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Nursing Doubts

I nursed E for a year. Exclusively. Not a single drop of formula ever touched her lips; she was weaned to cow’s milk after her first birthday. But—and this isn’t something you’ll hear many moms who chose to nurse say—I never really wanted to. And now that I’m pregnant with #2, even though I have a solid year of breastfeeding under my belt (or, more accurately, my bra), I’m having the same doubts about nursing I did the first time around.

When I was pregnant with E, the thought of breastfeeding grossed me out. I knew it was better for the baby, that it would help with the bonding process, that there were significant health benefits for me. I’m a very private person, however—I don’t like to be naked even when I’m alone. I’m uncomfortable with bodily fluids, messes, things that leak, and public exposure. No matter how many times I tried to envision peaceful moments with a new baby cradled in my arms and nourishing her with my breasts, all I could picture was a dairy cow. Moo.

Pregnancy was enough of a physical sacrifice. I just wanted to be myself again, not a baby incubator or a milk-making machine. Still, I did the research and committed to six weeks—the minimum amount of time, my doctor assured me, necessary for important antibodies to get transferred from me to the baby. I refused formula in the hospital and after several meetings with lactation consultants, finally got E to latch on (no easy feat since my boob was twice the size of her tiny head.) When she got it, we both relaxed a little.

There were perks to nursing in the early days. I got to sit on the couch all day and read books (the entire Twilight series) and watch my favorite movies over and over (Dirty Dancing, John Hughes marathons.) Because there was no one else around to help with E, using bottles would have just meant more work for me, hand washing tiny plastic parts and measuring formula. The thought of taking five extra steps to the kitchen at 3AM was unthinkable—it was easier just to lift my shirt. Six weeks stretched to eight, and then twelve. I set a new goal for six months. When we hit that mark, breastfeeding was already a part of my life. It was working; it was what we did.

But I never learned to love it. Or like it, even. I felt sweaty and sticky and unattractive all the time. I hated nursing in public, even with a cover, which E always ended up yanking off anyway. In an effort for privacy, I breastfed E in department store bathrooms, hiding out in the back rooms of friends’ houses, parked in my car on the side of the road. Once, stuck on a major LA street with a screaming E in the back, I managed to flash a whole tour busload of gawking Texans. I hated wearing special bras that never fit right, and sacrificing my clothing to stretched-out necklines and milk stains. My friends all lost tons of baby weight by nursing alone; I happen to be one of few women who do NOT lose weight while breastfeeding—I hung on to every extra pound until I finally finished breastfeeding, a full year after I gave birth.

After she was weaned, I felt great about breastfeeding E for as long as I did, despite my misgivings and my overall dislike of the process.  I know how important breast milk is. As my pediatrician says, “Formula isn’t poison,” but since I was lucky enough to be physically and emotionally able to breastfeed, I was able to give E the healthiest start possible. So why can’t I get on board with nursing #2? It’s like I’ve never done it before. I should be a pro, looking forward to intimate moments with my newborn. But I can’t. Will handing a bottle of formula to my newborn son make me a bad mom?

My old squeamishness has returned in full force. And I have no marathon movie sessions to look forward to this time around, since I have a busy toddler to chase after (and somehow manage to feed the baby, too.) I’m back to bargaining with myself—six weeks and we can reevaluate. Catching a few extra hours of sleep in the hospital by allowing the nurses to give #2 the occasional bottle sounds sweeter than ever now that I know what sleep deprivation feels like. But how terribly unfair to #2, that for purely selfish reasons, I’m considering depriving him of a privilege I gave willingly to his sister. Things are already so unequal for a second child; can I really live with myself if I take nursing away from him too?

I’m hoping that some miraculous, hormonal magic will take over after he arrives, and I’ll be able to nurse him without all this drama casting doubts in my head. But if that doesn’t happen, what do I do? Do I force myself to breastfeed anyway, or do I cave to selfishness and be the best mom I can be—even if that means breaking out the formula and calling it a day?