Thursday, September 29, 2011
I was a breastfeeding mother. And in the blink of an eye, I’m not anymore.
It’s weird to think that it’s over.
Nora and I have come to the end of our breastfeeding journey. It was 1 year, 2 weeks, and 1 day, and I breastfed her at least once every single day. I have never been apart from her for more than 24 hours. I was supposed to be, but the flight got cancelled, and the way things have worked out since then—I just haven’t been away from her to ever miss an entire day.
I didn’t know how it would end until we were right there at the finish line. On Monday night, as I prepared to nurse Nora before bed, I realized that I would be away from her for bedtime on Tuesday because of a work function. And since she started refusing bottles completely at the beginning of September, there was no way to offer her the bedtime feeding like we would have (by bottle) in the past. I’m big on not taking steps back after making steps forward—so I knew that if she successfully went to bed without nursing on Tuesday, I probably wouldn’t bother to pick it back up on Wednesday. I was suddenly faced with the very real possibility that this nursing session, the one I was minutes away from, was going to be our last.
Honestly, I’m OK with it. I didn’t cry, but I sat there and tried to take in as many of the details of it as possible. Her little lips positioned in the latch that I’m convinced has pretty much always been perfect. The way she sleepily, drunkly closes her eyes as she sucks. We are long past the days of her snuggling into me to nurse (she just lies there in my lap, with her head turned to the side), so I actually found myself reminiscing to earlier days, when nursing was more than just 5-10 minutes at bedtime.
I always planned to breastfeed. Truth be told, I think my mom would’ve killed me if I didn’t at least attempt it, but lucky for her (and me), I already had my own reasons for wanting to do so. Still, I went into it with realistic expectations; I knew that it did not work out for everyone, so every time someone asked me if I planned to breastfeed, I told them, “Yes, I’m going to try.” From the very beginning, I had lofty goals; I really wanted to make it at least six months, if not a full year. Aside from the bonding and health benefits, I was attracted to the money savings. My real goal was to never have to buy formula, as I’m too cheap to do so if I could feed her for free.
I forced myself to break the big goal into little pieces. Make it through the time in the hospital. Make it through the first week. Make it through the first three weeks (I had friends who swore that if you could make it that far, you’d be golden). Make it through maternity leave. Make it to six months. Make it to nine months. Make it to her first birthday. When Nora was born, they didn’t give her a lot of time up on my belly/chest. I regret not asking why or insisting that they leave her there longer, but it all happened so fast and I was so new to the whole experience that I went with the flow. They whisked her over to the baby bed, and seemed to keep her there forever. They never expressed concern at the time, but I found out later that her breathing was faster than they liked, so maybe that was the reason. But once I was stitched up and cleaned up, they swaddled up Nora and brought her over to me to nurse. I was prepared for this part—I had even come to the hospital wearing a nursing bra. Nora’s hungry little mouth opened and the nurse helped me get her latched on for those precious first few minutes.
An hour or two later, I was in the darkness of the room where I would be staying. Because the hospital was so busy, I was actually in there with another mother and baby (it was temporary)—a mother and baby who were already sleeping. As I got settled and the nurse left me—just me and my baby on one side of the curtain, while the second mother slept with her baby on the other—Nora suddenly started to scream. I panicked a little, not wanting to disturb our roommates. I figured she was hungry, so I did my best to get her latched on myself.
As it turns out, I did it completely wrong, because it hurt like hell, and my poor boobs took days to heal from that initial mistake. When we were discharged a few days later, Nora suddenly decided she didn’t want to nurse anymore. It ended up that she was hungry and frustrated that my milk had not come in yet. Lucky for me, my milk came in full force that very same night, but I still could not convince Nora that nursing was worth her time and effort. It was a hell of a night, with my poor, crying baby starving, and me bawling because I thought she was rejecting me (hormones, y’all). The next day, with a trip to the pediatrician to meet with a nurse/lactation consultant, we were back on track.
We’ve never looked back.
I had a stellar breastfeeding experience. For the first 4-6 months, I had an oversupply which allowed me to not only completely satisfy Nora, but to build up quite the impressive freezer stash. I eventually worked my way up to somewhere around 400 oz. Our freezer was FULL of breast milk. Once I healed from that first solo feeding in the dark, I never had any pain. I never suffered from mastitis. I believe I had a clogged duct once, but it cleared up within a day. I have a supportive workplace that provided a private “mommy suite” office where I could pump every day—the first month back, I pumped three times a day, but ultimately found that I could still match her intake (or even have excess) by dropping to two sessions. Nora had no problems switching back and forth between the breast and bottle. I used to look at her growth and think to myself, “MY BODY is doing that”—it’s an incredible feeling of accomplishment. I attribute the loss of all of my baby weight (and then some) to breastfeeding. I was able to wear my regular jeans again when Nora was just 11 days old. For the first time in my life, I found that I could eat whatever the hell I wanted without worrying, and THAT.IS.GLORIOUS.
I dropped pumping in August. Back in the day, I didn’t mind pumping. Then, over the weeks and months, I slowly grew to hate it. Breastfeeding Nora was not a chore, but pumping sure was. Once we were in the “home stretch” approaching her first birthday, I knew I still had enough of a freezer stash to get me through, so I dropped one session, and then the other.
Then, a few days after Nora’s birthday, I dropped the morning nursing session, but we were hanging on to the bedtime one. I knew I would stop, and that it would probably be soon, but I just wasn’t sure HOW I would stop. It was admittedly hard for me to pull the trigger.
And then the trigger was kinda-sorta pulled for me on Monday. It made sense to stop. So we did.
There are advantages to being done. I don’t HAVE to feed her anymore. Michael (or anyone else) is just as capable of doing it as I am, because she drinks cow’s milk from a sippy cup, and finger foods from the tray of her high chair. I haven’t been drunk, or even experienced a strong buzz, in nearly two years. Pumping was so much work, and each drop of milk so precious, that I could not imagine “pumping and dumping.” I never wanted to. And now I could go and drink a whole bottle of wine without concern. Not that I would (often). Nora initiates early-morning wake-up calls, you know. My body is “mine” again for the first time since January 2010. No one is counting on it to grow a human being, or feed one.
Breastfeeding was wonderful. I plan to do it again some day. I will look back on it fondly. I will remember Nora’s tiny little body curled into mine. I’ll remember the feeling of her sleeping up against me in bed when we would doze off during middle of the night (side-lying) feedings. I’ll remember the months when she became more alert, and wanted to unlatch every five seconds to look at the world around her. I'll remember the way she used to grab onto one of her feet and do her "cheerleader stretches" while eating. I’ll remember her funny “acrobatic nursing” as she approached toddlerhood, when she would try to put herself in crazy positions while continuing to nurse. I will remember.
It’s sad that it’s over, but mostly I’m just happy. Lucky. Grateful. Proud.
And in need of a good push-up bra.