When you are pregnant, there is no lack of doomsday warnings and terrible tales passed on in attempts to crush the spirit of the rosy-cheeked and hopeful mom-to-be. So by the time I had my first child, my expectations were super low. I was about to ruin my life.
And though I knew I wanted to breastfeed and was committed to it no matter what, I dreaded the soreness, time and late nights that everyone gave me dire warnings about.
So I was floored to make a discovery after my son was born: I loved it.
With my son, I planned on nursing for a year, but when that year came and went, I realized I didn’t have an endgame. And I really enjoyed nursing, so I wasn’t eager to wean him. I was thankful when he suddenly lost interest and weaned himself at 16 months.
Now, I’m considering weaning my 17-month-old daughter, so I’m feeling nostalgic. If we don’t have other children, these may be my last days of nursing a baby, which pulls on my mama heart in ways that watching our children grow can simultaneously bring us delight and sadness.
I know there are reasons people are not able to nurse their babies, but I wanted to write about some of the joy I personally found in nursing.
Before I had a baby, I hadn’t conceived of how amazing it would be to use my body in such a raw and mystical way to completely sustain another life. To know that the milk I gave my baby was tailored to their specific age and developmental needs and even contained antibodies to fight off diseases and potential threats in our home gave me peace at a time when I often wondered if I was doing everything right.
I first read the book Babywise, which advocated a strict schedule and strongly discouraged demand feeding. I did try and feed each of my children on a schedule of sorts, but I am so glad I read another book on breastfeeding, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (don’t be deterred by the cheesy title). Reading this changed my perspective on breastfeeding and taught me to trust my body and trust my baby.
Nursing is the most beautiful thing I have ever done with my body. Yes, the act that brought this baby into existence was beautiful and good, but making love takes effort and requires you to be actively engaged in the process. But nursing is a passive generosity (especially as you and baby get stronger), requiring the simple offer of yourself, cradling of your child, drinking in their new baby scent, nuzzling their soft peach fuzz head and allowing yourself to relax in the natural mystery of womanhood.
Night Vigils and Sleep Fasting
Though the tiredness struggle was more real with my second child, with my first baby, I thought about my evening vigils as “sleep fasting.” I tried not to complain to people the next day about my lack of sleep just as a fasting person shouldn’t complain about how hungry they are. My sleep was my sacrifice to God and to my baby. And God met me in the watches of the night as my husband slept and I and my baby listened to clocks tick, cars make their way home from clubs, bars and social visits and the old apartment creak in the night. When else do you sit awake in the middle of the night and do nothing but listen?
As the feedings have become less frequent with each child, I find that I miss having an excuse to escape a crowd full of people to nurse my baby. Not that I haven’t done my share of public nursing (I’m a fan of using a cover, but admire women who whip it out–more power to you!), having nursed in parks, bathroom stalls, store dressing rooms, restaurants, movie theaters, mall benches and numerous parking lots. But there have also been plenty of church services, parties and weddings where I have been able to sneak away with my baby and allow myself to melt into the scene of mama and baby alone at last.
Now, my daughter’s body hardly fits on my lap and I can tell that she is not getting much milk at each feeding. She is a busy toddler and barely slows down during the day enough to sit on my lap anymore. So I continue to hold on those few times a day she still nurses and I can’t deny her when she gives me the sign language sign for nursing. I’m going by the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” method of weaning. So for now I will hold her squishy little girl body, with her wispy blond pig tales tickling my nose and her chubby hands grabbing my shirt and nurse her for just a few more days. Just a few.