Part iv: Tales of pain and the breasts
So, Leela was born. And I, was recuperating from a rather thrilling ordeal of giving birth. Here starts my journey of learning to become a mother. How does one become a mother? How is it different from any other role you have played in your life?
Some say you become a mother as soon as your baby is born. That you forget your pain when you see the baby’s face. This is all nonsense, I say. These are myths that successfully perform one function— define perimeters of your actions, henceforth.
Motherhood is often presented as an experience which seems to promise a reward. A glorified saintly enterprise that subsumes your otherwise mundane and pointless existence in this world. At least once in your lifetime you must have encountered that outrageous metaphor of motherhood being a vessel filled to its brim with love. Suddenly you have become something of value, you’ve become a mother. Who were you?
How do you earn your credits?
You begin by breast feeding.
Leela came out hungry, wanting milk a more than other babies as she was just about 2.85 kilos. She was quick to latch on to my breasts. Her little jaws formed a neat-O around the areola and her tiny tongue lapped up everything she could get. She sucked with considerable force. Since I had a natural birth sans damages, I was quick to pick up this new skill. Hold the baby in position, put her head gently on your breast, with your other hand direct your nipple towards the baby’s mouth. Easy. The maneuver although easy on paper turned out to be one of the toughest skills I had to learn.
I did not have enough milk the first two days after my delivery. Day 1- Leela did not sleep at all in the night, which meant only one thing: non-stop crying. I took her to the neonatal unit and the nurses gave her top feed. Day 2 —after several bouts of crying, Amma put her next to her on the bed. Leela may have been craving for some warmth I guess, for she slept peacefully on the bed with my mother. By then, my breasts had become not my own; it had become public, it had become the subject of an examination.
Let me explain, the doctors- the obgyn, the neonatologist, duty doctors, the lactation consultants and a whole army of nurses needed to see your breasts and they pull, squeeze, press on them to check for milk production. “ can I see?” Lift. Squeeze. After several doctors and innumerable nurses, I was ready to lift my shirt for anyone. Plus, you have a baby who is not yet initiated into a world of shame, who would demand milk in every inappropriate situation deemed by her mother. Thus, your breasts loose their enigma, that secret you were hiding under your blouse can no longer remain one. They are no longer sexual organs but feeding bowls.
After the measly amounts of colostrum which didn’t satisfy my baby, I was given a supplement to enhance milk production. Day 3 — Galactos did it what it was supposed to do. Voila, there comes milk. Leela was satisfied that night and slept well.
By then, Leela had bruised my nipples with her constant suckling. The neonatologists had advised me to do feeding rounds of 20 mins each time, on both breasts, every two hours. Leela was never satisfied with the 20 min feeding time. She suckled for an hour to two, not letting go of the breasts. My breasts were torn, sore and bleeding. The tissue crust formed when the nipples began to heal would in no time become red and raw with her suckling.
Galactos did something else. It produced more milk than what the baby needed. By the time we got our discharge from the hospital and got home, my breasts were full, hard and heavy. I took a hot water shower. I just remember shivering in pain at the end of it and nothing after that.
Next day, I discovered a lump under my arm.
Breast engorgement is no funny matter. They are far more painful and harder to bear than the actual labour pain. Labour pain does have some euphoric relief afterwards but this, this is persistent, hateful, severe…
I cried every time she latched on.
I cursed her incessant hunger and feeding. I screamed at everyone in the house, Unni, Amma, Leela…
I wanted to throw Leela when she cried for milk.
I thought my life was going to end like this- sucked out through my breasts.
I remembered the myth of Poothana, the Rakshassi who was killed by Krishna. Baby Krishna suckled on her breasts until she died. I felt disgusted. I hated the gods more for designing such torture.
I was asked to drink a lot of milk. Every time I did, I thought of the poor cow, inseminated under force, lactating to fulfill our greed, relentlessly. I have seen cows with mastitis. I have seen them moan in pain until they are milked. I hated mankind.
Exhaustion struck with a heavy blow that knocked me out.
Leela would wake up in the night for milk. Out of fear of suffocating her in my sleep, I used to sit up and feed. The pain of the contracting uterus would start then. I was in spasms, wreathing in pain, Leela drank her milk peacefully.
Unni had to hold my legs down to stop me from rolling when the pain increased.
Unni and Amma became scared for me. Unni kept trying to help me bond with the baby. Unni had heard stories of postpartum depression. He was afraid that I would stop feeding the baby.
I was nearly there.
I missed my big belly, my gynecology visits. Thanks to her, my episiotomy healed fast. I couldn't bond with the neonatologist.
Then, the constipation, lack of hunger, depression.
I cried for no reason.
I did not want to talk to anyone or see anyone. I didn't accept phone calls.
While all this was happening, instead of rejecting Leela, I grew increasingly protective of her. I became a germaphobe. I worried about a sneeze, an odd cough, made everyone wash their hands or use the sterilizing lotion. I was vary of people, specifically some, touching her.
A new born tends to sleep for as much as 22 hours. Leela cried when she was hungry, wet/cold or gassy. Her burps were like little pops. She slept in the warmth of her grandmother’s lap, unaware, callous of her mother’s pain.
A week later, nurse Jessy called from the hospital to check on me. I explained my predicament, she asked me to express excess milk, use Nipcare ointment for the soreness and wear a tight bra. She said, “it’s simple physics. The more you leave your breasts to gravity, more milk will drain into it”. I didn’t have to use the nipple shields (YES, there is one) as Nip Care became the magical unction that healed the sores.
The euphoria of birth, if you have read my previous blog, did not translate to abundant joys of motherhood for me. Instead, it was a slow trickle, as interrupted as the flow of milk through my ducts. People saw the worst of me. The bitch. The mother monster. Yet they treated me kindly. I am grateful.
I don’t care for others who didn't. I hate them all.
Next Up- Life with Leela, lessons she taught