Facing the Cliff
I find myself reaching for some tissue in a cosy, low-lit room on a sunny Tuesday afternoon at my local health centre. I'm nestled in a mountain of pillows on a comfy couch, rubbing my pregnant belly, while watching the lactation consultant as she demonstrates hand expression on a knitted breast model.
"Sorry, " I say. "I didn't expect to cry today."
"It's ok" she says. "This is the crying room."
I've just spent the last 45 minutes grilling her about breastfeeding after breast reduction. I'm 29 weeks - very early by all accounts to be talking to a lactation consultant - I've been reading like a mofo, but somehow I just can't make a picture in my mind yet of how it all comes together. It feels like there is so much to know, and pay attention to, and think about. I have a million questions.
- Aren't I supposed to be walking around in a half-awake haze for a week?
- How am I supposed to know if my kid is getting enough to eat?
- What are the EXACT steps I need to take? In what order, for how long
- What equipment should I have ready?
- How do I track what's going on?
- What app should I use?
- What will my baby and I be doing for the first day, the first 3 days, the first week?
I realize, as the tears start to come, that my logical, project management, figure everything out ahead of time brain, is having a total fucking meltdown. I am literally trying to create some kind of a flow-chart in my head.
Let's back up a bit for a second.
My breasts grew fast and furious in high school. My grade 12 I was a DDD. Not the hugest by all accounts, but on a small frame, they were torture. They made my back sore, my breast straps dug into my shoulders, and gym class was just straight up embarrassing. I hid them, and myself, in huge XL boys hoodies.
By first year University, I was getting tired of hiding myself, of using my discomfort with my breasts as an excuse to opt out of things. I researched liked crazy, met women who had gone through with it, looked at countless before and after images online and ultimately made the decision.
The boobs were coming off.
I was informed at the time that breast reduction can impact breastfeeding - and that basically there is no way to know if you will be able to until you get there. As someone who has always wanted kids it was a big decision, but ultimately I decided to go for it.
I went through with it in August before I started 2nd-year uni. I never looked back! I went from a DDD to a B cup. I could hold a whole boob in my hand! I could leave the house and not realize I was braless! I felt as thin and svelte as a supermodel! I was unleashed.
Fast forward 13 years later and I'm pregnant with my first and facing the realities on the other side of this choice.
I still don't regret my decision for one minute. I can't even think what the last 13 years of my life would have been like as a big-boobed lady. It wasn't for me. In truth, I am actually grateful for my surgery. I read somewhere recently that challenges breastfeeding are the number 2 contributor of postpartum depression. Many women don't see the hard times coming and it hurts. I, on the other hand, am going in eyes wide open, and working towards being ready for all outcomes.
Which brings me to the lactation consultant's couch three months before my baby is due. I am here to fact find, to get data, and tools and processes. As I sit there with her and talk about all the possibilities, and all the variables and all the tools and things you can do. Reality sets in.
And that's when the tears come.
Underneath my be-prepared-Betty persona is a terrified human who is doing her best to avoid the colossal cliff she is facing. The real fear though doesn't come from worrying that I won't be able to make milk for my kid. I'm ok with formula if that's the way it goes. My real fear is much bigger. Behind my desires to put together a perfectly controlled road map of preparedness in my head - I'm actually just terrified of motherhood. And this surprises me.
Because I know life with kids. I have four younger siblings. I have a step-son. I am surrounded by babies. I know how to rock them, and hold hem and feed them and play with them. Beyond that cliff and the waterfall that will carry me down it I can see the river on the horizon. I know what that part looks like. What's freaking me out is the descent, the landing, and the first little bit where you come out of the water, gasping for air, calm yourself, and continue to float down the river.
I've never cared for a newborn before.
As we close up our meeting the consultant looks at me and she gives me her most important advice. She congratulates me on my preparedness and my attempts to be informed but reminds me that ultimately I must trust in myself as I jump off that cliff. I must trust that I will know. I must trust that I will make the best choices that I can in each moment as they come - with a little bit of help from the map and the tools, and a lot of help from my supports.
And that is the most terrifying thing of all.
Learning to live with uncertainty and change IS learning to live.
Motherhood is a hell of a teacher.
- The Happy V