I Am (A Nursing Mama)

I am reposting the blog entry below that I wrote in January 2012 in order to take part in Mothering’s “Blog About Breastfeeding” event celebrating International Breastfeeding Week August 1st-7th.

http://www.mothering.com/community/a/blog-about-breastfeeding-and-win

Fifteen and a half months.  I knew that the end of this journey would be coming soon, but I didn’t decide that yesterday was the day until very early this morning. Though I have been writing this post in my head for several months now, preparing myself, I have been savoring what I thought would be the last few weeks of breastfeeding Erin.  I believe that my experience deserves a thoughtful and respectful homage. I just didn’t think that the account would end with a description of me click-clacking on the keyboard at 4 a.m., furiously scratching my palms between sentences.

I have a brutal case of hives (is there any other kind?) It seems that as certain viral infections leave the body, in certain people, an allergic reaction is triggered.  I have had this reaction a few times since about the age of 17, including twice in the past 6 months. Maybe I’m contracting more obscure viruses since I have a perpetually sniffly one year old. But in any case, benadryl doesn’t help, and I’ve been awake since midnight. This time, I am going to go score myself some steroids.  Then I am going to drive back home and take a long nap.

So starting today, I will not be breastfeeding Erin anymore.  Getting rid of my hives=taking a steroid, and taking a steroid=not a good idea to breastfeed.   I could tough it out like I did last time and not do the steroid thing, but at that point, we were still nursing a handful of times each day and during the night, and at this point, it’s just once a day and part of the bedtime routine.  My supply is basically gone. And I really don’t want to not sleep for the next week. So even though I had planned to nurse for a few more weeks, ending with an overnight trip I am taking for work, this is actually kind of timely.

It’s amazing how babies reach developmental milestones on their own. I am actually reading a book now that drives home this point; you can’t make a baby start crawling or walking or talking earlier than nature has intended for him or her. And by the same token, you can’t really take credit if your kid does these things “early.”  Anyway, it has been kind of nervewracking for me as time has gone on, wondering whether and at what point I would make the decision to wean Erin and if it would be before she was ready. But I have also hoped that she would show signs of readiness before or at about the same time I began to feel ready. Thankfully, she has.

Erin has been nursing to sleep at night her whole life (and for naps until fairly recently). Many will warn against this (“they will never learn to fall asleep on their own!!!”), but I have always wondered how such a natural thing could be wrong. How is using a pacifier at night any different? No matter what, it seems that you need to wean your kid from one thing or another at some point, and it’s always going to be a little uncomfortable. When Erin started going to daycare at 10 months and I eventually stopped nursing/pumping during the day at around 13 months, she learned how to go down for a nap without it. And lately, nursing hasn’t really been putting her to sleep. She’ll either be awake when I put her down or wake up a minute later and play for a while before falling asleep. Not only that, in just the last week, she seems to have attached herself to one Puppy the stuffed dog.  She has been carrying him around, hugging and kissing him, and holding him while we read books and as she falls asleep for naps. And just yesterday, she wanted to hold him while we were nursing. It was a bit awkward, and at one point, she dropped him on the floor. I thought she would just continue to nurse, but instead, she sat up and pointed to him. So I asked her, “Do you want to get Puppy and go night-night?” and she did, happily.  So I am feeling great about the fact that we have our “transitional object,” something she feels comfortable with at bedtime, just in time.

The nursing journey has had its ups and downs, as I haven’t hesitated to share on my blog or with anyone who seems even slightly interested.  The first 7 weeks were a little rough. My nipples burned and stung like crazy, I had a couple of plugged ducts, and it took time to get to know my body and synch up with Erin. I often forget about those first weeks when I would sleep 30 minutes at a time, as nursing + breastmilk supplementation took 90 minutes and we had to feed her every two hours. Then, at the 7 week mark, things started to smooth out. Erin was gaining weight like a champ and I was no longer in pain. Everyone said that it would eventually get easier, and I’m so glad that I stuck with it, because it really did!

That is not to say that it wasn’t a tricky lifestyle to maintain. It required a lot of time management and made me downright exhausted for the better part of 14 months. Erin nursed every 2-2.5 hours for a good 8-9 months. She was a little slow in taking to solid foods and was hungry overnight for her first year.  I nursed her in the car, in airplanes, in public restrooms, and in front of many friends and relatives. I had no shame. I rotated the same few outfits for myself every week until about the 10 month mark, wearing my trusty nursing tank tops underneath. And don’t get me started on the leaking!  In the beginning, I was wearing two and three nursing pads on each side every few hours!  And I leaked at least a little bit daily for almost a year. I laugh when I remember back to when Erin started to become more alert, around 5 months, and would want to pull off and look around when she heard the slightest sound. I would be spraying her and everything around her!  And because she nursed to sleep, that meant I put her to bed 99% of the time and was up with her in the middle of the night every time, every night. And though I only pumped a couple times a day for 3 months once I started working again, I hated it!  Ugh, more work with much less reward!

One of the most difficult things to deal with for me was judgment and pressure from others and society, whether real or imagined. I found that I was uber-sensitive and pretty defensive. It seemed like people were constantly asking me when I was going to stop breastfeeding. I realize that most of the time, they were just making conversation, but I never knew how to answer.  I had always planned to just let Erin lead the way, so who was I to say when we would stop?  This was the most striking mom lesson I had in judging something before you experience it. I had so many misconceptions and beliefs about nursing before I became a mom, only to become a mom, educate myself, and find myself feeling judged in the same way I had judged others.  Bottom line: breastfeeding is personal and individual, and there is an enormous range of “normal” in terms of every aspect of it. Each mom should feel comfortable going with her instincts and not compare herself to others or be influenced by others’ beliefs and opinions. Easier said than done.

While nursing did present some challenges, the wonderfulness far outweighed them. Where do I even start?

*Health and nutrition- there is no food on the planet healthier for Erin than my breastmilk, and it’s free! The milk changes over time to meet her exact nutritional needs, which I have always found fascinating. Plus, she gets all sorts of great antibodies from it.

*The ultimate comfort- When Erin was little, not once did nursing not stop her from crying. To be able to provide that for her has been so lovely and rewarding.

*Calories for mom- it’s really true. I burned so many calories nursing and ate so much for so long. If I hadn’t pigged out all of the time, I probably would have lost my babyweight quickly.

*Built-in rest- Nursing made me sit down and stay still. I was able to be present and in the moment. Forced peacefulness, if you will.

*Having cleavage for the first time in my life- yup, I said it!  Hey, I’ll take what I can get while it lasts.

*Connection and support- Going to breastfeeding support groups, meeting friends, and learning a whole bunch of cool stuff from lactation consultants was an awesome experience!

*That Bond- Erin and I worked together to figure this out, and we have developed a bond that can’t be put into words.  She won’t remember nursing when she’s a defiant 3 year old or a moody teenager, but I know that we shared this experience and it made a difference.

Back now from the doctor, having taken my first dose of the steroid, I definitely feel some sadness, knowing that we’re done. I might even have a good cry at some point. When I think about who I am, among other things, I think “nursing mother.”  I have gained confidence, knowing that I have fed and comforted my baby with my own body. I have felt powerful and empowered. And I finish this leg of my breastfeeding journey feeling full of pride.  I do have to let go now, and it will be wonderful to continue to watch Erin grow, but those memories will hold the most special of places in my heart, and being a nursing mom will forever remain a part of my identity.

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