Tuesday, August 4, 2015

17 Months and 2 Days

That's how long we nursed.

peering down Mommy's shirt with no sense of boundaries

We went through a lot to get to this point. And now, as I'm writing this several months later, it feels like such a quick blur - all the sleepy late-night feedings, all the pump parts and bottles, even the weaning. I barely even remember the last time you nursed. Still, it was such a significant part of our relationship for so long, I feel compelled, no, inspired, to document what I do remember.

We had a rocky start to nursing. You can go back and read about it if you want, but I can sum it up from my perspective pretty easily. In my life, some things have come fairly easily to me. Other things have not. Among those challenges, I've always done one of two extremes: I've given up and not even tried (this is why Mommy never really played sports), or I've worked my tail off until reaching a level of absolute mastery (this is why Mommy is a board-certified neurologic specialist). I've always felt and will probably always feel like I gave up on delivering you. I was not going to give up on nursing you, even though it was difficult. We were going to be nursing champions. (By the way, reflecting on my own behavior makes me wonder how you'll respond when faced with a challenge.)

And nursing champions we were! It became the easiest, most natural part of our relationship. It was the one constant in an ever-changing you. As I learned to get the hang of motherhood and got to know you and all of your personality quirks, something always changed and kept me on my toes. But not nursing. I could always count on it to stay the same. I loved the portability and convenience of it, too. I saw my friends pack formula and bottles every time they left the house, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that all I needed was the right bra and a cover...if I felt like it that day. I even had the pumping down to a science! That took a little while to get used to, and I never enjoyed it exactly. But I did feel some sense of pride and love knowing that I was providing something wonderful for you even when you weren't with me.

A societal obligation first motivated me to work so hard towards nursing, especially because it promised a wonderful bonding experience. I had no idea what that bonding experience would be like, and I don't think anything prepared me for its magnitude. I was your only food source for four months, and your primary food source for another four or so. Even when I wasn't with you, I sent you to school with pumped milk for six months. And even after that, I nursed you for another five. I've never felt more needed or more loved. The closeness that resulted was something indescribable, and even now that you're weaned, it remains.

That brings me to my next point: nursing was far more emotionally complex than I anticipated. There's a downside to nursing. I think because you did need me so much, I felt guilty when I wasn't there. I cried the first time I gave you cow's milk because I was so worried that I was pushing it on you; I wondered whether I should wait until you showed me you were ready to try something new. There were days where I felt so over-touched that I'd shudder when your daddy tried to hug me. That intimacy that comes with nursing - that closeness and exclusivity and need - it's heavy.

I always assumed you'd self-wean. I had no plans to stop before you were two. I figured you'd get sick of it by then; you're so busy and usually hate sitting still, but somehow nursing was always the exception. At 12 months, I was thrilled that we were still going strong. At 13 months, I didn't mind that you weren't slowing down. I thought that going away to a conference would kill our nursing relationship at 14 months, but you still pushed through it. At 15 months, I was starting to wonder whether the benefits still outweighed the downside. Were you just using me as a crutch to fall asleep? Was I a giant pacifier? But that closeness, oh those snuggles that I knew I'd never get back...

I finally decided at 16.5 months that nursing was less of the joyous relationship it once was and more a matter of martyrdom. I was starting to desire greater autonomy, which was a difficult realization to have. I never never never NEVER want to rush you growing up, but it felt like it was time to set boundaries. I don't remember which one we cut out first: your morning feeding or your bedtime feeding. I remember giving you a cup and blueberries in the mornings. I remember singing you your songs and rocking you at bedtime. You'd still ask to nurse, but then I'd distract you with those blueberries or those songs, and one day, you just stopped asking.

I'm glad that those last few sessions felt less magical and more obligatory. It made it easier. It was still very hard to let go, I think just because it was so emotionally complex. I was relieved it was over, proud to have made it as long as we had, and sad because we would never have those moments again. Even now, I'm tearful writing this because I miss it so. I'd often daydreamed about what our final nursing session would be like. I imagined a nice, full feeding, followed by me singing the Ellie Rose song we made up and maybe Not With Haste, then just holding you and crying, trying to let that last moment linger a little longer. We didn't have that. But we had over a year of that.

I'll wrap up with my top 10 most memorable nursing moments:
  1. with you strapped into the Ergo while walking around an apple orchard
  2. in a million different places all over two parks at Disney World
  3. while walking from brunch to my car
  4. in between vomiting while I had a stomach bug or food poisoning or whatever that was
  5. in an Indian restaurant's bathroom
  6. in a million different positions while I had a plugged duct
  7. pumping while sharing an office with Tiffany
  8. pumping simultaneously with Christina while Emily H. sat in between us in the backseat of a car
  9. while holding onto my bloody thumb for compression while Daddy simultaneously held you up to me
  10. that first time after the clipping at the pediatric ENT's office, that moment that changed the next 16 months of our lives
I love you.

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