My son turns a year old this month (I faint) and while most people offer up a, “Can you believe he’s ONE already?” or “Time flies when you’re a mama,” it is not without the occasional unwelcome commentary. Like, “And you thought infancy was hard, wait ’til toddlerhood!” or “So, when are you having a second?”
Perhaps the most annoying comment I’ve been getting is, “Have you weaned him yet?” The implication that it is my duty as a mother to take away his source of comfort, nutrition, and bonding simply because 365 days have passed is beyond bonkers to me. Says who? Society? Certainly not the World Health Organization (or Mayim or Sarah) or the old lady at the doctor’s office who asked me to lift my nursing cover so she could see my sleeping babe and whispered, “Now isn’t that just the sweetest thing.” Because it is.
The Struggle to Breastfeed
Nursing has never come easy for us. But after a seemingly uneventful pregnancy resulted in preterm labor and 10 weeks of bed rest and my granola dreams of an unmedicated birth shattered by induction orders–nursing was the last thing I was going to have slip away.
It took my son 11 weeks to latch on his own. We saw numerous lactation consultants and I shed more tears than I thought was humanly possible. We would nurse, he would scream, and my husband would weigh him and then give him a bottle of expressed milk while I finished pumping–and two hours later we would start the exhausting process all over again.
I own two breast pumps, nipple shields (grrr), a “supplemental nursing system” and breast shells. I wish I’d bought stock in fancy boobie gadgets a long time ago. I take Fenugreek to increase my supply and Lecithin to prevent plugged ducts. My bra is a size double wowsa with lanolin-stained nipple flaps and four clasps holding it closed (sexy, right?) I’ve popped milk blisters bleary eyed at 3 am with a sterile needle and a prayer.
My kid bites like a rabid piranha and every time a new tooth comes in, he goes on a nursing strike for three days. I am a stay-at-home mom and I pump twice a day in addition to nursing and my husband hasn’t been allowed to touch my breasts in over 22 months. I’ve probably read enough literature to sit for the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant exam and last night I walked away with an oven mitt at our La Leche League meeting for winning the breastfeeding trivia game. But the real prize, the one that makes all of this worth it, is nursing my son.
A Love Addiction
When my son was born he smelled of tears and musky clay and in those moments of holding a new life skin-to-skin for the first time, nothing else mattered. Not bed rest, not epidurals, not the stinging of the needle being used to sew my lady bits back together–I had met my heart’s utmost desire. This little miracle made us a family and the feeling of having him laid upon my chest at the breaking point of physical and mental exhaustion was the most exhilarating high I have ever known. I wish I could bottle it up and use it to save the world from every possible injustice.
I’m addicted to the mere thought of his baby smell and each time I nurse him, I am reminded of that instant wave of love and vulnerability again and again. In succeeding at this primitive task, I have gained not only a secure and healthy growing boy but a mothering self-efficacy that can never be taken away. I don’t see myself as a martyr for breastfeeding my son and I sometimes wonder if, selfishly, I get more out of our nursing relationship than he does.
The rabbis of the Talmud were correct in the sense that many aspects of breastfeeding are laborious, but when my son finds sleep in the comfort of my arms with a calmed soul and a full belly–it is a labor of love. The kind of love that instills peace and confidence, a love that some people might even find addicting. It’s the kind of love that neither of us is ready to be done with yet, so please, don’t ask.