I am sure that everyone feels similarly during the final weeks of a pregnancy: the excitement of having a baby compounded by the excitement over no longer carrying a living being in one’s stomach. Naively, I thought I’d get my body back, but no. I thought the end of pregnancy meant the end of someone else’s limbs digging into my kidney, spleen, and bladder. But no.
All those images of the peacefully nursing mama and babe? (See Figure 1). Misleading.
Nobody told me that Levi’s bottom arm — the one I was supposed to wrap around me, while holding him in modified cradle hold — would refuse to straighten, leaving his elbow firmly planted into my ribcage. Images are just that, of course. They are still, therefore they cannot portray the kicking legs, the head pulling on and off the breast, the fingernails implanted in the chest.
They cannot capture the mad dash toward any surface one can sit on, while simultaneously trying to wrestle a boob out of bra and up from under shirt, with a screaming, crying baby in one arm. How did that woman end up in that rocking chair like that exactly? Breastfeeding station with well-stocked snacks, drink, and phone (Would you look at that phone!?!?) within reach? It’s more like…:
I remember thinking longingly about the nights I would spend rolling over from side-to-side freely in bed. Nights that I would flip over without feeling like a beached whale. I never considered the fact that I there would be no rolling with a little one planted firmly at my side.
I knew that once I got the baby on the outside, I would be tired and challenged like never before, but I thought my body would be comfortable. I thought that I would reclaim it and feel like my old self. Not a chance. So many mornings in the months following Levi’s birth, I would wake in the morning feeling like a broken woman — my body feeling raw, muscles sore, joints stiff — like I had been in a bar fight the night before.
A breastfeeding mama’s body is not her own. I knew my breasts would not be my own, but I had no idea of the physical rigors of holding the breastfeeding infant once he is no longer a newborn weighing only half dozen or so pounds. I was not prepared for the jabbing and poking, punching and kicking that come with the child’s increased levels of activity. Where are those images? (See Figure 2).
All of this is not to say that I don’t have plenty of peaceful images of Levi fast asleep at my breast after a lovely nursing/napping session. I feel like I take at least one of those pictures a day; however, nothing prepared me for the distracted child, the child ready to try new tricks and start to move, the child uninterested in eating at the moment. I wasn’t prepared for the strange contortions of the co-sleeping parent, and the kind of tightness that can create in one’s shoulders, chest, and back. I wasn’t prepared to feel physically much worse once the baby was out than when he was in.
So maybe all those peaceful, Madonna/child images aren’t completely off the mark, but they are only a slice of the wonderfully challenging world of the breastfeeding/co-sleeping mom.