Monday, May 13, 2013

The End of my Nursing Journey

Mother's Day 2013

Some of you will find this hard to believe, but yesterday, Mother's Day, was probably the last time that I will nurse R.  It is probably the last time I will nurse anyone.  And it is a very emotional time for me right now because I'm having a hard time letting go.

The reality of the situation is that he was probably ready to be done months ago but I didn't want it to end.  My wife & I are in a face-off about whether to have a 3rd child or not, me on the pro side with her on the con.  I guess a part of me was waiting to see if I could convince her to let me have another baby and I knew I wouldn't be able to so I held on to the "baby" that I have.  The "baby" that will be 2 in 21 days.

My nursing journey has been quite the roller-coaster ride and I am sharing it in case it can comfort anyone else out there going through something similar.

It all started with a "we'll see".  It's hard to believe how different I was back in the days before I got pregnant with K.  Becoming a mother really changed me and how I view & interact with my world.  Although you could never have convinced me otherwise, I was not ready to be a parent and I had no idea what I was in for.  I did zero research on breastfeeding but knew that it was recommended.  I remember thinkiing that I'd give it a try & see how it goes and if it didn't work out I would be OK with bottle feeding.  I laugh at at that whole line of thinking now, knowing how hard the first round was for me and knowing how committed to nursing I'd become.

At some point in my pregnancy someone declaired that I'd never make it out of the hospital.  That breastfeeding would be too hard & I'd give up.  Someone else said outright that I just couldn't do it.  Well, that's all it took for me to be 100% committed to this.  Challenge accepted!  Can you believe that?  THAT is what ignited the fire in me?!  I still didn't take a breastfeeding class, didn't even read any pamphlets, thought I'd figure it out.  It's what we're designed to do, right?  My hubris is laughable from where I am standing now.  If I only had known that I would struggle so much maybe I would have read something or checked out a website.  Maybe I would have sought out LLL or HMN before K was born so I could have had built-in support.  But I didn't.

My first day home with K
K is born and the feeling is overwhelming.  Something inside me has been forever changed and now I need to do whatever is best for her.  Breastfeeding it is.  Due to the type of birth I had with her and the lovely side-effects, I opted for even more drugs afterwords which I now know caused many problems for us when it comes to nursing.  She was not very alert so she had a hard time even locating my breast at times.  When she did she had troubles latching.  When she finally did latch it wasn't a good one and she would fall asleep mid-feeding.  It was a mess.  She lost weight, she would wake up every half hour to nurse and fall asleep 10 minutes into it and so I felt like I was ALWAYS nursing her.  I was tired & stressed and we all know that stressed mom = stressed baby = nursing problems.  I didn't even realize that I was making everything harder on us by not knowing what to do.

After 2 weeks, still losing weight
& getting to know each other

With all of K's weight loss, they told us to suppliment with formula.  I was devastated.  Not only did I feel like a failure as a woman and mother (remember, this is what we're designed for!) but I felt like I was letting myself down and most of all K.  I didn't want to do it.  I didn't want to give her some foreign, laboratory-made suppliment when there was no good reason that I couldn't nourish her myself.  Lucky for us (or unlucky because of the additional stress it caused), K wanted nothing to do with the formula and refused to eat it.  When she did she had violent vomitinig reactions (which we now know were because she is allergic to the dairy that is present in formula).

I was at a loss.  I had a baby who was losing weight, breastfeeding apparently wasn't enough for her and she refused to drink formula.  What was I going to do?!  Thankfully, our pediatrician is amazing.  She could see how much I wanted to be able to nurse K and she could see how much I didn't want to give her formula so she worked us through it.  It was a lot of pumping, a lot of nursing, a lot of Fenugreek.  Lanolin & cold gel packs were my best friends since bloody, cracked nipples were a daily occurrance.  I quickly learned which nursing pads stuck to scabbed nipples and switched to cloth ones almost instantly.  A friend of mine recommended and ultimately signed me up for HMN.  This saved me in many ways and helped me through the rough patches along the way.

Eventually it got easier; There was less blood, I stopped taking pain medication so K was alert and could focus on what she was doing, I stopped being paranoid about nursing in public and found ways to be discrete.  In the long-run, K was a champion nurser.  She loved her Mommy time and nursing sessions were long and frequent.  She probably would have gone until she was 3 if I had let her, but we stopped when she was about 18 months old because nursing her & being pregnant with R proved to be more than my body could handle.  So weaning her had some difficulties and we had to adapt.  I felt like I was taking something away from her and had guilt about it, even though I knew I was doing what was best for myself & my then unborn baby.

Minutes after R was born
R's nursing journey was different from the first second.  His birth was basically the exact opposite of K's.  There were no drugs, no crazy pain meds, and I was prepared to nurse.  There wasn't a question in my mind if I was going to be able to nurse him, I just knew that I could.  He was a very alert baby and latched on moments after birth without difficulty.  He was a chunky baby and had no issues gaining weight (at least as an infant).  I didn't have any of the pain or blood that I did with K because his latch was great and he was a fast nurser.  Where K would nurse for 30-40 minutes at a time, R was done in 10.  I didn't have to pump with him at all, though I did because the amount of milk I produced was ridiculous!  The second time around I had no jitters about nursing him in public; I knew what the comments were going to be and how to deal with them, and I had already perfected the art of being discrete so if anyone had a problem with it it was their problem.  Nursing him was just natural and easy - it was what it was "supposed to" be like.

Snuggles with R
Staying true to form, where K would have nursed forever R lost interest a while ago.  He did have some weight-gaining issues as a toddler so although he did start to self-wean it was recommended to continue nursing him to keep the extra calories in him.  Truth be told he's been fine for a while now and I was paranoid he's lose weight again if I stopped so I just continued.  I know that for the past few months it has been me offering it to him and not him searching for it.  And while he never spent a long time nursing, these more recent ones have been even faster, only minutes at a time.

So yesterday I decided that he was probably done and that I would stop offering it to him.  But I didn't want it to just end like that.  I wanted to have some kind of final send-off, knowing that it may be the last time I nurse anyone ever again and this is closing a huge chapter in my life.  I thought it was appropriate that it be on  Mother's Day.  So after our guests left, after our deck was painted (yes, we pained our deck on Mother's Day), when my wife was playing a game with our daughter in her room, I sat with R on the couch and nursed him for the last time.  I made sure to pay attention to those last few moments and remember what it was like.  Him reaching up and touching my face gently, smiling up at me as I cradled him in my arms.  Him trying to stick his feet in my mouth as only a nursing toddler does.  I cried a little bit as I stroked his hair and told him that this was the last time.  When he was done, as if he knew I was going through something, he grabbed me and gave me a strong hug, saying, "awww" as he did it.  Then he smiled at me, jumped off the couch, and played with his toys.  Just like that, it is over.

It's crazy how difficult and complex breastfeeding can seem and then also be one of the easiest things to do as a parent.  My body made & fed both of my children.  I was the sole reason they were alive for the first months of their lives.  It is amazing what nature can do if you let it happen & nurture it.  I am so grateful for the stubbornness of my 20's that kept me determined to succeed at breastfeeding.  While I am happy to have full control & ownership of my own body for the first time in almost 5 years, I am sad to have to say goodbye to some of the sweetest moments you can have with your baby.  I am so happy that I got to experience them, and that I knew enough to cherish them

Whether you have one child or six, nursing is definitely a journey.  Sadly, mine has come to an end, just when I thought I had perfected it.  It would be nice to have another child, knowing what I know now and how easy & amazing it can be, but that is just not in the cards.  And so, my 5th Mother's Day as a nusing Mama is also my last day as a nursing Mama.  It is definitely bittersweet.

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