When I was a little girl, my mom had a phrase for the end of anything positive or fun or even just good in nature: “Well, it’s back to being a pumpkin again!” I know before I became a mom – back when a whole lot of well-meaning (I think?) and more experienced women were quick to tell me how much breastfeeding sucked – I never saw myself using that phrase to describe weaning my child. But wean he did, Monday night. In total, I was a nursing mom (for the first time in my life) for 12 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days.
And to think, I expected to just barely eek out three months of breastfeeding.
(Now, obviously if hearing about my boobies bothers you, or if you think nursing is “OMGsogrossewwww,” then you are probably a 12 year old who has stumbled onto my blog somehow, or you are an adult who cannot be reasoned with. It’s nursing. It requires boobs. This is not a revelation, folks. And also, if you’re asking why I nursed to a year when I “could’ve just quit and gone to formula any time,” you are correct, but you should look up the benefits of breastfeeding, not the least of which include the out-of-this-world calorie burn. Not all my motivations were noble and selfless.)
I know not everyone goes into motherhood with the plan or expectation to breastfeed (though, I’ll be honest – I wish they did). And certainly, a lot of women go into motherhood with every expectation to at least give it their best try, and then extenuating circumstances thwart their every effort (premature babies needing very specific nutrition, injury or complications for the mother during childbirth, babies with breathing complications, infections, babies they adopted so nursing is not an option at all, etc.) There’s no shortage of challenges that women face in trying to nurse a newborn that I realize I could never understand or identify with, and I respect that. It’s one of the reasons why I am so thankful for what a relatively easy time I’ve had with it.
In the beginning, Russ was a natural when it came to nursing. I sort of took my cues from him and the awesome lactation consultants at Greenville Memorial, who were complete GODSENDS. Add to that team my supportive husband, my mom, some great friends, and Mary, the e-mail lactation consultant that Medela.com keeps on staff (who answered my questions so quickly and remembered me from previous emails). One of the best starts we had, I think, was the fact that I was able to nurse Russ just 15 or 20 minutes after his birth. He took right to it, and even though nothing about it felt “natural” at that point, I had faith that it would get better. Had the delivery itself not been so easy and low-drama, I don’t know if we would have had that pivotal start that we did (though I think we probably would have been okay).
Over the first weeks and months of nursing Russ, I realized that my stubbornness was finally going to pay off. Yes, I had blistered nips. No, there was never any bleeding. There might have been some cracking, but I slathered on some lanolin cream and passed out, which was pretty much what the entire first 2-3 weeks of having a newborn was like. Well, actually…
The first few weeks of nursing motherhood goes like this, with some changes from person to person, and usually with this exact sequence happening between the hours of 2 and 5 am.
- Wake up
- Nurse baby
- Other side leaks through your tank top.
- Realize your station-wagon-size maxi pad has also sprung a leak, for approximately the 19th time this week.
- Realize your baby hasn’t even gotten to the second side. Nurse while sitting in puddle.
- Hand baby off to dad (if you’re lucky) while you change the sheets, clean up, change station wagon size maxi pad, and all clothing you were wearing because even the top is unusable, as baby spit up on it. Again.
- Lay down to go back to sleep.
- Achieve sleep for exactly 4 minutes and 51 seconds.
- Hear loud noise.
- Realize baby has “sharted” out diaper, up his back, and that is is now in his hair.
- Bathe, dry, diaper, and dress baby.
- Baby is still crying.
- Realize it’s time to nurse baby again.
I had a short bout of mastitis while we were out of town, and I spent several hours making calls back and forth to get a prescription called into a pharmacy near where we were. And of course there were growth spurts, which SUCKED SO BAD. I hated growth spurts. He’d want to nurse seemingly constantly. Seriously, you’d think that nursing every 1.5-2 hours during a growth spurt wouldn’t be that bad, and you’d be wrong – you’re nursing the baby for 30 minutes, then have enough time to get one task done and maybe shove some food in your own mouth before it’s time to plug ’em in again. And you’re doing it all on four hours of sleep. But thankfully, those growth spurts didn’t usually last more than a day or two at a time, and as of this week, I can’t remember the last one. It’s definitely been at least 6 months now, I know that much.
Just as I was getting to where nursing was easier for me, people started pestering me about giving Russ rice cereal or starting him on baby food. Of course, Russ’s doctor told us we didn’t even need to worry about that until 4-6 months if we didn’t want to – but who needs a doctor when you have all those well-meaning family members, friends, and people in the grocery store whom you didn’t actually even ask? (That’s a joke)
Once we did introduce solids and stuff like that, it was a whole new process of adjusting, backing up, regrouping, and adjusting some more – breastfeeding on its own, it turns out, is pretty basic. Breastfeeding with the addition of other food sources can be a little trickier than you might expect.
Over the past 3 or 4 months, Russ’s feedings had dropped from about four per day down to one lone pre-bedtime feeding in these last few weeks. Was he getting much milk? No, probably not. He was probably still in it mostly for the comfort and the routine. Monday I realized that we were over two weeks past the deadline I’d (somewhat arbitrarily) set for myself, and that Russ meant cows’ milk when he said “Mik,” and that some nights it seemed like I had to keep him awake for him to nurse (as opposed to him needing to nurse in order to sleep well). Then I felt that nervous anxiety. I knew it was time. And I’m one of those people that, when I realize it’s “time” to just bite the bullet and get something over with, it has to happen that day.
Ask my mom about the time I wanted to get my ears pierced when I was 7 or 8 years old – she could not get me to the dinky Conway Walmart fast enough, I was so terrified. What? Compulsion is a great way to get things done, darn it.
So I sat down Monday night and nursed Russ for the last time. Like, ever. And the finality of it wasn’t lost on me, because finality never is. I could picture myself, one day not long enough away, when he is going to be 30 and probably married, maybe with a family of his own, and how I can’t ever rewind the time. There’s something special about every stage our children go through, but something different about the stages in which we as mothers get to actively participate. But pregnancy – the formation of this perfect little being themselves – and nursing seem to stand out as those stages when we participate the most. And that stage was ending, for me and Russ, for good.
And I cried. He looked up at me with those amazing little blue eyes, searching my teary face, and then giggling at what my friend Jessica calls my “ugly cry” face (it’s beyond hideous). So I cried some more. Which is why you can’t see my face in that picture above.
I know a lot of people have nothing to do about nursing except to bitch about it, and that’s fine. I know I had it a lot easier than a lot of people. And it’s so much easier to wear rose tinted glasses when you’re not wading through waist-deep s***. I get that, too.
I’m not an especially special person, I’m not exceptionally smart or pretty, and I don’t have a fabulous degree from an Ivy League school. I’ve never served in the military, I’m pretty sure my last boss hated my guts, and I have extremely dedicated cellulite in odd places. I write a lot of things that will never be published (thank GOD), I was a 3.4 (okay…3.27) GPA in college, I didn’t marry the first person I ever loved, and I’m bad at ball sports. A lot of things may be extremely mediocre about me, but dammit, I’m good at nursing a baby.
And I’m proud of that. And honestly? I hope to do it again in the future.