Friday, May 11, 2012

Putting the Breast to Rest

The process of trying to conceive can be so emotional and overpowering, it is only natural that many of those in the trenches cope with these struggles and their deepest hopes by realizing them in dream-filled sleeps. Many of my friends have told of dreams about yet to be realized children so real and vivid, they simultaneously give them feelings of hope at the possible future and despair and their very real present. During my years of struggle, I only ever had one dream of myself as a mother that I can recall. Some of it was nonsensical like most dreams but it also had one very simple, emotional moment in which I was nursing a baby girl and it felt so incredibly tender and real that it stuck with me.

When I was finally and truly pregnant with my amazing daughter, that dream came back to me and I knew that I wanted to breastfeed her when she was born. I also knew that it isn't always as easy as plopping a baby onto your boob and I wanted to learn more about the nursing process so that I could be as successful as possible. I won't lie, I was insanely intimidated and daunted at the huge task and throughout pregnancy I did my best to soak in information from friends, books and even a class taught by a lactation consultant. I set a goal to breastfeed exclusively for the 1st six months. I also always reminded myself that breastfeeding isn't easy and it isn't life or death. If for any reason it wasn't working for her or me, it was ok to move to something that worked better for us. 

And in the beginning it really wasn't always easy. Thanks to an emergency c-section and some concerning swelling in her head after birth, Eliana and I were apart for the first few hours of her life. I can't even remember the first time I tried to nurse her. But I do remember the days at the hospital of her crying desperately for nourishment without the slightest idea of how to latch onto my breast to get it. It was frustrating and challenging for both of us. Luckily, I had some amazing nurses and one physically helped me figure it out. It would have been awkward but the result negated any weirdness and for the first time ever I successfully fed my daughter. It was incredible. 

I have had a few other bumps in the road since then: engorgement, plugged ducts, difficulty pumping, and a near bout of mastitis that I spent days fighting off. It wasn't always fun or easy and it was definitely never glamorous, but overall, I got lucky and Snow Pea and I fell into a good routine. We reached six months and the introduction of solids faster than I could have dreamed, and while the demand for the breast went down the more food she ate, and her growing awareness of the world was changing the dynamic, I saw no reason to stop just yet. So we continued our nursing relationship and I hoped to make it another six months. 

I was so thrilled when I made it to a year. By then we were down to 3 feedings a day, first thing the morning, after her afternoon nap and right before bed. It had become far less demanding than when we started, but now a year later I felt ready to wean. Snow Pea wasn't a sweet, peaceful baby anymore. She wiggly, distracted and precocious. She had started demanding milk by tugging on my shirt and whining at me during the day, biting my nipples when she got bored or wanted to switch sides. It was frustrating and exhausting. 

So again, I did my research. I talked to friends who had been there and read up and just weeks ago introduced cow's milk into my daughter's diet. She hated it at first. She knew what she wanted and it didn't come in a plastic cup. But it literally only took a week of offering a cup after her afternoon nap before she decided this was good stuff and at 13 months she has officially dropped her daytime feeding. My plan setting out was to wean from this feeding first and then the other two, one at a time, over the course of a few weeks. I was by no means in a rush. Now it seems though that my body has begun deciding for us that time is just about up. 

Earlier this week I nursed Snow Pea after her bath, just as I have for months now and realized that I felt almost completely empty. My poor girl was trying and trying but I had nothing to give her. She was miserable, screaming and crying in hunger and frustration. I had to do what was best for her needs and I gave her a bottle of plain milk that she hungrily sucked down before contentedly passing out. And then I cried.

I thought I was ready. I was the one who decided it was time to wean, that encouraged her to transition away from needing my body to feed her, but now that it is actually happening, it is more emotional than I ever anticipated. My body has nourished hers for nearly 2 years! For 9 months she lived and grew inside my body and for the last 13 my milk has sustained her. Being unable to do for her what I have done her entire life made me feel a little bit heartbroken, like she was growing too fast and didn't need me anymore. But it also made me see that she really is weaning herself even more than I'm weaning her and as hard as it may be, I need to follow her lead and let her have this bit of independence. My child is becoming just that, a child. She is no longer an infant and she is ready to move on from our nursing relationship.

I am not positive how many weeks or days of breastfeeding are left. Will I even know my last nursing session with her when it happens? What I do know is that I am grateful to have been able to breastfeed at all and to have been able to do it for so long. I also know that I don't believe any of the media hype that I am somehow more or less of a mom because of it. I won't get into all that now, especially since I have already written a more at length post on the topic (which you can find here) but I do want to be sure that my words don't get turned into fuel for a supposed "mommy war". All moms that love and do their best for their kids are good moms, period. I have done what was best for my me and daughter so far and now that it is changing, I am looking forward what that means for us in the future. 


Sam said...

That is a great post girl! I didn't breastfeed by choice, but I think it's great if you want to. For some people it is such a great bonding experience and I think that is awesome to have. I know what you mean about the mommy wars, and it sometimes gets out of hand. In my opinion, whatever is right for you is best! Whatever that may be! :)

Crazy Twin Momma said...

My babies weaning was bittersweet. I was happy to get my body back but sad they didn't need me that way any more. My advice, make sure during one of those peaceful nursing moments you get a picture of her sweet face, just for yourself, so you can have that piece of your nursing relationship to look back at once she weans. You never know which day is going to be the last and when it comes you can celebrate a new beginning!

SLESE1014 said...

as my daughter didn't nurse well, I never was able to get that special bonding, but I'm pumping and feel like I'm still giving her something special.

In June I'll be weaning myself off the pump to prepare for treatment again. I do have a stash of milk in the freezer so she'll still be getting breast milk, but it makes me sad to think she's growing up....happy, but sad at the same time!

Jody said...

I loved your mention of your dream. I had one of those while pregnant with my kiddo; it was so incredibly vivid. The experience of nursing your child is like nothing other. Congrats on making it a full year - thats amazing!

Anonymous said...

I struggled for months after having my child to breast feed. We tried a speech therapist, consulted a lactation consultant again and again. I pumped, nursed until my nipples were bleeding and did everything in between that I could. None of my friends had children and I felt defeated and alone. I couldn't give my child the simplest gift that a mother can give. It breaks my heart that I didn't get the chance to continue to nourish my child after birth and to bond. Its a wonderful thing that you had that opportunity and such a strong support system surrounding everything you do as a mother and a woman.

Jaclyn N Lil M said...

I am going through a similar situation, but I have to pump exclusively! My supply is dwindling down, I totally understand where you are coming from. HUGE HUGS!! You are lucky to make it 1 year!! It is only been a little over 7 months for us.