It was just a few days after bringing Penelope home from the hospital when I found myself locked in the bathroom at 1:30 in the morning, trying not to wake my husband. I was crying out from the shooting pain while desperately dialing the number on the sheet of paper I was clutching. I knew breastfeeding would be tricky, but felt reassured when the nurse at the hospital told me there was a 24-hour “lactation hotline” for me to use as a resource. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, and I was at my limit.
Earlier that evening, I screamed so loud while feeding her that my husband got nervous. I considered begging him to run out and get formula, so I could give her something else during the middle-of-the-night feeding other than my poor, beat-up boobs. Instead, I powered through and figured I’d deal with the next feeding later on. Which led me to my 1:30 AM desperate dial.
Finally, someone picked up.
Strike one: It was a man who answered the phone. A MAN. I considered hanging up, but one glance down at my bleeding, sore nipples and I figured I’d take a shot. I took a deep breath, cleared my throat, and asked to speak with a lactation consultant.
To my dismay, the man flatly explained that the lines were “backed up” and I would surely receive a call back from the lactation consultant in about four hours. FOUR HOURS.
I told him he didn’t understand, that I needed to speak with someone right away, but he assured me that he did in fact understand and would have someone get back to me just as soon as they could. I would have to feed Penelope again before that point, and would just have to suffer through it.
To the men out there, it may be tough to comprehend the predicament I was in. Let me explain it in a way that may help you put yourself in our shoes. Here goes:
Imagine you awaken in the middle of the night. You look down, and notice that your balls are on fire.
Before you have enough time to panic, you hear what appears to sound like a screaming piranha. You realize, to your horror, that the only way to get the piranha to stop screaming is to latch it on to your flaming balls. You are in quite the pickle.
You remember there is a phone number for you to call where you can speak to the only person who could help you put the fire out in your balls and calm the piranha, so, trembling in pain, you dial it. A woman answers.
WOMAN: “Hello, Flaming Balls Hotline! How may I help you?”
YOU: “MY BALLS ARE ON FIRE!!!!!”
WOMAN: “I’m sorry to hear that, sir. But our call log is backed up at the moment. I do, however, understand your frustration.”
YOU: “Lady, are you serious?! You don’t even have balls!”
WOMAN: “Yes sir, that’s correct, I do not have balls. But I can assure you that someone with balls will get back to you within the next four hours to help you put that fire out. You just hang tight.”
YOU: “FOUR HOURS!? What do I do in the meantime about the piranha?!”
WOMAN: “Well sir, the piranha needs to eat. Why don’t you go ahead and attach it to your flaming balls, or it will starve. Your call is important to us and will be answered in the order in which it has been received.”
Gents, does this paint a better picture? It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
It was in that moment, after ending the call, that I wanted to light that piece of paper I was desperately clutching just minutes before on fire. I wished that, instead of that number, I had a single number to reach every other woman up at this ungodly hour fighting through this same battle.
I just knew if they too had heard there was a wait time of four hours that our collective energy and fury would bring us all together, a herd of sleep-deprived women to descend upon the office of the lactation hotline. We would bust down that door, nips blazin’, with a crazed look in our eyes and say, “Are you sure you don’t have an earlier opening?!”
But then I also realized, that maybe they really were that backed up. Maybe they were doing all they could to help other women who, just like myself, were awake, alone, and crying on their bathroom floor right along with their babies. Helping them through this middle-of-the-night feeding that would make or break their commitment to breast feed. We couldn’t bind together like a herd of angry villagers, but knowing they were awake and going through the same thing made me feel just a little less alone.
And it wasn’t this guy’s fault that he accepted the unfortunate position of manning (no pun intended) the lactation hotline.
I do, however, have one request for the lactation hotline managers of the world: I’m all for equality in the workplace, but please, if that ever happens again, have a woman screening calls and delivering wait times. There are just some things that only we know how to say to one another.
And, I promise, I’ll never apply for a job at the “Flaming Balls Hotline.”
Related post: Why Men Can’t Have Babies