think about him growing up, about how I want to help him learn to care for himself, to make himself happy.  I think about myself, about what I want for my life with him and with our family, what balance I want between work and home.  They’re heavy topics, but there’s a calm that comes from thinking while nursing.

I don’t think breastfeeding is the only way to bond or relax with an infant, by any stretch of the imagination.  And I don’t think it’s right for every mother, especially if it’s only creating excess stress. But it has become an integral, wonderful part of my relationship with Josh.  So, I will forge ahead until his first birthday when I’ll begin to wean him, and myself.  Until then I’ll treat my battle wounds with lanolin cream and do the walk to and from Gymboree with drool pouring from my mouth.  It may not be pretty, but I’ll put on a bib and Josh and I will be two of a kind.