Aug 23, 2016
Hi everyone. This is Vinny. As promised in the front-end bumper on Episode 6, here is the written addendum to that episode, which I'm calling a "Daddendum" on account of the fact that it's the perspective of just one half of our podcasting team. Please pardon the terrible pun. I listen to a lot of Undisclosed and they release a weekly addendum to their main episode each week. So, you know...I'm just saying that it's on my mind.
This week's episode was our longest episode yet (in our long, storied history of six weeks podcasting). The raw recording we did was over an hour and twenty minutes long and I managed to edit it down to around fifty-five minutes. Some of what was removed was just off-topic banter between Cait and I. We do that a lot while we're recording to loosen up. But, a lot of it was true breastfeeding related discussion. So why was it cut? There were a few reasons. Really, we could go on at great length about breastfeeding, but an eighty minute episode didn't feel appropriate. There was one part of the discussion, however, that I felt warranted additional thoughts and it was something that Cait touched on very briefly in the episode: the real effect that not being able to breastfeed has on a new mother.
I know, I know. I'm a guy. What could I possibly have to say about this? Well, quite a bit, actually. I may not have been the one breastfeeding or pumping, but I was there for it all and watching my wife go through that left quite an impression on me.
I'm writing this at least as much if not more for my wife than I am for the blog. I try to say it to her as often as I can remember how important it is to say (which, admittedly, may not be often enough), but Cait is an incredible mother. There are few things that give me more joy than watching her care for and play with our daughter. And watching her struggle with breastfeeding was simultaneously heartbreaking and awesome in the literal sense of the word. Both marriage and parenting requires giving up some of yourself to someone else. Though I wasn't looking for it, the master class in selflessness and dedication that she put on over those first few months after Ellie's birth were absolute affirmation that I had decided to spend my life with an incredible woman.
We expressed our thoughts in our first and second episodes about the loneliness you can feel as a new parent. I have found that when you struggle with something as a parent, that isolation seems even more pronounced. I think it's often because you don't want to share that difficulty with anyone, so you retreat into your own head. Spoiler alert: it's dark in there.
I was present for all of Cait's breastfeeding struggles. I mean, I went to work and ran errands, so I didn't literally witness all of it, but I wasn't overseas for three months or anything like that. Yet even though I might have been in the next room washing bottle parts or seated a few feet away from my wife while holding the baby, I know I still felt isolated in our new life. So I can only imagine then how it felt for Cait, spending so much of her day over several months in that same seat trying to get the baby to eat or strapped to a pumping machine. If I felt isolated and pressure as a new father, it had to be worse for a woman facing the expectations out there about breastfeeding. And the fact that it wasn't going well took a visible toll on her.
Cait was really great about discussing it in the episode and I want to call that out because I know how guilty she felt about it for a long time. I wondered whether she'd be up for it when I pitched the topic and I certainly felt her emotion while we were recording. We use a little humor to keep the general discussion of our topics lighthearted, but insofar as one of the goals of Family Tantrums is to speak honestly so other people know they're not alone in their experiences, Cait is running laps around me. Our daughter is 19 months old and it's only very recently that I think Cait's finally realized she didn't do anything wrong. So I was happy that she had finally gotten enough distance from it to be able to discuss it comfortably. But there was a long period of guilt and distress tied to breastfeeding and I know it's because women are pushed so hard to do it.
I knew she did nothing wrong. I know, in fact, that she did everything right. She really tried everything: she went to doctors, she went to lactation consultants, she read books, she read articles, she ate the cookies and the drank the nasty tea, and she put in the time and followed the directions she was given, but in the end a combination of factors meant it simply didn't work. Believe it or not, there are people out there that would tell her she didn't do enough or that she should have kept it up anyway. Breast, after all, is best. And to those people I say without hesitation, "Eat shit." But don't feed your baby after because you wouldn't want to transmit that.
Breastfeeding isn't something you can "do better." You don't just squeeze harder, despite repeatedly making that joke to my wife. If you've sincerely given yourself to the process and in the end have to make the tough decision to stop before it does more harm than good, then there's nothing to feel bad about. New moms that can't breastfeed are going to feel enough stress and guilt over that perceived failure without needing to shoulder additional stress and torment from people telling them they did something wrong. This is akin to telling someone that they should do better at being tall, or that they should do better at having blue eyes. There are biological and situational factors that will be unique to each mother in determining whether she can breastfeed successfully. It's something Cait wanted to do. She didn't stop because she couldn't be bothered. She didn't stop because she wanted to drink and smoke after carrying a baby. She eventually made the decision that she was missing out spending meaningful time with our daughter and there's no shame in that. I am extremely proud of my wife for bearing that burden for our family and for the decisions she made, and that we can talk about it while watching our wonderful, mostly formula-fed daughter who is perfectly healthy and, best we can tell, a baby genius.
As always, thanks for listening and thanks for reading.
In case you hadn't had the chance to listen to the episode yet, click here.