A medical team in New York recently induced lactation in a 30-year-old transgender woman, who was then able to breastfeed her partner’s child.
While this is fascinating and exciting, and I’m really superbly happy for the woman in question, I can’t help but feel a bit deflated by the whole thing. Because this is just another example of someone who was more successful at breastfeeding than I was.
Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not a competition. We’re not all contestants in some pageant of maternal virtue. But breastfeeding was one of those things I wanted so desperately to be good at but found incredibly difficult to master. It makes no sense: Surely the best, most natural way of sustaining infant life would be easy. Not necessarily.
To be fair, there are women who take to it with ease and have few problems. I know this because I have met some of them, including one mother who tandem-fed her three-year-old and newborn while telling me how she had never had any issues. I wanted to punch her in the boobs.
But some of us struggle. For some reason, I royally sucked (haha) when it came to breastfeeding. I couldn’t get my son to latch on correctly, so he tore my nipples to shreds and still didn’t get enough to eat. I worked with a lactation consultant, read anything I could get my hands on about nursing, and even attended breastfeeding support groups (where I met Super Mom the Tandem Breastfeeder). Nothing helped. Each breastfeeding session was a nightmare of my son latching on, me correcting his latch, him slipping back into his bad latch, me correcting, him shrieking and me sobbing because not only was I failing the person I loved most in the world, I was doing it while someone held lit Zippos under my nipples. (Or so it felt.) Nursing through mastitis didn’t improve my outlook.
In the end I relied a lot on pumping and self-recrimination, the latter only letting up when my pre-school-age son dropped an f bomb in class and I realized I was going to fail my kids in so many ways that breastfeeding was just a drop in the bucket.
Still, I am in awe of the many women who successfully breastfeed. And it feels like they are always upping the ante. It seems every day there is a new photo being shared of a woman nursing her child in all sorts of unlikely places and positions: cuddled up on a subway car; debating tax reform on the floor of parliament; sitting atop a water skiing pyramid. Even reality show teenagers seem to do it with ease, breastfeeding while simultaneously texting their friends and keeping up with the Kardashians. It couldn’t be in greater contrast to my own sessions, where I had to sit in the exact perfect position, my arm propped just so, nothing to distract the baby.
It occurred to me, while reading about this transgender mom’s success, that the article only mentioned she was “able to breastfeed.” It didn’t say if she was able to stick with it. I had a vision of revisiting this mother a month into the experiment and finding she was tearing her hair out over the cracked, bleeding nipples and feeding every other hour around the clock. When I kept reading I found out this woman was “able to achieve sufficient breast milk volume to be the sole source of nourishment for her child for six weeks.”
I’m. Just. So. Happy. For. Her.