When you start breastfeeding your newborn baby, you'll get lots of advice from lots of people.
Perhaps the favorite piece of advice from grandmothers and random women on the street is that nursing should come naturally. Just let your baby and your body do what they were made to do, they'll say.
Well, here's my advice: Look straight in that woman's face and say, "Nice try, lady. Nice try."
The truth is — at least for me and every other mother I know — nursing does not come naturally, and you will spend the first month of your child's life struggling to figure it out.
I gave this cautionary advice this week to a friend of mine who is expecting her first child. I encouraged her to take it slowly, get as much help as she needs and to never fall into the trap of thinking she is doing something wrong if nursing doesn't come naturally.
And then, millions of tears, nursing pads and one home visit from a nursing expert later, nursing will suddenly fall into place and you'll be able to latch that little babe on anywhere.
Once nursing clicked for me, I held onto it longer than I thought I would. My daughter, Nicole, was 14 months old when I finally decided it was time to wean.
But nursing didn't come naturally or easily for me.
When she first nursed at the hospital, I thought I was a pro. But when we got home, I realized she was latched on wrong and was slowly destroying me. I was in pain, and Nicole couldn't eat.
After another long night of baby and mother crying and my husband helplessly looking on, we saw an expert — Kay.
She saved us.
She even made a house call to crawl into bed with me as I lay half-naked trying to nurse. If it hadn't worked then, I was giving up — no doubt about it.
But I didn't want to give up. I wanted to give Nicole the best start I could in life, and I really felt that breastfeeding would be that for her. For me, breastfeeding was a big part of who I was as a mother.
So we kept trying. Nicole kept sucking, and I kept wincing in pain. But with Kay and God on our side, we figured it out. Sure, I got a severe infection that landed me in the hospital, but we did it.
And then 14 months later, I didn't want to stop.
I knew I would give her bottles, then sippy cups and one day glasses, but she'd never again need me in quite the same way. I wouldn't be the one who could give her exactly what she needed at the exact moment she needed it.
I knew I would miss holding her little body in my arms as Nicole's eyelids got heavy and she fall asleep with milk dripping down her chin.
I loved the way she wrapped her arms around me and her fingers tickled my back as she drank. I loved the way she paused mid-suck sometimes just to smile up at me, as if saying, "Hey mom, we're a good team, you and me."
And most of all, I loved the quiet moments together — Mom and babe in the most natural and beautiful of all moments as she took what she needed from my body.
And the funny thing is, I always thought this would be my gift to my baby — that breastfeeding would be my great maternal blessing passed from mother to child.
But as I watched her learn to walk and laugh and talk, I realized I was the one who got the gift in those quiet nursing moments.
I got the gift of looking down on that little head as Nicole nursed, knowing that we needed each other in ways I could never have imagined.