As I scanned through my Google reader list today, I noticed that two of the bloggers I enjoy reading on a regular basis took up Lotus’ challenge to write about their experiences (breast)feeding their babies. Check out Alex Year One and From The Planet of Janet for more. Since Lotus titled her challenge for the day a (Breast)feeding Carnival, and I’m not one to pass up a good carnival, I thought I’d give it a go.
I’ll admit my feelings about breastfeeding have dimmed a bit since I weaned my youngest almost eight years ago. But, I selected the logo above, “Our Story,” because I realized that each of my children has his or her own breastfeeding story, and those stories mirror my progression in thinking on the subject as well.
I always knew I would breastfeed. My mother was one of the unusual ones in the late sixties and early seventies who chose to breastfeed rather than use formula. She was very supportive, even though her experience was limited to breastfeeding for the first three months until the doctors released us to drink whole milk–yes, really!
I was so convinced about my choice and about the “naturalness” of the whole process that I didn’t do too much to prepare for breastfeeding prior to Dancer Girl’s birth. I remember considering going to a breastfeeding class and then dismissing the idea, and, of course, I read a bit about it, but I figured we’d just work it all out on our own. By now the reader is waiting for the details about all the trials I had learning to nurse since my hubris clearly set me up for bad experiences.
Sometimes the whole Greek tragedy thing doesn’t play out in real life. The nurses at the hospital where Dancer Girl was born were great about showing me the ropes; Dancer Girl took to nursing like a champ, and I had no problems other than rock-hard breasts during the initial engorgement period. I nursed happily for eight weeks and then weaned her because I planned to return to work.
In 1994, absolutely no one mentioned anything about the possibility of pumping. None of my friends had returned to work after having their babies, and none of the teachers at school, where most of the staff was considerably older than I, ever mentioned other options. Think back, way back, and imagine being a brand-new mother with no access to the Internet and virtual support groups. With no one around who’d been in the situation I was in, I did the best I could, and Dancer Girl thrived just fine on formula until her first birthday.
Moving forward about two years, I found myself expecting Gym Girl and once again planning to return to work after maternity leave. But that’s not the only thing I’d found. This time around, I had a wonderful new resource: the pregnancy month listserves. An article in the Houston Chronicle in late 1995 revealed the existence of groups of women expecting in the same month who were exchanging emails regarding their experiences. I couldn’t wait to sign up, and in doing so became one of the August96 moms.
I learned all kinds of new things (including blogging, eventually) from this wonderful group of women who are still going strong as a listserve twelve years later. We talked our way through issues of natural childbirth, co-sleeping, and extended breastfeeding. At that point, I just wanted to know more about how to breastfeed longer this time around. Someone finally clued me in to the fact that I could simply eliminate the feedings that happened during the time I was at work. Then, I could continue to nurse in the mornings and evenings. Pumping was still more than I could fathom with my teaching schedule, so I didn’t attempt it this go around either.
Gym Girl turned out to be an enthusiastic nurser as well. Well, even more so, I’d say. Unlike her more even-keeled sister, Gym Girl had definite opinions about feeding. She liked to nurse, and she resisted bottles. I worried right up until the time to go back to work that she’d refuse to eat while I was gone. Turns out, she took a bottle fine when I wasn’t anywhere around, but she would not take one from me. We continued to nurse when we were together until she was six months old, which was the minimum time recommended in 1996. And, if you’ve been reading this blog much, by now you know I’m all about following the rules.
By Soccer Boy’s arrival in 1999, the August Moms had worked a little more of their magic on me. He entered the world without the assistance of an epidural, and I was also determined to make it for the full year of nursing (the full year now being the recommended time frame!). Armed with my Pump In Style and a more flexible work schedule, I returned to work prepared to pump twice per day as well as to visit him at lunchtime to feed him. We kept that schedule up until he was nine months old. At that point, his refusal to nurse on the left side had left me not only with a rather strange figure but also without the ability to produce as much as he needed to eat during the day.
But, we finished strong. I still went to feed him at lunchtime, and we nursed full-time other than the two bottles of formula he took at daycare. All was well until his father made me an offer I couldn’t refuse–a trip to Europe for our tenth anniversary.
And, somehow, though Adventure Guy never asked me not to, I couldn’t imagine going on a second honeymoon with breast pump in tow. Soccer Boy would be 13 months old by the time of our trip, so I had more than met my original goal. We slowly weaned off one feeding at a time until the week before the trip.
I’ll never forget the last time he nursed. I knew this would really be the last time, that there would be no more babies in my future. It was the last feeding before bedtime. I rocked him slowly in the dark until he fell asleep, my nipple sliding from his slack mouth. And then I just held him, and rocked, and cried a bit, just like I am now with the memory of the moment’s sweetness. I put him in his crib, knowing a chapter of my life had closed forever.
But even with all that “closure,” I couldn’t resist giving things one more shot when I returned from our trip two weeks later. Soccer Boy had not been overly pleased to see me, even though he’d much enjoyed the care of his grandmothers while we were gone. I decided maybe he missed the nursing. So before I put him down for his nap, I offered. I opened my shirt and placed him in the position he liked most.
And then, I learned that this chapter of our lives was absolutely, truly over. Soccer Boy looked up at me with glee in his eyes and burst into a fit of giggles. Though he couldn’t yet talk, the message was clear, “Silly, Mommy. What do you want me to do with that?” So I buttoned up and moved on. My nursing days seem both close enough to touch and so far away that they’re a bit shrouded in the mists of time.
But what I know for sure from my experiences nursing three different children at three different times, is that the most important thing–the point of all this–is to feed the baby. Whether that means bottle feeding, or pumping, or breast feeding, or some combination of it all, every mom and baby pair will figure out what’s best for them. I just wish all the new moms out there the resources, the time, and the space free from private or public criticism, that they need to make the right decision for themselves.