The Breast Cruise Ever

You probably think that yelling, “Come in!” to my father and mother while I was attached to a double-breast pump and, therefore, naked from the waist up wasn’t my brightest moment.

(Do I even need to put a disclaimer here?  I started this post by including “father, breast, and naked” in the very first sentence.  Let your conscience be your guide.)

Even at the time, I thought, “Someday, I’ll care about this.  Someday, I’ll be embarrassed.”  But it’s four years later, and that day hasn’t come, so I’ve arrived at the conclusion that my modesty is irretrievably lost.

Now, I don’t go walking around naked or anything.  (Anymore.)  And I’m very careful around my older son, because I don’t want to be the cause of ongoing nighttime screaming.  There are some things you can never erase from your brain, and I’m not here to add to the horrors of preadolescence.

But we were on a cruise.  Our first with five kids.

See, way back before I dreamed that something as wonderful as having twins would ever happen to me, I booked a cruise vacation for my family of five.  Greg + me + 3 kiddos.  It would be exhausting, but we could manage.

Then, before we went, we had our 4th child.  And he came with a twin brother.  And that’s a very, very long story.  But one of my many thoughts was… “My vacation!  Oh my heck!  What are we going to do?!”  Which was followed only seconds later by “We’re going anyway.  Whatever it takes.  Or how my heart breaks.  I will be right there waiting for you.”

No, that’s not how it went.  But I can’t seem to type “whatever it takes” without typing “Or how my heart breaks.”  This is your legacy, Bryan Adams.  I hope you’re happy.

So I thought, “We’re going anyway.  Whatever it takes.  I WILL go on this vacation.”

And so we did.

And it was the most wonderful, awesome experience.

Probably.

I don’t really remember.

I want to remember.

I have pictures.But I was in the haze of new babies and other small children and what I really, actually, mostly remember was…

my breasts.

They were enormous.

They were magnificent.

They were their own, twin-feeding continent.

Let me not mislead you.  Breastfeeding twins while I had three other children was no picnic.  And it certainly wasn’t the magical experience about which I’d dreamed.  It was, in all fairness, hard, excruciating, exhausting and wonderful.

To maintain my milk supply, I fed one baby.  I fed the second baby.  Sometimes I fed both babies at the same time.  I have photographic evidence, but that’s emphasis more on the “graphic” than on the “photo,” so I’ll spare you.  You’re welcome.

Transitioning two babies from the neonatal intensive care unit feedings of breastmilk-by-bottle to breastmilk-by-breast was like trying to learn to read while blind… it works, there are ways, it’s worth doing, but, geez!  Easy?  My big Aunt Fanny.

Each babe used a different combination of breast, breast shields, and transition bottles.  And by the time they were 4 months old and we were cruising, we still hadn’t completed the transition.

As soon as I was done feeding two babies, I pumped.  Around the clock.  Twenty-four hours a day.  I fed a baby.  I fed a baby.  I pumped.  I slept for 20 minutes.  I repeated.

I fed a baby.  I fed a baby.  I rubbed lanolin on my nipples, attached myself to a breast pump and milked myself like a cow.

FYI, lanolin is very sexy.  Muy sexy.  Mucho sexy.  It’s a yellow, waxy secretion that comes from the glands of sheep.  Yep; it’s a sheep secretion.  Which is gross unless you’ve ever had a chafed, cracked breast that’s secreting both blood and milk.  Then it’s like the kiss of an angel.  If they made vats of lanonlin, I would’ve soaked in it.  If they made it into bricks, I would’ve buttered my toast with it.  If it got down on one knee with a dozen roses and a bottle of good wine, I would’ve answered, “Yes!  I thought you’d never ask!  Yes, yes, yes!”

And then came the pumping.  If you’ve never seen what a nipple can do inside one of those machines, you are Missing. Out.  I am here to tell you, professional contortionists have nothing on my nipples.

My mom and dad are not missing out.

The have seen my contortionist nipples.

Now, please understand.  I knew my father was outside the door when I yelled, “Come in!”  And my father did not know I was a) undressed or b) milking myself.

Also, when I was a child, we lived with the Dani tribe in Papua, Indonesia, way up in the highlands where women wear grass skirts and men wear gourds.  And the women sit on the ground and hand their elongated, sagging breasts to children sitting on the ground next to them… that is how far these things can stretch!… and feed them.  And it is beautiful.  Genuinely, truly, stunningly beautiful.  Breasts are amazing.

So my dad, while surprised, was not stunned or terrified by my amazing breasts.  He just asked if I wanted him to leave.  (My mother, who’d seen the show thousands of times, knew better.)

We were on a cruise ship.  I had five children.  I was nursing or milking myself every 20 minutes.  The one grown-up dinner we attended onboard resulted in my breasts swelling to such enormous size that they literally swallowed my necklace whole.

I wish I had an after picture, but my sleep-deprived brain didn’t consider that I’d someday want to prove the absurdity that soon followed.  At least the gondolier in the bottom lefthand side of the photo got an eyeful.  By the end of the night, I had to tug the necklace out from between the constricting ladies.  It thanked me for saving its life.

So when my dad asked if I wanted him to leave, I said, “You have a choice to make.  If you want to see me at all on this cruise, I will have either a child or a machine attached to me.  I don’t care if you don’t care, but this is as quality as our time is going to get.”

He stayed.  We talked.  About what?  I have no idea.  But I remember that my parents stayed.

Why do I tell you this story at this particular moment?  Because we’re leaving on vacation TOMORROW!

And I’m SO EXCITED!

And I’m PACKING!  (Well, technically, I’m avoiding packing by writing to you, but let’s ignore that little detail, shall we?  And thank you.)

What’s so exciting about packing?  The fact that I just looked at my list from 2007 and realized ALL THE STUFF I DO NOT HAVE TO PACK.

Things I am NOT bringing on this trip include:

  • Breast Pump, Cords, Tubes, and Storage Bags
  • Breast Shields (“Shields up, locked and ready, Captain!  Full speed ahead.”)
  • Sheep Gland Secretions
  • Transition Bottles, Liners, Washing Supplies, Nipples
  • 240 Diapers and All The Accompanying Goo, Pads, Wipes and HazMat Suits

YIPPEE!

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
11 comments
  1. I haven’t laughed that hard in too long. I couldn’t tell my husband what I was laughing about, because I was laughing too hard. Thank you. That was hilarious (although, I’m sure not for you – at the time, anyway).

  2. I hope you guys have an amazing trip and that you remember much more this time around. I used a breast pump with both my girls to boost supply (so I know what you’re talking about), but luckily not generally in front of people. And I think the song quote is actually Richard Marx. Ah, the legacy of the 80’s.

    1. That’s what I was thinking when I read the above, Trina (about the song being by Richard Marx), but before I made a comment about that on the blog I decided to google it and what do you know… Bryan Adams actually sang it too! (such a wannabe…) I guess I’ll be using the excuse that here in Europe, Richard’s version is really the only one we know, but if you want you can totally come aboard with us and share our excuse! 😉

  3. I’d like to state two things for the record.

    1. I was actually on that cruise too, despite the lack of photographic evidence, and witnessed the amazing nipple contortions firsthand from my front row seat in your adjoining cabin.

    2. That was my necklace your boobs swollowed. A sharing time is, in fact, a happy time!

    1. I distinctly remember Mims being with us on the cruse. I have NO memory of the events to which Beth refers.

  4. You are a SUPERSTAR MOM! OMGosh – you are amazing to commit that much to breast feeding, don’t get me wrong, I am all for it and did it – even had two home births – but for twins and the extent you went to in order to make it possible. KUDOS MAMA!

    Enjoy your trip – I KNOW you will 🙂

  5. I think I am breaking out in a sweat remembering what it was like to nurse the twins. What an amazing feat…that not many will truly understand. I felt like an exhausted super hero all the time. Amazing. I wonder if I could do it again, now that I know what it is like? My parents generously took our family on a cruise with our infants…I don’t even think I knew I was on a cruise boat! Ha. I think I need a do-over…now that the kids are big(ger!)

  6. Love it. Just love it. Ashamed of my entry now though… If only I could write like you. Or had thought of a better subject than my whining about how unfair we were treated at US customs… 😉

    1. Ps: if you want I could share my extensive, exhausting & generally embarassing experiences with all of my different breastpumps (both manual and electric), breastpads, milk-freezing containers, boob covers, nursing clothing, nipple pads and shields (and all the other nursing accessories I’m forgetting to mention right now) with you at some point… Now doesn’t that sound like a collection of stories you’d like to hear? 😉 (actually I’m quite positive that YOU’d love to hear all about it, just not sure about the rest of the ‘audience’ over here, hehehe.

  7. Beth, a post after my own heart! Forget about the guest post about adoption, I want to use this one! I CAN. NOT. believe you toted all those accessories that come with transition-nursing pretermers to your cruise. AND then pumping and nursing around the clock. It’s a wonder you didn’t get mastitis, but maybe you did and left that part out. I’m glad your Dad is comfy with you, I’m glad you got to see the beautiful ladies nursing their kids sitting next to them while you were a little kid. I feel like I’ve seen the necklace swallowed by boobs pic. On one of your scrapbooking nights perhaps. I think Adina has the evidence. Again: beautiful. Thanks for posting.

    1. Laura, use away! I’m sorry – I forgot about the adoption guest post!

      As for mastitis, I didn’t get it on the cruise. But I’ve met mastitis and I didn’t think he was a very courteous guest. I expelled him as soon as possible. 😉

      Also – I haven’t forgotten your other question about Medical Teams International and emphasis on breastfeeding. Yes! They DO strongly support breastfeeding, because it’s a sustainable, economic, and healthy way to feed kids. You should see the manuals and manuals in numerous languages they have on the topic and the ways they get community-level health workers and volunteers educated on supporting (AND FEEDING, so they HAVE milk) nursing mothers.

      Beth

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