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01/15/2005

Even cow girls get the blues

Man, this guilt thing starts early.

I don't think any parent is immune, but mothers of premature babies have some fairly specific reasons for it. Some, for example, feel guilty because they fear they did something — cheating on bed rest, moving that heavy laundry basket — that brought about birth too soon. Others feel guilty because they don't immediately bond with that scrawny creature in the isolette who doesn't yet look like a baby. Still others feel guilty because they can't give their babies breast milk when they need it so very badly.

And others, selfish others, feel guilty because they don't want to.

Well, this other does, anyway.

LactinaI've been feeding Charlie expressed breast milk because he's yet to get the hang of getting it straight from the source. I pump at least seven times a day, hunched over a machine that makes a rhythmic wheeze as it pulls my nipples (normally the shy, retiring sort) into alarming purple torpedoes. When I'm not actively pumping, I'm guzzling water before or cleaning the pump parts after. I pump while I'm on the phone, and I pump while I'm online. In fact, I'm pumping right now while Paul feeds Charlie lunch.

Yes. While I am expressing milk, Paul is helping Charlie knock back the previous batch.

This does not seem especially efficient. It offends my sense of order, which is born out of a laziness so profound that it's a wonder my cells haven't hired a service to do the dividing for them. But more than that, it feels deeply fucked up to hand Paul the baby, the baby I'd been enjoying, saying, "Can you take him now? I have to go pump."

Can you take Charlie, whose head fuzz I've been dreamily rubbing with my cheek, so I can go do something I hate?

Plus, for me, pumping hurts. You know what they tell breastfeeding mothers who have sore nipples, fissures, infections? "Check the latch." You know what they tell pumping mothers, whose latch is robotically impeccable? "Huh. Weird. Well, it shouldn't hurt..."

Yeah. Hey! Thanks for the help!

My nipples hurt all the time. It's gone on for twenty-four hours a day for the last seven weeks. "Imagine, if you will," I said to Paul today, and described the situation to him with relish.

"I'd rather not," he said resentfully, "but now I can't help it."

Feel the love, people, feel the love.

So you'd think the desire to eliminate the middleman would motivate me to get Charlie established in breastfeeding. But I have to confess I'm not too eager to do that, either. Every time I put him to my breast it ends in screaming. He screams because he's frustrated and hungry, and I scream because while his mouth is refusing one nipple, the other is invariably being buffetted by some angrily flailing body part of his.

Blocks Besides the pain, I'm tired. I don't mean I'm physically tired, although I am, God, I am; I mean I'm weary in my soul. After everything that's happened, I am ready for something to be easy, a no-brainer, a gimme. Breastfeeding won't be, since Charlie apparently has a colorful assortment of mental blocks — either that, or he has inherited my laziness. (Note to self: next time consider donor eggs. Oh. Wait.)

Switching to formula? Now that would be easy. I think of it a thousand times a day, most wistfully when Paul is asleep between the midnight and 8 AM feedings, when I'm up to pump, feed Charlie, then pump again. Yesterday Paul said, "I wish I could do more to help." Yet he balked when I made a simple suggestion. Suuuure, he wants to help.

I can't give up, though — not yet, and probably not soon. How can I? I understand the importance of breast milk for any baby, and I know it's even more advantageous to premature babies who need an extra boost when it comes to immunities and brain development. If Charlie hadn't had such a shaky start, if he'd been full term, if my milk supply were no longer equal to his needs, I might feel differently. But given the circumstances, I believe if I can give him milk, I should. And I can. So at least for now, I will.

Parts of me don't want to (specifically, my freakishly distended nipples). But pumping won't kill me. Neither will being patient while Charlie learns. I can tell myself I'm doing it for him, and I am, but I'm also doing it for me: I can't subject myself to the guilt of not doing it. The guilt of not wanting to is bad enough.

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