“Mama Jen?” Dad said quietly from the hallway. “I think she’s still hungry.”
I was already headed in her direction. She had been crying for two minutes or so and, as any breastfeeding mother can tell you, my milk ducts had already responded en force.
“I’m sorry. I know you need to work. She ate the two bottles you brought, but I think she needs more.” My parents had kindly offered to watch my 5-week-old daughter so I could carve out a couple of hours to spend in front of my laptop finishing up a project for a client. In anticipation of my work night, I had pumped two bottles, the only “liquid gold” I could manage extract between Lyla’s nearly constant feedings.
I sped over to the chair where Mom was holding Lyla, rocking her and soothing her with a voice I hadn’t heard since I was a child. “She needs her mama right now,” Mom said with knowing eyes. Bending down to scoop up my red-faced babe, I briefly cursed myself for thinking I could maintain a vital career and be the type of mother I wanted to be. Clearly I was failing on both counts.
Lyla and I retreated to my parents’ living room and her hungry little lips latched onto my heavy breast. I tried typing with one hand while cradling her in the opposite arm. When that proved too tedious, I began making a mental list of all of the things I needed to accomplish before the week was out— maternal, personal and professional tasks. I felt my blood pressure rise.
When I was only 3 or 4 months pregnant, Mom asked me if I was planning to breastfeed. She beamed when I responded with a resounding “of course!” “You’ll love it,” she cooed, slipping into a dreamy, nostalgic state.
I do love it. I love that my body can produce everything that my quickly growing daughter needs. I love that I can give her something that no one else can. I love that we have moments throughout the day (and night) that are reserved for just the two of us.
But some days I’m just a human couch with milk spigots (my sister’s apt description). On those days, each time I try to perform basic hygiene or get out of my mismatched pajamas, each time I try to respond to an email, each time I try to go to the bathroom, pleading little sounds and eyes draw me back and we nurse…and nurse…aaaaand nurse.
I am grateful for the ability and desire to breastfeed my daughter. I am also grateful for a lifestyle that allows me to do so. I work primarily from home, and most days I am able to complete that work and have plenty of time to spend with my darling “nugget.” Both my husband and I have worked hard to be in a position where I can work part-time from home in a fulfilling career and mother Lyla in the best way I know how.
What’s more, I have an incredibly supportive husband who cooks, cleans and never misses a chance to interact with his daughter. Even though I know we have worked hard to get here, I still can’t help but feel like I won the lifestyle lottery. Most days I don’t feel like a woman “oppressed by motherhood” (French writer Elizabeth Badinter’s theme de préférence), nor do I feel like I’m somehow less of a mother for maintaining a career (a common American maternal anxiety). I feel like a pretty great mother, actually.
Then why have I felt so “off” these past few days? So torn? Searching for the answer, my mind traveled back to the conversations about breastfeeding I’d had with my mom before Lyla was born. Well, she didn’t work while she was breastfeeding me, I reasoned, so there you go. All she had to do was concentrate on me and my needs. She must have been happy with that. But I knew deep down that wasn’t true. My mom has never been the “housewife” type. She’s a woman of action, a woman of vision. I know there were times when she felt cooped up when she was at home with us. I also know that she loved that time in her life more than words.
How did she do it? The answer came to me as soon as I asked the question: she has always been wonderful at living in the moment. For better or for worse, I have always excelled at speeding ahead into the future, relying on multitasking and overloading my schedule to get to the next step, the next level— either personally or professionally.
That was it. In the best interest of my daughter, and in my best interest, I would have to swap out my lens, to adjust my perspective.
So, I’m taking a page out of my wise mother’s book and trying my darndest to stay in the moment. Yep… easier said than done, but this truth reminds me of the importance of trying: If there’s anything lovelier than my beautiful daughter nursing merrily while never breaking eye contact with me, I have yet to experience it. I know these days will pass too quickly and someday, like my mom, I’ll speak of breastfeeding in rhapsodic terms.
I also know that I have a great support system. When Michael gets home from work he’ll be there to play with Lyla while I do my work, or bathe, or have a glass of wine—whatever I feel is the top priority at that moment. When I greet him with un-brushed teeth, tangled hair and tired eyes, he’ll immediately know what kind of day I’ve had: a human couch day.
Today was one of those days. “She only sees me as a food source,” I lamented. “She doesn’t play with me like she does with you. She doesn’t smile at me as much.”
“Yes,” he replied. “But you’re the reason she’s so happy and healthy. You’re the reason she’s growing so well. Plus, I saw her crack a few smiles while you were talking to her in French this morning.”
“You’re right, she did like that,” I remembered as I stepped into the shower.