A woman with a soft voice and long straggly hair passed out small sheets of paper to everyone in the room. I was seated on a couch with my husband, and around us were seven more expecting parents, all sharing couches of their own, all facing the same woman with the soft voice and the long straggly hair.
"Before we begin, I'd like everyone to write down something that scares them about breastfeeding," she said. "That way I'll be sure to address it. And we'll do it anonymously." I lit up inside. This method felt progressive. The question I had about breastfeeding was, admittedly, sort of embarrassing, and going into the class, I wasn't sure if I'd be bold enough to raise my hand and ask it. But here, with this paper in front of me, I could get the exact answer I needed to the exact burning question I had that even my own therapist couldn't solve for me when I shared it with her weeks prior.
Long straggly-hair lady picked up all of the papers from the attendees and resumed her seat at the front of the class, where she said she'd read them all aloud. "I imagine many of these questions will be the same. I do this so you know you're not alone. Many women have the same fears."
She opened the first one. "I'm worried I won't be able to give my baby enough milk." The next one. "How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk?" And the next. "What if my daughter doesn't drink enough milk?"
This fear was an odd one.
The common theme carried throughout every paper unfurling, the expecting moms looking around at each other and smiling at their newfound commonality. I sat impatiently at the end of our couch, jabbing my husband in the side as if to say, "Will she ever get to mine?" The instructor went off on a tangent about the amount of milk a newborn needs, and it seemed to quell a lot of nerves.
Finally, my moment at the anxious mama grab bag was up. "I associate boobs with intimacy. They have always been a sexual turn-on. I'm worried that I will be grossed out at the sight of my child using my boobs for food. How can I fix this image?"
I knew intellectually that breastfeeding was natural, normal, and beautiful. But I couldn't help but associate my boobs with intimacy. With sex. How was I supposed to turn off that connection? I needed guidance. Reassurance. Someone to tell me that I was normal for feeling this way.
She flattened her lips and made a "hmm" sound, said "OK," and said, "well, that's all of them; let's begin, shall we?"
The implication I took was that I was wrong for feeling this way.
It was clear by her "hmm" sounds that this fear was an odd one. One that she in all of her professional breastfeeding expertise wasn't prepared to answer. I hoped that at some point in the class she might broach my bringing up the topic of potentially finding nursing gross, but she never did. The implication I took was that I was wrong for feeling this way. I left feeling defeated and somewhat like an outsider, and though that feeling wasn't enough to dissuade me from trying to do it anyway, I wasn't sure what would happen when the time came to breastfeed. I knew I wanted to try, but I also knew that it would be important to get rid of these fears ahead of time so that I could give it a shot feeling empowered. Not every mother can produce breast milk, and I knew I needed to be in the best mindset possible when I tried.
Life was in too much disarray following the birth of my daughter for nursing worries to ever rear. When hours and days after delivering I couldn't get my daughter to latch without screaming in pain and visited three professionals to rule out what it could be, I ended up never crossing that bridge . . . never nursing, or having to nurse. Because I couldn't.
I carried on through motherhood as an exclusive breast pumper, wearing my badge proudly (while complaining, of course), so I can't say for certain how I would have felt after prolonged nursing, but in those days attempting it, my mind was flooded with far too many other emotions for anything remotely resembling being creeped out to be part of the experience.
While my breastfeeding instructor never helped me with my conundrum, it turned out that by the time baby came, I just didn't have time to get in my own head. I only had space to entertain a handful of intrusive thoughts and problems. And for that reason, while it's a crappy one, I just didn't have the energy to be uncomfortable by the vision of my baby nursing on my boob.