image from Lisa Congdon’s A Collection a Day

For me, pregnancy was like a trip to the dark side of the moon. I had no idea where I was going. None of my friends were having babies, so I was the test pilot. Not many adventurers grow to the size of a small planet, but I was undaunted. For the first time in my life, being a woman made sense. My body was doing what it was made to do. Giddy with excitement, I figured that giving birth might be tough but lactation would be easy. I was half right.

I labored for a long time before the doctor determined that my daughter was descending arm first. I felt a surge of pride.  My infant was polite, reaching out to shake the doctor’s hand even while she was waiting in the birth canal. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a good time to reach out and touch someone.

The doctor suggested a c-section and I readily agreed. I couldn’t very well walk around the rest of my life with my kid’s hand waving between my legs. How would I ever find a pair of jeans that had two legs and a sleeve? Heck, it’s tough to find normal jeans that fit.

The c-section went smoothly, and my daughter tipped the scales at a surprising 10 pounds, one ounce. No wonder she got stuck. In all the excitement, she had a bit of water in her lungs, so she was taken to NICU to receive some antibiotics to ward off the possibility of contracting pneumonia.

To be sure, childbirth was an adventure, but well worth the trip. I had a beautiful baby girl. I was exultant; I’d gotten through the hard part. Surely I didn’t need to “do” anything in order to nurse my baby. I had a massive mammaries, so I was armed and dangerous. I thought nursing would come naturally, kinda like getting my period. It seemed silly to talk to the hospital’s lactation specialist about something that seemed so intuitive. My presumption proved to be my downfall.

It didn’t take long to realize that I was clueless about nursing. I kept hearing about “letdown,” but I had no idea if it was happening to me. I waddled down to the NICU and breastfed my daughter, but she was still hungry after she nursed. To complicate matters, I was discharged from the hospital before my daughter came home. I discovered that it’s difficult to nurse when your baby is ten miles away.

In hindsight, I really could have used some expert advice. I was exhausted, inexperienced, and hardly producing any milk, but I couldn’t focus of solving those issues until I got my baby out of the hospital.

I was overjoyed when she finally came home. I continued to nurse her, but it was like trying to squeeze water out of a rock, albeit a big floppy rock. Why hadn’t I talked to the hospital’s lactation nurse when I had the chance? Here I was, alone in the house with a hungry baby, clueless about how to get my own body to do what it was supposed to do.

In desperation, I called an acquaintance who was a new mother. With great embarrassment, I asked if I could talk to her about breastfeeding. She cheerfully answered all my questions. In fact, she was the first one who really explained what letdown felt like (similar to when your leg or arm falls asleep – except you feel it in your chest). She encouraged me to nurse, pump like crazy, drink lots of water, rest, and eat.

At this point, 2 weeks had passed since the c-section. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get my milk in, but it was worth a try. I rented an electric breast pump and started pumping. I was a woman on a mission.

I barely managed to pump an ounce of milk at a time, but I kept at it. I ate healthy food and drank water. I napped when my daughter napped. Finally, one quiet afternoon, I put my baby to my breast. Pretty soon, it felt like my chest had fallen asleep and then suddenly my baby was gulping down loads of milk! I could even see some milk leak out of the corner of her mouth. Houston, we have letdown!

How gratifying to finally succeed, after weeks of uncertainty and failure. It was a watershed moment. I realized that I had entered the sisterhood of mothers, where even the most embarrassing bodily functions are talked about openly and with humor; where women help women BE women.

Welcome to the sisterhood, my friends.

From Lynn Wilson of For Love of Funny.

PS — Feeling overwhelmed with your new baby? You’re not alone. Stephanie Diaz wrote up some New Motherhood Advice here. And I love this calming birth story from Christine Castro Hughes.

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Note from Design Mom: throughout my pregnancy, I’ve been posting advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family on Wednesdays. I just had my baby and am taking a blogging break for a week or so. I’ve received so many wonderful stories and thought it would be great to post as many as I can during this little “maternity leave.” You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here.