Friday, May 13, 2011

How far we've come.

Back in October, about a month after Calvin's birth, I wrote a post about my poor boobs. I wanted to follow up that post with this one because I honestly never thought I would come this far. I don't think mamas talk enough about their struggles with nursing. For some reason, it's taboo (BOOBS!), or maybe everyone likes to project the image that they have it all together. My hope is that, in some way, talking about my own struggle helps other mamas who are struggling with nursing. At the very least, I hope this opens peoples' eyes to the commitment and dedication it takes to breastfeed and the rewards that follow after doing so. I am by no means saying that nursing is the only right way to nourish a child. I am saying that it was the right way for me to nourish my child. I knew this before I even conceived, and I turned out to be very lucky that my body made milk (and a whole lot of it) making my choice to nurse Calvin possible.

The first 3 1/2 - 4 months of nursing were so difficult for me. I suffered from so many issues including sore, infected nipples, thrush, supply issues from pumping, nipple confusion (because we had to give Calvin bottles for 4 weeks while I healed), plugged ducts, mastitis (a milk duct infection), and high lipase content (which causes milk to have a funny smell and taste and requires scalding before storing). As a result of these issues, it was very difficult for me to feel comfortable nursing in public, to leave Calvin for an extended amount of time, get a full night's sleep, or even feel confident with my abilities as a mother. During my struggles, I worked closely with a lactation consultant and my amazingly supportive husband. Many people told me to throw in the towel and switch to formula, but I was stubborn and hell bent on pushing onward. People said that being a happy mama was more important than being a nursing mama, but for me, the two went hand-in-hand. In general, when I'm determined and have my sights set on a goal, not much can mess with me. During those 3 1/2 - 4 months, I couldn't really identify why exactly I needed to stick with nursing; I just knew I could handle more and would continue on. I know why now, but I'll get to that.

I'm not joking when I say that breastfeeding was at least 10 times more difficult than having a natural childbirth. Looking back, I definitely should have taken a class or met with a lactation consultant during pregnancy, but I just assumed it'd come naturally. I had a lovely vision of myself sitting in the grass on a blanket under a huge tree nursing my baby. So relaxed, so confident. Now I know differently. Almost every single woman I have met through yoga, mom's groups, etc. has had some sort of nursing issue she must overcome. It's no wonder the wealthy nobles back in the day hired nursemaids! I'm sure countless women and infants died from nursing related complications during that time period not to mention the millions of women living in countries without access to healthcare. (Don't get me started on that.) It's not to say that nursing can't ever become relaxed and confident; for me, it just took a lot of time, patience, and practice.

Somewhere around 4 months I found myself being able to say that nursing was "easy." Actually, I don't even know if "easy" is the right word, but compared to what it was before, I'd say it's an appropriate assessment. I started to LOVE the moments I shared with Calvin instead of tolerating them. It just felt right.

Here I am, and Calvin is 7 1/2 months old, and he's never had anything besides breastmilk (mine and a few bottles of donor milk when my supply dipped). We still have our bumps in the road, but for the most part it's amazing. Most of the time I'm super hard on myself and don't let myself feel genuine pride. I always think, "I could've done better." For one of the first times in my life, I feel a sense of pure pride when I think about all I've endured to nourish my son. I think whenever there are scars involved (NIPPLE scars, no less), pride is completely justified. Angus says it's what he loves most about me as a mother - how insanely proud I am for meeting my goal of breastfeeding Calvin. I'm not sure it's what I love most about my mothering, but it is something I do feel so good about every day.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but in a few months I am planning to wean Calvin down to two feedings (early morning and before bed), and then when I head back to work I'm planning to wean him completely. I recently saw an amazing Chinese medicine doctor who specializes in pediatrics. He told me that by 9 months babies have gained all of the immune benefits they will gain from breast milk. This was shocking to me since I always thought the "one year" mark was the rule of thumb. Part of me is excited to have some more freedom once I wean, but the other part of me (let's be honest - about 90% of me) is holding on. I used to look at women - many Boulderites, in fact - who nursed past one year to be kind of insane. Now I think I get it. I'm not going to do it, but I so get it. It's hard to believe that this weaning is going to happen in a little over than a month.

What I love about nursing my son is that it's the only time he isn't wiggley. He lays across my lap, sometimes with his eyes closed, and gently plays with my necklace or rakes his fingers up and down my chest and face. What I love about nursing my son is that when he wants comforted, he burrows his head in my chest and pulls at my shirt (which can be frustrating in public), and uses sign language to tell me he wants milk. What I love about nursing my son is that when he first latches at night, he furiously sucks as if all he wants in the whole world is milk, then he calms and slows into a soothing rhythm. What I love about nursing my son is that it's so animalistic. I feel in touch with Mother Earth and the creation and sustaining of life. I feel so amazed at my own body and it's power. What I love about nursing my son is that he needs me and trusts me to be there for him, which will never change, I hope, even after nursing is long over and he is all grown up.

I stuck with nursing my son because of all of this, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

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