Sometime in April this year, I became an artisan. I began to produce small batch, preservative-free, single-origin, so-hip-that-it-hurts unpasteurised milk.
I started breastfeeding.
Why is breastfeeding such a monumental endeavour for many new mums like me? Because in a world where most people eat imported processed food straight out of plastic boxes that we blast in microwaves, we forget what it’s like to create food from scratch. And when I say ‘from scratch’, I mean ‘from scratch‘.
Making your food from scratch is actually a somewhat messy and very intimate experience. In fact, breastfeeding takes experiential dining to a whole new level. You meet the ‘chef’, you meet the ‘cow’, and after dinner, you, chef and cow sleep together.
As someone who rarely even goes out to buy her own food and prefers to shop for groceries on iherb, I had never considered making food from scratch. However, after they placed the most angelic creature I’ve ever seen in my grubby arms, I really wanted to try to give her this whole ‘ultra-intimate experiential dining experience’.
Understandably, being an artisan of any sort is an arduous learning experience. First, I had to endure a few mortifying breakdowns. I actually came up with a list of 10. But in the interest of time and because my baby takes short naps, I’ve cut it down to two.
#1 Being Milked By 10 Different Strangers
So I’ve just been cut open, stitched up and thrown back into my ward. Trying to sleep is like trying to sleep after a Category 5 hurricane demolished your tiny little ship, casted you into crashing waves, washed you onto a strange beach. To put it mildly, you’re still trying to catch your breath. A mere hour later, a nurse brings your newborn daughter, who also miraculously washed onto shore with you. Then, she asks you to nurse her, and when you fail, helps to milk you.
This is the exact sequence of events.
In all normal social situations, I’d balk at the idea. But my too-small-to-latch baby was wailing like an injured kitten, and my boobs were becoming as hard as rocks. So I allowed myself to be milked.
If you’ve ever gotten milked, you’ll know it’s no fun. It feels like you have a huge abscess and someone is trying to squeeze the pus from your wound. Regardless, over the two days of my hospitalisation, ten different nurses had the unpleasant task of milking me. By the fifth one, I didn’t even flinch anymore.
#2 Syringe Feeding My Baby
Usually, when you think of breastfeeding, you’d conjure up this (heavily edited) picture of a mother dressed in white flowy clothes bent lovingly over a tiny infant, literally radiating love. Well, nobody looks so pretty and pulled together while their uterus is still contracting.
Breastmilk (if you’re lucky enough to be well-stocked) leaks, squirt and sprays. A strong jet of breastmilk could wet your infant, your pet or if you’re not careful, an unfortunate stranger sitting in front of you on the bus. I imagine getting sprayed by milk is as annoying as (and even more awkward than) getting sneezed on.
There’s also the problem of getting it into the tummy of your shrieking struggling infant. If your baby, like mine, can’t latch well, lactation consultants might advocate syringe feeding. Because if you use a milk bottle right from the start, your little one might get nipple confusion, and won’t know how to ‘use’ your nipple anymore.
Syringe feeding needs some explaining because it’s not one of those things you read about in your ‘intro to motherhood’ magazines. During the first couple of days, when you’ve only got 10-30ml of colostrum, this involves manually squeezing out these sticky droplets and collecting them with a syringe (the sort that I use to feed my cats their medicine).
This whole painstaking process could take me and my husband 30-45 minutes of agony and pure frustration. Then we had to painstakingly syringe feed Lily and sometimes watch half of this oh-so-precious fluid spill out of her mouth. Two hours later, we’d repeat this cycle again.
There you have it. I know this is not an Instagrammable picture of motherhood. But it pretty much sums up the first two weeks of my life as a new mother – hysterical, hilarious; dysfunctional and disheveled. And I refuse to airbrush my experience even though it’s oh so very messy.
Because love is messy. Life is messy.