In Which I Frequently Use the Word “Breast”

Breastfeeding has become an obsession around here. Since day one of Naomi’s life, it’s been all about the boob, all the time. The topic gets an average break of about 2 hours, which means realistically an average break of about an hour during adult awake time. When did we feed her last? Do we need to set an alarm? Was that feed long enough? Did she suck continuously? Did she get both sides? For the first two weeks we tracked things on paper, then I broke down and bought an awesome iPhone app so we wouldn’t have to tote a clipboard around with us all the time.

(An aside: we’re not yet at the point where breastfeeding time is knitting time, and nearly the only knitting time I get is in the car, or when I’m doing something sociable while she’s asleep that leaves my hands free. Otherwise when she’s asleep and I’m both awake and not catching up on homework, it’s all I can do to make a small contribution to the chores Jared has largely taken over. However, I have gotten a decent start on March’s sock. One skype conversation, three car trips to the city, and one night of DnD got me through the first leg and heel.)

Pictured: Baby's first night of roleplaying. Not pictured: Mommy's first G&T. Yummm.
Pictured: Baby’s first night of roleplaying. Not pictured: Mommy’s first G&T. Yummm.

You might think: Rebecca, you are an earthy granola fru-fru hipsteresque person; aren’t you doing on-demand feeding? Absolutely; that’s the plan. What they don’t tell you (or at least none of the books I read said this clearly) is that when babies are very wee small, some babies are what you call “sleepy.” Meaning their little bodies haven’t told them what the feeling called “hungry” means, so they don’t know to demand that on-demand feeding. Can you blame them? They only just started using their digestive system to process something other than amniotic fluid. (Gross, btw.) This means that us fru-fru hippieish parents, with all our intentions to be laid-back about the whole thing, have to be the ones on a schedule, with clipboards and iPhone apps and the rest of it.

(Another aside: Ironically, the literal “laid back” thing isn’t working for us either; we didn’t do the breast crawl thing for a few reasons, and laid back is the one sort of position she can’t stand. Oh well! I’ve decided that will probably be Naomi’s first phrase: “Oh well!”)

(Yet another aside: having to schedule a baby does have its advantages. The main one being that our nights are fantastic. We’re allowed to let her go for one four-hour stretch per 24 hours, and we can time that pretty reliably to be at night. She also nurses best at night. Winning!)

The first week of Naomi’s life, she was incredibly easy. We had to nurse her religiously because of the bilirubin thing, and we had some rough nights, but we overcame. And we were durn proud of ourselves. But my mom warned me that wee babbies tend to wake up a bit more by their second or third week of life, and only then will we find out how much of a terror she is.

If only all attempted feedings ended like this. Anyone who tells you infant smiles are just gas is wrong: gas means grimaces, and you can usually tell. Smiles mean satisfaction and relaxation.
If only all attempted feedings ended like this. Anyone who tells you infant smiles are just gas is wrong: gas means grimaces, and you can usually tell. Smiles mean satisfaction and relaxation.

We’re nearing the end of week three, and I can tell you Naomi isn’t a terror. (Yet.) But our little girl, whose name is Hebrew for sweetness or goodness, I don’t have to tell you, is not always made up of sweetness and goodness. That non-sweet-good-stuff tends to come out most frustratingly in breastfeeding, which is the center of our relationship. Most of this, frankly, is not her fault, and not mine either: we’re both on a serious learning curve. She’s only been eating for a few weeks; she’s still figuring it out. And Jared and I are both still learning what her needs are, how they need to be filled, and how she’s signaling us. It’s hard, and all three of us are frequently wrong.

(Oh God help us. As I type this she seems to have found her thumb.)

But it’s in those most frustrating moments that she teaches me most about myself. Breastfeeding is a little cheesy as a metaphor for our relationship with God, but it happens to be Biblical (Isa. 28:9-10, 1 Cor. 3:2, Heb. 5:12-13, 1 Peter 2:2). And when I see Naomi get in her own way while trying to get what she needs, I can’t help but think of myself.

Week one, it was all about the hands. She would want to suck, but her hands were the closest thing to hand… well, to mouth. She’d either want to suck on them instead of breast, or she’d be flailing them around in such away that her mouth couldn’t reach, or she’d use them to push away from me. How much is that like me, the busy little beaver who is so preoccupied with my own accomplishments that I chose them over investing in my relationship with God? And then I’m surprised when those accomplishments don’t satisfy, and I end up enslaved to the law of ever-decreasing returns.

This week, it’s much more about the fussing. Poor thing. I thought initially that crying at the breast meant that she wanted something else, so she’d have these short feeds (I assumed she was just efficient) and we’d try to soothe her to sleep until we were all exhausted. But it kept getting worse until her weigh in showed her gaining at the very bottom of the range of what’s healthy. Meaning her fussiness meant she was actually still hungry, and we were actually soothing her until she had to choose between hunger and exhaustion. (I felt like an awful parent the day we figured that out.) She’s completely fine; we just have to focus on getting her longer feeds, which we’ve been able to do quite successfully for the most part.

"I'm totally depraved!"
“I’m totally depraved!”

But dude… when she’s angry at the breast, she’s just angry. Sometimes we get her to take it, and sometimes it just isn’t happening. And let me tell you, trying to get a hungry, angry baby to feed who just can’t figure out that sucking on the nipple that is in her mouth is the only thing that will make her feel better… it’s kinda soul sapping. It’s really, really hard. Like headache inducing hard.

That was today. I know all parents have days like this, when you just don’t know how you’re going to get through what’s right in front of you, when you honestly can’t do it on your own and you have to dig deeper than you ever thought you’d have to. But in the middle of it, I’m not thinking “all parents have days like this.” I’m thinking “dear God, she’s only 3 weeks old. How the hell am I going to get through the next 18 years?”

The other thing I’m thinking is, “And how much is that like me.” She doesn’t know that the screaming that alerts me to her needs can stop once I offer her what she’s asking for. She doesn’t know that what’s right in front of her is the only thing that will satisfy her. She doesn’t know that the flow isn’t always constant, and that every few minutes you have to suck for a while and get only a little on order to get the good stuff flowing again. I can’t be mad at her because I know none of this is her fault (and most of the time I can believe it’s not mine). But I also know what it’s like. To know exactly what you need, to be trying desperately to get it, determinately and with all your might, and be doing it exactly wrong. I do it every time that I forget to spend time with God. It’s not always that I blow it off, though unlike Naomi, I do actually know better. But in a way, I don’t; if I did, I would go along with God’s “flow” a little better.

This whole thing also means that God knows exactly how I feel. I’ve known Hebrews 4:15 for ages: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect was tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Still, it’s surprising every time I find out a new way that’s true – especially for a triune God who does not in any sense have breasts. (He invented them, though; I guess that counts for something.) God was more than soul-sucked and exhausted by my waywardness; he died for it. And he’s still patient with me as I struggle feebly through life, only vaguely toward Him.

(Still another aside: Sorry all these pictures suck so fiercely [ugh. no pun intended]. After all my fussing against smartphones, I’ve become completely attached to my hand-me-down non-cellular iPhone. It can be used prone or one-handed, and has saved me from a lot of boredom while I’m being nursed upon. Next time my contract expires I will probably get one, because having refused one in the name of “simplicity,” I am now toting a cell phone, an iPhone, and a kindle with me everywhere. Dunce.)

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