Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Reflections on breastfeeding

One last post on this subject and then I'll be done.  I just keep thinking about my whole breastfeeding story, and I'm still coming to terms with my decision to wean, and the unexpected impact it has had on me.

If I had known that I would mourn -- not just be sad for about 12 hours, but actually mourn -- I would have done things differently.  It's too late to change things now, but if I had to do it over, I would have dropped one session, then the other.  I thought it would confuse him, but I don't give him enough credit.  Since he still doesn't talk all that well, I make the mistake of assuming he doesn't understand either (honestly, I think that's becoming his secret weapon, acting like he 'doesn't know any better.').  But he's a smart enough kid to understand that he'd have no more milk at naptime, only at bedtime.  Then we could have gone on another few months, and I would have had the still painful, but maybe not as painful, decision to drop that feeding too.

This did not go as I planned.  For one thing, I really thought I didn't make milk anymore and that I was telling him the truth when I said it was all gone.  It came as a blow to realize that the milk was there, and he was just that efficient at getting it all out that I never felt I was making it.  Well, duh, that's breastfeeding 101, you say.  When a baby gets older -- a lot older -- they are more efficient at taking milk, your body is more efficient at making just what you need, and you stop feeling fullness or letdown, or any of the other sensations that helped you in the beginning to know things were going well.  But I really thought I'd dried up by now, and that the few swallows he did were swallowing his own spit.  Besides, he was getting too old, and I did not want to still be nursing him by his third birthday.  The thought of having no milk made it an easy decision.  The next day's realization that I still produced it brought a tidal wave of regret.

But it wasn't THAT much milk, and four days into this my body is getting the message and shutting down production.  Emotionally, I am doing much better too.  I'm starting to get over this.  I'm ready for the next chapter.

My mind keeps wanting to arrange my memories and thoughts and experiences related to breastfeeding into some kind of story with a beginning, middle and end.  I'll attempt to get it all out here.

I remember as a young girl watching my mom with my sister Grace.  I've already mentioned here before that she was Mom's most challenging baby.  I remember Mom sitting on the couch and saying, "I have no more to give this kid.  She's going to suck me dry!"  It sounded pretty miserable and not something I would look forward to, especially in the middle of the night.  That's why it came as a surprise to me that when I told her that I would bottle feed my babies to make sure that I could get the dad to help too (makes perfect sense, right?), I was met with her clear disapproval.  I don't know what I expected her to say -- "good for you"?  She told me something to the effect of nursing is actually a really good thing for both mom and baby, and I might change my mind one day and at least want to try it.  She had fed me formula before she had known better, and she'd been so glad that she'd nursed my siblings.

With a newborn Delaney, I got to find out firsthand the intricacies of the breastfeeding relationship:  the struggle to get her latched on and feeding in the first place, the pain of being engorged, sore nipples, and of course being on call at all hours of the day or night.  But I was so glad that I pushed through the hard times because once it started to work, it worked beautifully.  My body learned to anticipate her needs and make the right amount.  We started to depend on each other -- she being empty and needing to be full, me being full and needing to be empty.  Sometimes the co-dependency felt like a ball and chain, and I wondered if I'd ever just be "free" again, without needing to come back to her every couple of hours.  But with the exception of those times that I chafed at being bound to her, the days and nights took on a familiar and comforting rhythm.  I enjoyed the quiet and peace of sitting down to feed her every few hours.  Sometimes as we sat in her dim room and I held her in my arms, I thought to myself that I didn't want this ever to end.  This was perfection, and it seemed to me that it was the closest I could get to heaven on earth.  I patted myself on the back a thousand times for hanging in there in the beginning, and I became kind of a breastfeeding zealot.  Poor Tim felt kind of left out with the strong bond that we shared.  But months went by and Delaney started to expand her world beyond me, and I got back some of my freedom.  It happened before I knew it.  Nothing ever stayed the same for long.  One day Tim finally got to see his daughter smile and reach for him.  In the blink of an eye we were leaving her with her grandparents for the weekend.
Nom- nomming on baby cheeks with sleep training book facedown on the coffee table -- a good way to sum up life at that moment.
At 16 months, Delaney weaned with no fuss from either of us.  I was about 12 weeks pregnant with Annie by then.  I welcomed the short break between weaning one and starting again with another.  This second time around I fully embraced the whole experience, and was ready for the hard first few days.  On my first night in the hospital with Delaney, I had handed her to the nurses so they could feed her a bottle and give me four hours of sleep.  This first night with Annie: completely different story.  I kept her in bed with me, not minding at all when she nursed voraciously on one side, then the other all night long.  When the nurses saw my breastfeeding log the next morning where I had scrawled one entry -- 'continuous from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.' -- they were apologetic.  "You should have called us, we'd have been happy to help."  I cheerfully thanked them for their concern, but I knew that things were going exactly as they should.  My milk came in that very afternoon.  I nearly burst with my pride when my nine-pound Annie regained the few ounces she'd lost after birth, before we left the hospital.
Nursing Annie was bliss, but I weaned her without much ado at the age of 14 months.  That was a busy summer with moving and vacations.  My nursing style has always been (after the initial weeks when their hunger is constant) to do it in a quiet, dim room, preferably in a comfortable chair.  In fact I would venture to guess that 98% of breastfeeding for all of them has happened in the same glider rocker.  So with all that traveling it became inconvenient, and with all the distractions around, it was easy to keep missing sessions. By the time she weaned she was only nursing first thing in the morning.  One morning Tim got up with her and I decided that was the time, and I never offered again.  So that was easy.

My nursing relationship with Timmy followed the same pattern. In the beginning he needed me a lot, and I needed him a lot.  By this time I was a busy mom of three and no longer wasting my time worrying about when I would be "free" from the ball and chain that was nursing.  Being an inseparable pair was par for the course.  I understood by now that everything would change so quickly.  We kept evolving over time as his sisters and I had done.  When he was about 8 months old, I laid him down to sleep and didn't hear from him until the next morning.  I had nights off, woo-hoo!  Then he needed me still less.  I'd watch his dad bundle him into the car with his sisters, and wave goodbye and blow kisses, and not see them again until lunch.  These were just tiny incremental changes over many months.  What bound us together tightly in the beginning became looser and looser.  One morning this past spring when I went in to get him, I decided to skip that first feeding of the day and let him go straight to breakfast.  I changed his diaper and as soon as he was on his fat little feet he bounded out the door ready to greet the day.  I smiled.
Four days ago, I decided to make a change that was too much too soon -- for me.  But that little boy snoozing away in his crib?  Didn't even ask for milk before I laid him down.  He's fine.

I already feel so much better after seeing all these words on the screen that have been floating around in my head.  This blog is therapy sometimes.  I think I've been wanting to do a special breastfeeding post for a long time, but could never organize my thoughts enough to do it.  So here it is.

I don't know if I'll get another chance at this, but I'm starting to feel a little glimmer of hope that I will one day yet.  Weaning Timmy definitely had a hand in that.  Right now I'm in no hurry.  The glider rocker sits idly, but I am needed more than ever by my family, for so many things.  This is all just the beginning.  We'll see what God's plan for our future is, but right now my hands are full enough.


  1. Oh man, I should NOT have read this at work, I am sitting here just bawling! What a great reflection on your breastfeeding journey. I can't even think of anything else to say except WOW, you have given your children such a great gift and they are so lucky to have you!

  2. I really appreciated this post. My first weaned much like yours: she was 16 months, I was pregnant, it just happened. But my 19 month boy is now in all-day snack mode, and I've been thinking of cutting it off altogether. Reading this made me realize I'm willing to go until two and see where we are at then. Thanks for taking the time to write this out!

    1. And thank you for taking the time to read! Best of luck to you when it comes time to wean your boy. I'm not sure how long I could have hung in there if he'd been snacking all day.