Breastfeeding is personal. It is controversial. It is healthy. It can hurt. It comes easy for some. It is impossible for others. It is beautiful and healthy and hard. I hope I can handle this subject with grace and reality. I realize that not all women are able to have the special relationship that comes with nursing and because of that, I count it as a gift that I have nursed all four of my babies. The journey of breastfeeding each child has been an honor.
Understandably, I entered motherhood with the full conviction that breast is best. It is so healthy; research and history stand behind it. Some of the sweetest moments have come from those late nights when only a mother and her child can connect, locking eyes and sharing in something that is both unique to the individual pair and yet has been shared by mother and child for centuries. I entered motherhood with the expectation that I would nurse well past the first birthday. I would give my child the best nutrients, strengthen their immune system so that they would never deal with sickness and rear the smartest, healthiest, nicest children…and then I became a mom.
It Takes Two
My breastfeeding journey is not my own. It takes two to tango. Although I entered motherhood with certain expectations, I didn’t consider bringing along a real human being with me. I was nursing an ideal in my mind, not a real baby. Real babies have to learn to nurse. Real babies sometimes go to the NICU. Real babies have nursing strikes. Real babies have tongue-ties, and ear infections, and jaundice, and they teeth. Sometimes babies wean themselves. Sometimes moms have to take anti-depression medicine so that they can care for themselves and their baby and need to stop nursing. Sometimes moms get pregnant and the hormone change makes their nursing infant turn up their nose to breast milk. It is not a solo trek.
Different Breastfeeding Journeys with Different Children
I went on four different journeys. One with my social, born-for-the-stage Trace. He nursed for 2.5 years. It started off rocky, but we climbed the mountains of mastitis and food allergies and survived. He nursed through my next pregnancy and tandem nursed with his brother.
I took the second trip with Hastings, our more reserved, but crazy-when-you-get-to-know-him son. Our 9 lbs 12 oz (birth weight) baby was a pro from the start. We had some ups and downs with food allergies. I had to cut out dairy, eggs, and gluten to nurse him without upsetting his stomach. I remember one day he just stopped nursing. Turns out that my six month old baby didn’t like the hormone change I was experiencing as my body began to grow his little sister.
He stopped cold turkey. I grieved the loss of our abrupt journey’s end like Graham from the Holiday. I wept. And I wept and I wept. I googled the probability of children being healthy, smart and active if they weren’t breastfed until 18 months. I was going a little crazy with something that was not in my hands. I needed to grieve that relationship and that expectation but I needed to move on. This wasn’t completely about me like I had thought. My six month old son made a choice. I had to accept that.
Our beautiful daughter was born. She and I had a sweet nursing relationship until I looked up one day and realized that I was not ok. I was depressed. That is another post for another time. I had to wrestle with continuing to breastfeed or try letting my hormones regulate. I ultimately cut that relationship short at 11 months because I needed mental stability. I am currently nursing our six month old. My goal was six months and here we are. I have no clue when Margaret and I will end our excursion, but I am thankful for the time we have.
Through four very different children, I have realized that just like every friendship is different, so will my nursing relationships be. It is not all about me, whether I like it or not. Mothers and babies will all have different needs at different times. No two babies are alike and no two post-partum experiences are alike. Know yourself and your needs, as well as your babies. Set goals, try nursing, but remember – it takes two to tango.