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Breastfeeding Success!! ~ Shabrayle's Story
by Shabrayle Setliff

I went to the lactation class. I read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I bought all of the paraphernalia; the electric breast pump, the breast pads, the nursing bras. I was ready. I thought I was ready, but I wasn't ready.

Ari, my son, came out of the womb rearing to suckle. Maybe he didn't know the logistics of feeding but he knew that it called for a strong sucking ability. When the nurses, lactation consultant, and two pediatricians came by they assured me that we were doing it right. We couldn't have been better paired if we were Rodgers and Hammerstein. We even gave a performance as residents looked on while I hesitantly breastfed. The chaperoning pediatrician remarked that we would have a very "fulfilling breastfeeding relationship."

I had heard that if breastfeeding is done right there is no pain. So I'll just say that there was evidence of pain that first agonizing month. There were bloody blisters and the skin on my nipples was so sensitive to the touch that air felt like death strokes. No one had warned me that there would be whole nights of cursing and crying while Ari sucked away during a marathon feeding session. I didn't realize that some babies need to be fed more than once every two hours, that my life would literally become breastfeeding, forty minutes to an hour of sleep, breastfeeding, grab something to eat, breastfeeding, maybe take a shower, breastfeeding, another hour of sleep, breastfeeding, breastfeeding, breastfeeding.

I wasn't ready, not physically, emotionally, or psychologically. I kept reading about breastfeeding to find an answer, support, or an excuse to quit. I'd scour discussion threads looking for someone to say, "Even if you do everything right it's still gonna hurt. Oh and by the way, now you are known as "feeding machine", and get a name tag lest anyone confuse you for a human." I needed someone to echo my experience. I needed empathy.

For those first four weeks I was certain that I was doing something wrong. Every woman I'd read about seemed to be coasting along, baby to breast, experiencing a symbiotic relationship of life nurturing life, while I was stumbling, barely functioning. 'Women go back to work AND breastfeed?! Women do indeed go back to work and breastfeed. What's wrong with me? I'm a stay-at-home-mom. This IS my job.'

I felt guilty. I told myself to "suck it up" but at the same time I thought of quitting everyday. I even dabbled with supplementation for awhile. "Give him the bottle. I'm going for that second hour," I'd say to my husband as I rolled over and went back to sleep.

But when it came down to it the more I tried to justify feeding him formula and calling it quits the more I knew I couldn't. I had an army of excuses that I was willing to dispatch against guilt at any moment.

"It's better if he has a stress free mother who is able to function, who doesn't run around with out a bra, housebound, and leaking."

"The majority of kids get formula. I did. We're all fine."

"He's skinny. Maybe he's not getting enough food. He needs more food."

In the end all of those excuses were mowed down by one thing--reality. I went to the websites of formula manufacturers. "Breastmilk is best." How often is a company going to make a statement that could only injure profits? It was that obvious.

Every time I'd made the decision to quit, I was foiled by Mother Nature. Ari would cry, my breasts were full, I knew he'd only put up a fight with the formula. It was just easier to take an aspirin and stick my nipple in his mouth.

There were a lot of little sanctuaries along the way. The encouragement, dare I say, persuasion of the medical staff at the hospital where I delivered, being armed with all of that information making the truth undeniable, guilt, and most of all seeing how truly satisfied Ari was after he breastfed.

He'd be crying hysterically as though he'd just had hot scalding water thrown on him. I'd scoop him up and he'd straighten like a board into breastfeeding position, his mouth gaping open like a catfish. He needed his fix and I was his dealer, so I gave him what he wanted. How could I resist? And afterwards, he'd fall into a relaxed half slumber with a milk-lined smile. He didn't fall into that state of bliss after a bottle.

So everyday, I stuck with it. Lanolin helped a lot and so did over the counter painkillers (the ones that are safe to take while breastfeeding), but my biggest ally was time. Time won the war. Everyday it got a little less painful and a little easier, until one day when I didn't even notice that I was making progress because I had surpassed the days of "progress". I had made it. I was one of those women who didn't have to prepare herself to breastfeed I just did it. It was no longer a process, it was natural.

I still breastfeed all the time. I'll probably never know a full night of uninterrupted sleep, but I don't mind. Ari and I have a deal. He gets a full tummy and I get to empty my breasts so they don't get those bothersome lumps of milk and in the process we've formed our mother-child bond, no thought required.

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