Like a kid playing whack-a-mole at Time Zone the nurse slammed Archie’s newborn mouth at your nipple several times over and that’s when it first dawned on me that breastfeeding was not as easy as I’d imagined. But I learned about ‘attachment’ and that it was a matter of practice and felt we’d be high-fiving our way down milky street in no time.
Only two weeks later your attachment skills were super-advanced but there I was standing beside you, watching you sleep, holding a bundle of Archie in my arms, knowing by the way he searched the air with his open mouth that he was hungry, but feeling so dead-sad in the gut that I avoided handing him over for several minutes until he wailed and woke you. I’d learned about nipple thrush and the intense pain it put you through, several times a day, with every feed. I was told by more than one expert that you wouldn’t be able to continue breastfeeding but when I suggested we try Archie on a bottle you simply said no.
You stopped eating sugar and processed foods and weeks passed and all of a sudden I was handing Archie over and you were putting him to your breast without the grimacing and tears; working on the computer or watching TV or lying beside me in bed, smiling. I learned how easy breastfeeding could be, and how wonderful.
Eighteen months flew by and Archie was reaching for the bottle instead of the boob but there was only a three month reprieve before Lewis was born and your breasts were in constant demand again. The attachment was a walk in the park and the thrush was no chance with the way you watched your diet but New Year’s Eve 2006 your breasts were sore and you started feeling ill and by New Year’s Day you were running a high temperature. I learned about mastitis and looked after you as you were shivering and aching in bed, as sick as I’d ever seen you.
The fear of mastitis stayed with us as the journey continued and I saw panic in your expression whenever there was the slightest sign of a red or swollen breast, or the hint of nausea or illness.
When you went to work full time we were feeding Lewis like a tag-team. He’d take his fill before you left for the house and I’d deliver your milk through plastic teets while you were away and in between I’d ferry him to your various places of employment so that you could either feed him again, if he was demanding it, or so I could drive you from one place to the other while you relieved your full breasts with the electronic pump. I learned about the vantage point of truck drivers and bus passengers and how to pull up at traffic lights to avoid an accidental gaze or prying eye.
Tyson took to your arms four months after we managed to wean the breast-desperate Lewis and we were right back into the routine we’d become used to – waking to the cry of a hungry baby, breast pumping at home and at work, ferrying boys to the boob. You stayed strong despite two more bouts of the dreaded mastitis but what I remember here is how busy your life had become and – despite the rapid growth in your business and career – how our children were the most important part of your working week, how you made certain you were there to feed Tyson day and night.
Maki took his turn October 2011, nine months after Tyson, and this was right in the middle of a most stressful time. We’d knocked our house down and moved in with your Mum and Dad and the building of our house was a nightmare of red tape and delays and I think, on occasion, I went bat-shit crazy and was also drawing on your reserves for support. Somehow you managed me on top of everything else.
Just last week, as Maki suffered through several days with an illness and some mouth ulcers that made it impossible for him to feed from the breast you came to me and said, ‘Look’s like Maki’s weaned now’ and I said, ‘That’s great!’ like a stupid flippant arsehole. It wasn’t till I’d finished dressing Tyson in his pyjamas that I turned to see you had tears in your eyes.
I was thinking of the thrush and the mastitis, the up and down nights, the impact on your day to day, how breastfeeding complicated things, how you sacrificed holidays and conferences, how you gave up certain foods, locked yourself in workplace rooms to express milk, worried daily about being there for each of our four boys. I was anticipating relief for you.
I knew my error as soon as I saw your tears and so my hug had to be prefaced with ‘sorry’ and came just a little late and there’s been a lot of time since then for me to reflect. Yesterday, when I asked you what you remembered most about breastfeeding you said, ‘How close you feel to your baby’.
What you’ve given Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki is epic and undeniable but here’s what you’ve also given me…
I remember kneeling in front of the couch and kissing Archie’s cheek as he fed at your breast, my arms around your waist. I remember the rush of emotion and thrill when I was home alone and first fed him your milk from a bottle. I remember pulling faces at Lewis, saying, ‘Where’s Daddy?’ and making him giggle around your nipple. I remember late nights and early mornings in bed together, whispering about this and that, as I sat with the onesie-clad Tyson on my lap, holding his head in my hand, patting him to a burp (triumphantly!). And I remember how I could change Maki into a fresh nappy and jumpsuit without even waking him up, as you gave him feed. What a team!
Archie would circle his finger around the freckles on your face while he was feeding. Lewis would scratch at them. Tyson pulled at your lips and tried to put his hand in your mouth. Maki whacked at your free boob so that you always had to cover it up. I remember how annoyingly funny all of that was but the clearest memory is the sound of the suckling and sighing and how each of our babies looked up at you.
We made a commitment to breastfeeding nine years ago, to make it work no matter what, but I had no idea what it would demand of you. The effort and impact was all yours and there were times even I doubted your ability to continue but you never wavered, not even once, and I’m in awe (and in love!) and I’m giving my entire self over to the next two words…