Nursing turns out to be pretty easy. Not “easy” as in “I’m completely comfortable admitting that I have functional breasts” without cringing at the word breasts, but “easy” as in “It’s a lot easier to whip out one of these bad boys at two AM when the baby is screaming.” In case you are asking yourself how hard it could possibly be to mix a bottle of formula in the middle of the night, allow me to describe it to you.
You are already exhausted from labor (either birthing or just attempting to do the first load of dishes in the days-old mountain) when the baby begins to stir. Recognizing the signs of immanent hunger, you race to the kitchen in the dark, only stubbing your toes a few times. If you turn the light on to measure the formula powder, to visualize how many ounces of liquid you have just poured or to find a translucent silicone nipple, you will not only ruin your night vision but also confuse the baby who can barely comprehend the difference between day and night by the volume of noise and the dimness of lights. Having successfully mixed or warmed a bottle of formula, you race back to the baby – either badly measured or with no night vision – and attempt to remain awake while the baby chugs milk or decides that she isn’t hungry after all. You try not to drop the bottle when the feasting offspring signals its fullness. You drag yourself and the minion upright for a burp, still trying not to knock over the bottle with a huge, horrible clatter and tripping implications with later ruined night vision. With the wee babe blissfuly asleep you curse the angelic snoozer as a bald-faced liar who will wake you to repeat this process two hours from the last time she woke up, if you’re lucky. Not two hours from when she falls asleep – oh no, two hours maximum from the last time you tried to focus hard enough to decide how long ago you were last awake and whether or not the bottle that you dropped nearby has gone bad.
So, in this way, nursing parents really luck out. It’s exceptionally easy, in these relative terms, to keep the baby safely in or near the bed, without smothering the small cherub during exhausted unconsciousness, to stir when it snarffles, find it’s gaping maw and plug it with a boob that topples out of a loose nightshirt. A monumental feat, to be sure, but infinitely easier that the midnight processes of bottle-feeding parents, who should be sainted for their extra efforts.
Breast-feeding a baby only hurt for a few days. There were less than two hundred hours during which I stifled a gut-wrenching scream as my nipples adjusted to the sweet, wholesome clamp of my beloved lamprey. And, in addition to saving our family nightly effort, it saved us a shit-ton of money. Boobs are free, or would be in a world where one doesn’t invest in a breast pump, bottles and freezing supplies. Alas, most nursing mothers find those tools priceless in the face of those other times when milky breasts hurt – when they get too full, or when mastitis enflames and itches at the whole mammary area. Or when some nursing parents are lucky enough to return to careers that waited for them.
Every time that I cursed breast-feeding for highlighting my girlishness, for the scoop-neck shirts that nursing parents are supposed to wear, for necessitating that I be the one to wake every two hours to have my titties twisted, or for the constant and utter dehydration, I stopped to consider how relatively easy, cheap and painless it is. It just kept winning out over bottle-feeding.
Until I realized that my own baby, in addition to gazillions of other thriving tots, do exceptionally well with formula. Not only does formula save the lives of babies who can’t nurse (for whatever reason), but formula frees biological parents from physically enslaving themselves to their children for another year right on the heals of the placental life-suctioning. My baby didn’t mind formula in the slightest. Not a bit; didn’t even poop differently. So, while I was pleased and relieved to roll over and drop a boob in his mouth while saving money, I also became brave enough to shout “Hey, Partner, I’m just going to mix up some formula for the baby,” at public events. The scornful glaring of more doting, hippy parents than us be damned. I gave him my immune system for as long as I could grin and bear it. Now it’s time for the Costco tin of powdered faux-milk to help me out.
I still have a bunch of thrifted little boys’ t-shirts that are cut from collar to nipple height to facilitate the occasional nursing, and I still grudgingly admit that my wee one enjoys the extra cuddles that I remember to dole out when he is latched on like a little eel, but I applaud formula parents in addition to nursing parents. Shit man, you slept how little? Heroes, one and all.