I was not breastfed. Since I was a child, my mother told me about the story of my birth — one rife with complications and dread. She was 40 years old, giving birth on a tiny tropical island with a midwife who sealed her fate and mine with this sentence: "You cannot breastfeed because you have inverted nipples."
I was haunted throughout my childhood, teenage years and college days by my mother's ever-present tale of chestial misfortune. It wasn't as if she lacked in avenues to embarrass me. She did have her way of deflating my hopes in the department store dressing room when I could finally fit a "small" and she corrected me by saying, "'S' means 'stretch'." But it was this two-pronged physical malady that loomed over me. During my own two pregnancies, I had to hear once again and again about my mom's nipples. She was so cavalier, as if she was confessing that her hair wasn't naturally a shade of "eggplant" or that she had used a can of cream of mushroom soup to make her baked chicken so moist.
My mother quit breastfeeding because one person diagnosed her without giving her more information: inverted nipples can be drawn out so a woman can breastfeed. She did not breastfeed me because it was difficult and no one gave her any advice on what to do about it. No one told her that it could be challenging, but not impossible. It became her white flag and soon her calling card — The Woman With Inverted Nipples.
It was this tale of woe that in part galvanized my own need to breastfeed. It was an act physically independent of my mother. Breastfeeding was what I was doing for my own children and she didn't have a say in it. I knew what my mother had endured and I was determined to succeed where she had not.
She did encourage breastfeeding in public and never told me to cover up when visitors came over. However, she did bring up own breastfeeding story during my lactation consultant's home visit. While my LC was praising me for positioning my baby correctly, my mother was in the background, surveying us like we were some painting in the Louvre. Then as my LC was leaving, she had to chime in with her favorite story! Her inverted nipples! Volumes 1 and 2!
Maybe if I had not had heard my mother's experience, I would not have been so determined to breastfeed despite challenges. Maybe I would have given up when my low supply issue arose or when it just hurt so much in the beginning. Maybe I should thank her and give her a hug when she visits again. Our shirts on, of course. Nipples out of sight, though still in mind.