This is a piece written for us by a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter.
Wide, sleepy eyes gazing up at me. Chubby little baby fingers absentmindedly grasping my hand. Her warm body nestling against mine. My heart bursting at the seams with gratitude and affection. Watching her drift soundly off to sleep, content and safe. Warm and loved.
This is how I shall remember nursing my baby. My firstborn. The one I feared I’d never hold in my arms. It was something both ordinary and magical. Something I always took for granted I would do. Something (seemingly) every woman around me was able to do. Then the miscarriages began…
Nothing seemed like a “given” anymore. Life without a living child became a possibility for me. When I became pregnant with E, I took nothing for granted. Maybe I wouldn’t make it past the first six weeks. Past the first trimester. To viability. Maybe she’d be stillborn. Maybe something would go wrong during labor and I’d lose her. You’d think that all I cared about, with those thoughts circling my head daily, was that my baby arrived safely. I thought that should be all I cared about, too, but instead, I wanted it all. I’ve never been more grateful for anything in my life, but once she was here, I wanted to do all the things I had dreamed of in years past. One of the biggest things being to nurse her exclusively for six months, and continue nursing until she wanted to wean. Be that one year or three, that’s what I was going to do. After all…what if she was my only one?
We were lucky in that nursing came easily to us. She latched on right after birth, and never stopped nursing like a champ. I like to remember our nursing relationship as all sunshine and rainbows, but there were plenty of mild annoyances. Like the painful cracked nipples the first few weeks (I swear by EMAB nipple cream!), excess lipase (which made storing milk and preparing bottles for daycare tricky), plugged ducts (dangle feeding!), blebs (who knew??), brief nursing strikes (which came with my tears of frustration), not pumping enough while away at work all day, and of course a few bites here and there while the little one practiced using her new teeth. But overall, this was what I had imagined. I may not have been getting much sleep, but at least I was getting nursing right.
The decision to try for a second baby was easy for me. However, I struggled immensely with putting my nursing relationship with E at risk. Was it fair to her? Would my milk dry up? Would I be able to manage tandem nursing? Would I need fertility meds again and have to make the decision to wean early? Would I get pregnant and have my milk dry up only to lose that pregnancy too? Would I forgive myself if that were the outcome?
I decided that in the long run, E wouldn’t know the difference. The struggle was mine. It was a selfish one. I didn’t want to stop nursing, but maybe she didn’t even care! I had nursed her for a year, which surely was good enough. I told myself this, but hoped desperately that I could keep nursing her until she chose to stop.
When I first became pregnant with New Baby (horrible nickname, I know, but it’s stuck!), E didn’t seem to notice. We continued nursing, and she continued to request it. As the weeks went by, my supply noticeably dropped. It was clear I would be one of the ones who couldn’t nurse through pregnancy. E’s nursing sessions grew shorter. Maybe it was her age and not just the lack of milk, but we dropped down to just a few sessions a day—at naptime, bedtime, and overnights. Sometimes she’d latch on overnight and then decide that was enough. She’d roll over and go to sleep. As I neared the end of the first trimester, it was apparent my milk had completely dried up. She continued to comfort nurse for a week or two. Then, E would latch on, unlatch, then look at me and shake her head “no” while smiling. She continued doing this for a while, never getting any milk. We nursed for the last time when she was 15 months old. She never cried for the breast, and immediately started sleeping through the night. Like magic, she has slept through the night every single night since then. Until just a couple of weeks ago, she’d still sometimes yank at my shirt when tired. I’d ask if she wanted to nurse. Usually she’d say “no,” but if she said “yes,” I’d offer her the breast. She’d come close to latching, but wouldn’t, then she’d flash me a smile and lay back down.
I’m grateful that she’s taken it all so well. As I knew our nursing days were numbered, I made a point to enjoy every moment. Towards the end, I’d hold her just a little longer after she fell asleep. I’d cuddle her closer and look down at her sleepy face, etching those peaceful, private moments into my memory. Still, there were tears. At night after putting her to bed without nursing, I sometimes still feel a pang of nostalgia for those times she needed me just a little bit more than she does now.
I miss it, but like many things, maybe that’s just a part of her babyhood I have to let go. She’s growing up, after all, and as her mother, I need to learn to love every stage with the intensity I did this one, then look ahead to what’s next. Or better yet, look at her now. I will miss my tiny nursling, but every day she grows into something better and brighter. I’ve promised myself to not feel sadness about what’s over, but to revel in the beauty of what she is right now. Because what she is is a miracle to me. A gift I’m not worthy of, but one that I will treasure every single day of my life.
We are sharing stories this week about our triumphs and travails with breastfeeding in honor of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August 2015, coordinated by WABA).*
“This World Breastfeeding Week, WABA calls for concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work. Whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered in claiming her and her baby’s right to breastfeed.”
For more information please visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/.
*Disclaimer: Rainbows & Unicorns does not discriminate against how any parent chooses to feed their child. We honor that families always choose the best thing that works for them, whether that is formula feeding, breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, or a mixture of any of these.