Friday, December 28, 2012

What no on told me about breastfeeding: Part Two

This is part two of a series I've written about weaning my second daughter, Shira. It's been almost two weeks since we stopped breastfeeding (and the picture above was taken the last time she nursed). You can find part one here


6.  You might not find breastfeeding an unbearable burden. A lot of time people talk about breastfeeding as though it ties up mothers in unwanted chains. Yes, breastfeeding is a commitment, and yes you will give some things up, depending on what your breastfeeding relationships look like. In the beginning it can come as quite a shock at how much of your new parenting life is spent breastfeeding, and often this means that you are alone in a room while other people are doing things you'd like to be doing (like showering or going to the bathroom). In those early days when you are figuring things out, you might tend to avoid groups of people because you're still trying to figure out the mechanics of baby to nipple, or you're not yet comfortable nursing in public. To those of you in this place, believe, me it will get better. Know that most people want to support you, want babies to have their milk whenever and wherever they please, and that you can breastfeed your baby pretty much anywhere. Breastfeeding doesn't have to mean isolation.

Depending on your preferences, breastfeeding also doesn't have to mean complete deprivation from the things you enjoy. I have enjoyed wine, coffee, tea, (probably too much) sugar, and pretty much anything that I've wanted while breastfeeding both girls. Sure, I didn't go overboard with the alcohol and caffeine, and I have had to postpone my crack habit, but that's probably for the best. The only thing I have truly missed was cold medicine. Just wait until my next cold and you'll find me drugged to excesses previously unimagined. But dammit, I'll be able to breath through my nose.

And another thing: breastfeeding an infant is a lot different than breastfeeding an older child. In the first year I gave up things like going out for dinner and going away for the night so that I could be close to my nurslings and their constant request for milk. Some mothers prefer little more freedom (or need to return to work) and find constant breastfeeding too much. That's cool, they get to make decisions on behalf of their own breasts. But please don't assume that all breastfeeding is a burden. It never bothered me, and I wish that more people saw this side of breastfeeding. The best part? The longer I breastfed, the more freedom I had. Shira loved nursing so much that she'd wait however long she needed. By the time she was eighteen months I could go out of town for the night and she'd wait patiently for my return. In August I went away for over two days and she didn't miss a beat. I had the best of both worlds.

7. You might wake up in the morning and be excited to breastfeed. Again. Is this getting annoying? Maybe. But I really did look forward to breastfeeding my babies, even after a long day of feeling like I did nothing else but nurse. Do you start to miss your children a few hours after they are in bed, and you feel a bit ridiculous because you just saw them and were very ready for a parenting break? Same thing goes for breastfeeding, at least it did for me. Shira wakes up around five in the morning every single day, and no matter how much I begged her to sleep like a normal human, I still welcomed her in my bed for her morning milk.

I was at a doula workshop a few weeks ago and we were practicing relaxation techniques on each other, in hopes that we might help our clients get some rest between contractions. One thing we talked about was taking the time to learn our client's happy place, that mental experience that would help them relax in an otherwise chaotic situation. Most people chose the beach or the mountains. I chose breastfeeding Shira after her afternoon nap. I'd bring my still-sleepy baby under the duvet in our bed, she'd latch on, eyes still closed, and it was perfection. Her warm, rosy, nap cheeks, her little arm wrapped around me, those little nursing noises. Just typing this has made my (almost) non-existent milk let down.

8. You might do things you never dreamed of. Like breastfeed while signing up for a new account at the bank. (We did that.) Or when you're signing the papers for your new car (We did this, too). Or while going through customs at the airport. (And this.) Or sitting outside on a park bench while the snow is falling all around you. (You get the idea.) Or when your baby isn't a baby anymore and and can negotiate with words about how much milk she'd like to have and how often. You might walk in your house after grading papers at the library and have a 2.5 year old collapse against you, declaring, I love milk, Mama! Now I can have milk! Or you might find yourself nursing your baby two years, seven months, and four days after you starting breastfeeding her, thinking that it might actually be time to stop. You never dreamed you would want to stop, and really, you still don't. But you'll do it anyway on account of a few good reasons, reasons that are yours and yours alone. And you'll listen to those mothers you know who tell stories, who promise, of new ways to love and hold your child that come later, after the breast.

9. You might not like breastfeeding. This has not been my experience. Here I am writing breastfeeding a love letter, so I'm pretty sure we're good, the two of us. But there are so many things a mother does and learns as she parents her child, and I'm certain that not every mother loves every single thing about parenthood, breastfeeding included. I know many women who really didn't enjoy breastfeeding. Some of them continued for a year, others stopped after only a few weeks or months. If you need support making breastfeeding a success, I hope you get it (and if you need some suggestions for resources or lactation consultants in your area, let me know and I'm happy to point you in the right direction). But your breastfeeding might not look like mine. That's ok, too.

10. That you might grieve when it's over. I am not exaggerating when I say my heart is broken. I'm often a bit melodramatic, but I'm not performing here. It has been twelve days since I've breastfed Shira and I've never missed anything more. I might write a post about the specifics of how I stopped breastfeeding Shira, but I don't want to do that today. Right now I don't want to think about how she cried two Sunday mornings ago when there wasn't any milk for her, or the plugged ducts I've had that have just served to remind me that I have milk just sitting there in my boobs, all sore and painful, that for some crazy reason I'm not giving to Shira. I made the decision to stop breastfeeding but that doesn't mean I like it right now, that every day since we stopped I haven't almost nursed her.

Many people, especially other mothers who have breastfed or who are still breastfeeding, have offered me kind and supportive words over the past two weeks. Some of congratulated me on a job well done, while others have tried reminding me of all the things I can do now that I'm not nursing. I'm grateful for the encouraging words and I'll save them for later, when my heart feels a bit better. For now I am grieving the loss of one of the most magical relationships I've ever had. I know that there is so much in the future for me and Shira, just as I learned when I weaned Alyce. But none of that changes how I feel today. Grieving is about loss, and no matter what comes next I will still have lost something I'll never get back.

Once my grief has lessened I'll be able to focus on the things coming next for me and Shira. I can already tell it's going to get even better.


Interested in some of my previous posts on breastfeeding? Here they are:

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