We were allowed to visit as much as we wanted, but were warned about touching them too much for fear of over-stimulation. I remember the trepidation and heartbreak I'd feel every time I'd reach my hand through the little porthole into the warmth of the isolette and feel their soft downy skin and delicate tufts of hair. I longed to pick them up and hold them close. Sometimes the nurses would come in and see me standing there with my hand on one of my babies and give me a chiding look. "They need to rest." I had to ask permission to change their diapers. They were almost 24 hours old by the time I got "permission" to try breastfeeding.
It wasn't what I'd envisioned for my first days as a mother. I kept waiting for their real mother to sweep in - a more competent and therefore deserving woman who I imagined would wear peach lipstick and smell faintly of mint gum. The days came and went, but she never appeared. I trudged on. Back and forth to the hospital every day, a hunched and spent shell of my former self. At night I'd set the alarm to go off every two hours so that I could wake up and pump. I'd sit in the dark of our bedroom and cry alongside the whoosh and whir of the Medela, covered in postpartum sweat and sticky from milk. Each morning I'd deposit my night's work with the nurses in the NICU, and I'd ask them to count my supply. I'd anxiously await the results, frantically calculating in my head whether I'd supplied enough milk to get both babies through the day without the nurses supplementing with formula. Formula. Nobody ever asked my permission.
When I finally accepted that the lady with the peach lipstick wouldn't be waltzing in to save us, I realized I would have to muster up my strength and figure out how to be the mother my babies needed. The NICU staff was starting to talk about removing the feeding tubes and starting the babies on bottles. Breastfeeding wasn't going spectacularly, but we were making progress. I knew I didn't want my tiny new babies to have bottles. I did my research. Talked to the lactation consultant. Talked to family and friends. Armed with a page of researched rationale, I walked in to the babies' hospital room one morning and requested to speak with the provider on duty. When the young PA arrived, I took a breath and started my rehearsed speech.
"I want to talk about how we can avoid putting the babies on bottles. I want to exclusively - "
She turned briskly to face me and cut me off. "Not gonna happen." She then opened the porthole on the isolette and reached her hand in to stroke Quin's back. She didn't have to ask anyone's permission. I watched her touch his tiny arms and legs the way I longed to. She smoothed the fuzz on his head. I tried to swallow and couldn't. Four year's worth of wanting and waiting lodged in my throat and refused to leave.
Later that day, the lactation consultant tried to console me. "Just do what they say and get these babies home. Then you can do whatever you want. Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war."
An hour later, I was sitting in a rocking chair, feeding one of my babies a bottle while every last frail thread of motherly confidence quietly withered and fell away.
It seems that Facebook has removed some of the hyper-sexual pictures of breasts that I included in Monday's post. But there are more. And there will be more. So while removing all of the sexualized images of women might make the playing field more even, that's really not what I'm aiming for. What I'm aiming for is for Facebook and for society as a whole to start viewing breastfeeding with respect instead of disdain, and with support rather than stigma.
In the past three days, over 25,000 people have visited these posts. Many have shared their support. I am overwhelmed and energized. Let's not stop here.
Facebook has offered no direct response. We need to show them that we're not going away. This matters. We matter. Our babies matter.
The woman with peach lipstick never came to save me. She doesn't exist. For Rhys and Quin, I'm what they've got. I lost a battle but I will not lose the war. These are my babies. I'm going to make the world right for them. I believe I can.
What next? Where do we go from here?
We need to keep standing up. We need to keep SPEAKING up. If you agree, share these posts. Post them on message boards, post them on Facebook, send them to your local news. Or write your own and share them here. Or on Facebook. Or wherever you feel most comfortable. Share your own mothering story. How did you fight the battle to become the mother your baby(ies) needed?
Write to Ellen. Write to Oprah. Write to NPR or Good Morning America or whoever you think has influence.
Stand. Speak. Don't stop.