We’ve got it easy. Pigeon and dove fathers produce crop milk; a substance with more fat and protein than human or cow milk. The father feeds it to the baby through regurgitation. Later on, the father chews up seeds, worms, and insects, mixes the bolus with the milk and feeds the rather eccentric smoothie to the baby. Protecting his young consumes whatever energies the father has left after this draining feeding process.
As much as I love my daughter (or, perhaps, because I do), I shudder at the thought of chewing up food, mixing it with a special bile, and regurgitating it into her mouth. I’m glad it’s not the role of the human father; but, if it were the most effective and nutritious way of feeding my children, I’d do it. Although the process might not be so involved, I think that human fathers have just as vital a role in breastfeeding as do these avian fathers. Most people see breastfeeding as something that exists between a mother and her child; but I see it as something that involves the entire family. The breastfeeding father plays a crucial role in the life of their child.
When my wife became pregnant, we agreed to try breastfeeding. The first thing we learned about it is best summed up by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Breastfeeding was the most difficult task that we could imagine undertaking. Several times more difficult than the birth.
Breastfeeding is not so difficult for everyone. We just had the fortune to encounter almost every imaginable problem. Mastitis, plugged ducts, engorgement, thrush—every week it was a new obstacle to overcome. We read books on breastfeeding cover-to-cover, we talked to doctors, lactation consultants, La Leche League members, scoured the internet—we did everything we could. I made midnight trips to drugstores looking for nipple shields (to help with overactive letdown); read up on and bought the most economically effective breast pump (to help with engorgement); I bought a mixed grill of breast pads, ointments, balms, lanolin, soothies, and many more products that required me to mention the condition of my wife’s breasts to the bashful faces of pharmacists all over the city. It was a solid six weeks until breastfeeding was a consistently comfortable process for mother and child.
All along, I had to be the foundation. I had to be the stable one. I wasn’t allowed to breakdown in tears or give up, or reach for one of the ubiquitous canisters of formula lying in various places around the house—the ones that are mailed to you every day just from giving your address to one single maternity store. All it would have taken to make the whole project come crashing down would be a small chink in my armor. One moment of hesitation, and I could negatively affect my wife’s postpartum, tired, and fed-up will to do the best thing for our baby.
Many fathers feel that they have to feed their child with a bottle in order to bond with them. I don’t understand that. My presence and assistance during the initial weeks of breastfeeding brought me closer to mother and child than I ever thought possible.
Despite all the challenges we had at the beginning we couldn’t be happier with breastfeeding. Our daughters rarely catch colds. They haven’t had any ear infections, constipation, or colic and I can’t begin to calculate all the money we’ve saved on formula and bottles. After a few deep breathes, and the first bra that my wife has worn in almost four years that didn’t have little plastic quick-release tabs, we’re ready to face the unknown again! Every baby feeds differently, and who knows how difficult or easy this next one will be, I just know it is all worth it.
(Although Sol does not live in Maui, I saw this article on-line one night and asked him if I could publish it in my breastfeeding issue. Thank you Sol – editor.)
Image Credit: Sol Smith