When Marigold was two months old, Pat Benatar became my own personal manifestation of determination.
It had nothing to do with Pat Benatar herself. I still don’t even know what she looks like, frankly. But in the dead of night, sobbing over my child who could not, would not latch onto my breast properly, body aching, feeling like a catastrophic failure, her words came to me like they were divinely decreed: Love is a battlefield.
A Pat Benatar single from 1983 doesn’t seem like a likely parenthood mantra, I know.
My father, shaped by raising two daughters, told me, “Once you have a child, you’ll wear your heart on the outside for the rest of your life.”
Pat said it in a catchier way, “I'm trapped by your love/And I'm chained to your side.”
If my unarmored heart resided on my exterior, then I was bashing it into everything in hopes that eventually it would hit something soft. I loved that hungry, angry baby. I loved her so much that I felt smothered and trapped, trying to come to the correct decision about how to feed her through the pain and frustration. Giving up on breastfeeding wouldn’t be loving her less, I knew, but I felt chained to her in our battle and I did not want to be the one to lay down arms.
Things started well. She swiftly latched on in the operating room after being pulled from my body and handed over the blue surgical drape. I will always remember the anesthesiologist, posted dutifully at my head, delighting in seeing a baby breastfeeding in the OR for the first time.
Within weeks it had turned into a cascade of problems – her weight chart was a rocky drop-off instead of a climbing mountain, and our medicine cabinet held a veritable apothecary of lotions, salves, and prescriptions aimed at soothing my pain. I missed being able to comfort her. I missed her happiness, snuggled next to me, safe and warm and nourished. I hated that I felt dread when she woke up, bleating her hungry cry. It seemed ever-present.
It often took so long to try to feed her, between nipple shields and latching and re-latching and positioning, that by the time I thought we were done she was hungry again. I’d fumble with plastic and pillows while she cried, pulling her on and off, on and off, seeking a good fit that never seemed to come.The two of us were covered in tears and sweat and ointments and milk. At what point do you break? When does it become too much?
The diagnoses varied: high palate, disorganized suck, shallow latch. Then, finally, on the mandate of my own desperate research and dogged insistence: tongue tie. Not the obvious kind, but tongue tie nonetheless.
I pinned down her arms while the doctor wielded his scissors. Later I hid in the bathroom, hands over my ears like a petulant child, while my husband forced his fingers under her tongue and stretched it three times a day, intentionally interfering with the wound so it would not heal too quickly to make a difference, on doctor’s orders. Marigold is almost four, and Matt is still convinced she’s holding a grudge against him because of it.
Is that love? When I imagined her, as she kicked and rolled in my belly, I never pictured that love would entail holding her body immobile so we could help her by hurting her. It was an act of faith and determination to endure. Love is a battlefield.
Now she eats crackers of undetermined age that she finds in my bag. She loves ham, fruit snacks, string cheese, and popcorn. Our second child combats sleep, not the breast, and so I laid down that particular sword when Marigold finally picked up a good latch, and I've never lifted it again.
Still, the words of Pat, Patron Saint of Exhausted Mothers, come to me when I am struggling with motherhood and its pains. Love is a battlefield and that means I will put my heart on the line. I will armor myself with purpose and courage, every day.
It takes a village!
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