Sunday, August 13, 2006

A father's role

First of all, thank you guys for the kind comments to my last post. So far, I haven't gotten a single comment or email of the "YOU ARE A TERRIBLE MOTHER HOW DARE YOU STOP PUMPING YOU ARE KILLING YOUR CHILD" variety, which I was really dreading.

Second of all...engorgement?
ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow fucking ow fucking ow fucking ow fucking OW OW OW OW
I've had cracked ribs before. This is way worse, people.

So. This question has been on my mind for a while.
How much influence do you think the husband/father of the baby should have on a mother's decision to breastfeed or pump? And how much influence do you think that they have in reality, regardless of whether it's "fair" or not?

When I had Darth A., three days after he came home and I had been reduced to a sobbing shaking ball of something resembling humanity on my bathroom floor, the last thing my husband wanted to do was pressure me to breastfeed. In fact, he knew that most of the angst I was feeling was directly related to my failure at breastfeeding. After all, I had been told time and again that breastfeeding is
"the most natural thing for a mother to do"
"the best thing for your baby"
"the fastest way to bond with your baby"
"the most incredible feeling in the world"
"something you will think on with pride for the rest of your life, because you did it"
.
But I couldn't breastfeed, which made me...
unnatural
a bad mother
unable to bond with my baby
incapable of feeling good toward my baby
shameful and remorseful, because I was a failure
.

Thank God, my husband recognized that at that point, getting me out of that cold dark hole I had crawled into was way more important than what we fed the baby. So he kept repeating over and over to me what a good mom I am, how loving I am, how my breastfeeding skills (or lack thereof) in no way reflected the love I felt for my baby. So I managed to crawl out of that numbing gulf of desolation I was in, and I was okay.

After I had Darth B., my husband was very concerned that I would fall back into that depression if I tied too much of my feelings of "goodness" and "worthiness" as a mother into my ability to breastfeed again. So he made it very clear that he didn't care if I breastfed, one way or the other. But this time things were different, because I had my electric pump. I knew that formula was not the only alternative to breastfeeding. So when things went bad, I got out the pump and fed Darth B. the breast milk that way.

The husband was not that supportive, though. I mean, he thought it was a great idea, and was enthusiastic about it in theory, but when it came down to me handing him the baby and telling him to watch both Darths so I could disappear for a while and go pump, he wasn't so happy about it. He didn't really comprehend that at least in the beginning, I would need him to shoulder a lot more responsibility around the house so I could have the 'extra' time to pump. So in subtle ways, he made his 'minor' aggravation over the whole situation known over and over again. He NEVER came right and said, "don't go pump," but he acted so displeased every time. After a while, I stopped pumping so often, and only pumped when the baby was okay by himself or when my breasts got very full. But I had not started out with a good supply to begin with, and not keeping to a good pumping schedule didn't help. After two months, my milk was gone.

With Darth D., my husband's attitude was very different. He wanted Darth D. to get breast milk for as long as possible, but at least until he started solid food. When the whole 'nursing strike fiasco' happened, he made it very clear that he was willing to do whatever it took to help me pump. He would watch all three Darths while I went into another room to pump, he cooked, he cleaned, he pampered me...when I asked, he would stay up in the middle of the night with me just to keep me company while I pumped, so I wouldn't be lonely. He stayed home from work when the clogged ducts were really bad, so I could keep to a two-hour pumping schedule. Really, he was great.

The flip side of all this was that I knew that if I stopped pumping, I would be disappointing him greatly. Again, he never came out and said "I want you to pump no matter what," but the feeling I got from him was that if I stopped, I would be letting him down. And after all he was willing to do to support me, I didn't want that to happen. So I stuck with it through countless clogged ducts and sleepless nights. I don't want to give anyone the idea that I was pumping just for my husband, or that I was forced into it. But he was like my coach, always giving me pep talks and showing me how he believed that I could do this. Without his help, I never would have lasted this long.

His opinion didn't change until recently, after I had to go on antibiotics for mastitis for the second time, and the pediatrician said Darth D. could start rice cereal. Then he found out he was going to San Diego for a week. I brought up the idea of me and the children going with him. "But I don't think I should be pumping anymore," I said. "I think I should stop before the trip." He said, "yeah, I think it's time." And that was that.

In theory, breastfeeding (and pumping) should be the personal choice of the mother. It's her body, her time, her decision on how she feeds her baby. But in reality, I think the father has a huge effect on the mother's decision and the outcome of the whole situation. Of course, there will be women on both sides of the spectrum going "I was going to breastfeed my baby for as long as I wanted, no matter what! Even if that meant he would still be breastfeeding in elementary school!" And "there was no way in hell I was going to breastfeed, and I was ready to divorce my husband if he made an issue out of it!" But I think most women feel as I do, that they want what's best for the whole family, and sometimes that includes going that extra mile to make their partner happy. Sometimes that might mean breastfeeding or pumping for a little longer than they had planned, and sometimes, it might mean a little less.

I'll tell you one thing, though. I can't imagine how a woman could attempt exclusively pumping without any support from her partner or family. That would be too damn hard.

5 Comments:

Blogger liz said...

Amen.

11:14 AM  
Blogger laura said...

I'm lucky to have the supportive husband that I do. He's pretty much good with whatever I decide to do, and wants it to be a decision that I can live with, that won't stress me out too much. That we both can live with.

On a side note,I hope you'll write about how you're weaning yourself off the pump, too. I know it's something I'll be doing in the next month or so, and while it sounds kinda painful, I'd love to hear how you work it out.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Epiphany Alone said...

My husband travels 3-4 days a week, so he isn't really able to offer support. I find that I am frustrated with it a lot either, geez, look at all the bottles in the fridge, why isn't she eating today? Or OMG! I am not making enough milk, there's only 1 spare in the fridge.
Although he talked a lot about how he thought it would be a good idea to breastfeed or pump to begin with, I think a lot of the time he doesn't really get it. I don't think he sees that it is difficult and trying.

9:36 AM  
Blogger AnotherAmy said...

well said

3:41 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Just discovered your blog, I'm liking it. Will have to add you to my blog roll. I EPed for 14 months for my first daughter and am expecting baby number 2 in about 6 more weeks.

I'm hoping and praying (as is my husband) that nursing will work out this time...I've got to think that EPing is much more difficult when you've got other kids running around.

That said, I think the husband plays a HUGE role in the success of EPing, even more so than in the success of nursing.

EPing takes about twice as long, since you have to pump, make bottles, clean parts and feed baby. When DD was about 4 months old, I figured out that on an average day, I spent 7.5 hours pumping, feeding or dealing with bottles. (And at the time, I was working 50 hours a week from home.) Without my husband helping pick up the slack, I have no idea how I would have survived.

That said, there were times where it was clear that he did sort of resent it. I had to pump on schedule to protect my supply and that meant the last pumping session of the day started at 10pm. It was usually 11pm before I could go to bed. Since DH gets up early for work, that was rough on him as he either had to stay up late to wait for me, or go to bed without me for more than a year. That's a lot of patience in a man. ;)

As for weaning off the pump, I think you are done by now, but if not, I'll offer this advice.

When I weaned off the pump, I simply cut out one more daily session each week. When I got down to one session a day, I'd stretch out the time between them until I was only pumping right when I felt engorged. Sort of the way a baby would naturally wean. It took about three weeks to wean that way, but I only had to deal with minor engorgement.

On the negative side...my body was used to producing about 850 calories of milk a day for a year...thus when I quit pumping, it was like I'd stopped being a marathon runner. I gained 10 pounds in the next two weeks. :( So next time, I'll be a lot more careful about that as well.

Good luck!
The Lactivist

6:40 AM  

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