Our first two babies were bottle-fed. Mel wanted to breastfeed, but with our son she was working at a crappy job with crappy hours and no place to pump, and it just didn’t work out. With our second, she had to have surgery shortly after the baby was born and the medication ruined her milk. Both times she often talked about feeling like a failure.
I had a hard time understanding that until Mel breastfed our third and I realized just how complicated breastfeeding is. It was a real learning experience for me as a father. My assumption was that breastfeeding would be fairly simple. Women have been doing it for millennia. Turns out I was wrong. There are a lot of physical, emotional, social, and practical aspects of breastfeeding that I never realized. Below are a few things I learned.
1. Sometimes they leak.
I assumed that breasts were tried and true. They’ve been around since the dawn of humanity. I never expected that when the baby cries or when it’s been too long between feedings, Mel’s boobs would start to drip. At first I assume this was a design flaw, but then I started to realize that nothing physical happens to me when my children cry. I just got irritated, or frustrated, or confused. Mel went through those same emotions, trust me, but it’s really awesome that her body was so in tune with our child that she responded physically and emotionally.
2. Boobs were out most of the day, but not for me.
Once Aspen began to crawl, Mel and I were trying to decide whom the baby loved more. We sat her in the middle of the living room, and then we each called to her from the kitchen. Aspen started to crawl to me, and so Mel took off her shirt. Suddenly the baby shifted direction and crawled toward Mel with an open mouth. I was obviously no competition. My adolescent dream was for a beautiful woman to hang around my house with her boobs out. With breastfeeding, that dream was real, yet it is much more practical than I expected. Those boobs were not out for me; they were out for the baby, which is their intended purpose. I understand, but it was good for me as a man who has been subjected to years of seeing boobs as nothing but sexual to see how essential they are to life.
3. Breastfeeding made our baby hate me.
For the first three months of Aspen’s life, I was worthless to her. In fact, I was beyond worthless. I was hated. I was an irritation. If I even looked at Aspen for too long, she would cry. Forget about holding her. Why did Aspen feel this way? I think it’s because I didn’t have boobs. I couldn’t feed her, so what good was I? Straight up baby daddy discrimination.
4. Nipples are complicated.
Chapped nipples, nipple cream, nipple covers, nipple tension, nipple-exposing T-shirts, nipple pads, hidden nipples, leaking nipples. There are so many nipple complications and remedies I can’t keep track of them all! Part of the reason this is all so astounding is because, from a pragmatic perspective, my nipples are as useless as artificial plants. They give my body symmetry and sometimes they get cold, but for the most part, I don’t notice them. They just sit there, on my chest, serving no purpose. I had no idea they could be so complicated.
5. Boobs get bigger when they are full of milk.
This really should have been obvious, but it wasn’t. For me, this really was a catch-22. I will admit that Mel’s larger breasts looked nice. However, I feared touching them because I didn’t want them to squirt me in the face. This created conflicted emotions of both fear and desire.
6. Breast envy may occur.
The first time I was home alone with all three kids, Aspen woke, started crying, and then tried to latch onto my bicep. I felt completely worthless, and for the first time in my life, I longed for my own set of breasts.
7. There will be snuggles envy.
I really like snuggling with a new baby. And with our first two kids, I got the opportunity for a lot of snuggle time because I could give them a bottle. But with Aspen, she discriminated against me because I don’t have breasts. I often looked at Mel, snuggling with Aspen as she fed her, and got really jealous.
8. Breastfeeding women talk a lot about breastfeeding.
Mel chatted a lot with her friends about breastfeeding strategy. About covers and products. About moments when someone was a jerk because they were breastfeeding. Breastfeeding became the topic of dinner conversations and playdate chats. It was at the top of the agenda, and I will admit that at first I found this strange. I’d heard of lactation consultants, but I didn’t understand why anyone would need a specialist to advise in getting milk from a boob. But after spending time with Mel as a breastfeeding mother and seeing the complications that can arise, I started to see breastfeeding, and breasts in general, as something very complicated and wonderful, and in so many ways, I was grateful to the mother of my children for trying so hard to feed and care for our daughter.
9. Breastfeeding in public is controversial.
The first time we were out to dinner and Mel fed Aspen while covered, people looked at her like she was publicly urinating. There was nothing sexual about what she was doing, and honestly, I thought about everything that Mel had been through to teach our daughter to latch on properly and be able to produce enough milk and then how long it had taken her to have the opportunity to breastfeed, and I wanted to punch these people in the face.
They say parenting is eye-opening, and I am the first to say that it is. But it’s been eye-opening in ways I could never expect. Mel and I had been married for almost 10 years before I saw her breastfeed one of our children, and by the end, I gained a new respect for her—and all mothers.