Illustration by Louisa Bergman

Breastfeeding is freaky. Not the sucking bit. You're reading The Stranger, so odds are you've had a titty sucked at some point in your life. No, it's because when my baby attached to my breast, there was an incredible chemical cascade that ran through my entire body like lightning. Imagine the most electric thing a partner has ever done to you, then multiply it by 10. I could feel my brain rewiring, creating pathways that would permanently connect me to my child. (And yeah, I kind of got off on it. Don't judge.)

I want to tell you the story of the first time I breastfed my daughter. But in order to tell you that story, I'll have to step back a bit...

I met my wife two and a half years and 2,700 miles ago in Virginia. We raced from "let's keep this casual" to "let's get married, have kids, and move to Seattle" in about 10 months. At almost 40, we knew we couldn't wait too long (also, clearly, waiting wasn't our strong suit), so within a year of landing in Seattle, my wife was pregnant with our first child.

Once you're pregnant (or, in our case, well before), you start obsessing over all of the ways you can fail at being a parent. Take breastfeeding—everyone says "breast is best." Figuring four boobs were better than two, and with me being unable to contribute to the physical burden of having our child by carrying her, I started looking for ways I could more actively help with breastfeeding. We eventually discovered the Newman-Goldfarb Protocol, which allowed non-gestational parents to produce milk. One obstacle down!

Oh, also: I'm transgender.

There's a weird but surprisingly common notion that trans women's breasts aren't "real." When I told people about my plan to breastfeed, the most common reaction from both laypeople and medical professionals was "Wait, you can do that?" But had I not mammary glands? If you filled me with prolactin, would I not leak? We started the protocol in earnest (under the guidance of a queer lactation consultant, because Seattle), and a week before my partner was due, I was happily pumping more than an ounce at a time.

I used to joke that my transition was a success when my dysphoria was replaced with the standard-issue body hate that comes with being a woman. We're constantly told that our primary value as women is decorative, that failing to be attractive is the worst crime we can commit. But bodies aren't just decorative—they're functional, and we can seek validation in that function, too.

Lactating changed how I saw my body. Having breasts was great, but using them to feed another human being? That was magic. Specifically, it was mom magic. I might have been my daughter's sperm donor, but breastfeeding was how I knew I was going to be a mom. It validated my womanhood as much as any surgery ever could.

So... cut to the happy ending. My wife gives birth, we come home from the hospital, we trade off breastfeeding duties, everybody gets enough sleep, and the three of us live happily ever after. Ha.

Here's what actually happened. I got sick a week before the due date and had to discontinue the protocol. The baby didn't come on schedule, so we induced two days later, followed by a grueling three-day labor that ended in an emergency C-section. By that point, I'd gone from producing an ounce of milk to only a cc or two, and my partner's milk was going to take days to come in. The lactation consultants in the hospital were uninformed and singularly uncooperative. We had to start supplementing with formula. A few weeks later, we both gave up on breastfeeding and switched to formula completely.

So if our plan was an abject failure, why am I gushing about breastfeeding? Because when they pulled my daughter free of my wife's body, I was the first one to hold her. I took her back to the hospital room and did what any mom would do—I put her on my bare chest and let her find my breast. And that tiny, perfect creature latched onto me, and got what sustenance my body could provide, and was content.

It was in that moment—sitting in the hospital room, nursing my newborn daughter for the first time—that I became a mom. That moment created an unbreakable bond that will last us the rest of our lives. And yeah, that it took so little to do that was, in retrospect, freaky as hell. The failure of the breastfeeding plan my wife and I had so carefully constructed was disappointing. But I'll never say for even a moment that I regret any of it. recommended