before Posey was born, i wouldn’t have bet that i’d still be nursing her four weeks in. i would’ve hoped for it, rather like i hope for world peace and a flat stomach and the magical rebound of my ever-more-paltry retirement investments, but i’d given myself The Permission this time around. formula is not rat poison, i had repeated like a mantra over the last weeks of pregnancy. nobody else gives two shits what you feed your child, went my litany, and it ain’t their business if they do. i coached myself, prepped myself, stomped down the sanctimonious little voices inside my head. i’m all about the goodness of breastmilk, i intoned, but a little mental health is good too. i really was game to try breastfeeding again – i even bought me a big ol’ rocking glider to try to make it all delightful and comfy and such – but in my darkest heart, my expectations were low.

turns out nothing creates satisfaction like looooow expectations, friends.

Oscar and i had a slow, hard start to nursing, compounded by prematurity and colic and my inexperience. at six weeks old he was still on the breast for an hour out of every two, around the clock, and if he wasn’t sleeping (rare) or crying (frequent), he was nursing. despite reflux meds and the elimination of dairy (sniff!) and wheat from my diet, he suffered from diarrhea and was just generally miserable for the first few months of his life. and so was i. and i was too ashamed to admit it, especially after i spilled my sweet merciful jesus he eats twelve hours a day and i’m frayed and exhausted and overwhelmed Book of Job to an enthusiastic lactation consultant and got a bland “oh, that’s normal” and the sound of chirping crickets for my troubles. i thought, i’m weak and plugged on, until he was hospitalized for the diarrhea and he got a taste for their fancy formula and i never quite re-established my supply and so we started giving a few bottles a day and glory be, suddenly i could actually shower! and fold laundry! but the guilt was hot and heavy because i was a Natural Kind of Girl and so i nursed and bottle-fed in a strange tango until over time it all became easy and normal and colic left the building and i stopped feeling like a stressed-out failure. in the end i nursed him until he was fourteen months, but only first thing in the morning and last thing before bed. that, i loved.

i may enjoy a little self-indulgent self-flagellation as much as the next blogger, but i wasn’t gonna go through all that again. hence The Permission. my baby would get breastmilk for exactly as long as procuring said breastmilk was a sane experience, and no longer. no guilt. happy mama, happy baby, blah blah blah. and i tried, i really did. i gave express permission for Posey to be topped up with formula a few times in the hospital, when jaundice hit and my milk still wasn’t in, and when she came home barely able to wake to nurse, we tried a few bottles to get her through. but she wasn’t hugely interested. this little girl wants boobies…and she’s a more efficient nurser than Oscar was even at four months old, so the experience isn’t such an endurance run each time. therefore, i’m readjusting my expectations, and occasionally fighting off the odd sensation that i’ve failed at giving myself permission to fail.

the only real problem with breastfeeding – raw nipples and gloriously alluring nursing bras aside – is that my mind wanders when my hands can’t. i’d forgotten the stasis of it all. i’ve never mastered nursing lying down, or hands-free, and until Josephine can hold her head up, it’s pretty much a hands-full job for me. and i’m not a tv person…so i sit, withering on the vine, thinking. it’s dangerous, especially in a state of sleep-deprivation. my brain flits, making grocery lists, trying to ignore dustbunnies, composing posts that i know will never be written because i’ll have forgotten them by the time i actually can free up two fingers to poke at a keyboard. i mostly pass the time by gazing at my newborn, but even if this breastfeeding relationship is thus far pretty successful and sane, the gazing itself feeds neuroses. i obsess while gazing, engage in flagrant flights of fancy…imagining what the tiny squashed-tomato face in front of me will morph into with age, whether her eyebrows will darken, if her snub nose will grow pointy like my own, whether that double chin is for real or just hiding what will someday be a perfectly reasonable neck. stick legs, bald spots, ear fuzz, gummy grin, monkey toes…in the dark hours of the night, when her sweet little maw gapes insatiably, my tired brain fixates on the surreal dysmorphias of infancy and worries that my child will grow up to be a circus geek.

i know better. when Oscar was born, he had no eyelashes – his newborn peepers were bald as little eggs. i fretted. i like eyelashes, have a definite aesthetic bias in that direction. i feared my child had lost the genetic lottery and would have to suffer through life with a gaze unfringed, like a plucked chicken. this bothered me more than i let on, and every nursing session – twelve eternal, mind-numbing hours a day – i sat pinned and half-unhinged, inspected the infant Oscar minutely for signs of impending eye fluff. eventually they came, his lashes. eventually it settled, my mind.

but all these hours of feeding spent peering at this tiny face, these funny wee toes? they’re a lot for a fertile imagination to bear. perhaps this time around i ought to pony up for cable tv.

would cable actually help? those of you who’ve spent hours feeding babies through the years…how did you pass the time in your own head? is my fixation with my offsprings’ aesthetics during periods of prolonged exposure just a weird little tic unique to me?