Tandem Times Two
Columbus OH USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 4, July-August 2007, pp. 158-160
Before having children, one thing I always looked forward to experiencing was a baby nursing at my breast. Growing up, I watched my mother nurse my younger brother and sister. I was seven years old when my sister was born, and nine years old when my brother was born, and in those impressionable years, I remember the nurturing bond my mother shared with them. While she had tried breastfeeding me years earlier, she was persuaded by her pediatrician to bottle-feed. Watching her nurse my siblings, I looked forward to one day nursing my own children, perhaps because of my mother's example, or possibly because I sensed missing out on it as an infant myself.
When I was four months pregnant with my first child, I located a local La Leche League Group and started attending meetings. I read any and all materials I could, including THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, from cover to cover. I was determined and excited about the "new beginning" I was about to encounter.
My daughter, Moriah, was born after 35 hours of natural labor. I was exhausted, to say the least, but holding her on my chest, we fumbled through our first nursing. My dream to breastfeed was realized! We struggled those first few days, but I was headstrong to make it work. I didn't allow myself to have formula in the house. Nursing became a family affair with my husband by my side, helping us along the way. We took it feeding by feeding, day by day. I kept reminding myself that not only was I investing in my daughter's health, but also in the nursing relationship I'd longed to have.
My breastfeeding experience has had both highs and lows. I have had sore nipples, engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis, and a case of thrush. In exchange, however, I finally got to experience first-hand the joys of mothering through breastfeeding. Moriah became a nursing expert and my husband and I joked about how she should teach classes to other infants in struggling nursing relationships. As Moriah approached eight months of age, I thought I needed to consider the weaning process. I cried in my husband's arms the night before her first solids. "One day she's not going to need me," I cried. He reassured me that she would always need me -- in other ways.
Moriah continued to nurse and, when she was nearly 18 months old, we learned that she was going to be a big sister. I read Hilary Flower's book, ADVENTURES IN TANDEM NURSING, and was pleased to learn that in normal conditions one could effectively nurse through the length of the pregnancy. I appreciated how Flower likened nursing to seasons: spring with pregnancy, summer with exclusive nursing, autumn with weaning, and winter being completely weaned. I was in the midst of spring and autumn at the same time!.
I nursed Moriah throughout my pregnancy and early in my labor. Strangely, Moriah was reluctant to nurse after the birth. She told me it was "different milk." Days later when my milk came in and signs of engorgement began to show, I asked Moriah if she wanted to nurse and, thankfully, she happily obliged. Having Moriah there to empty my breasts was much easier than pumping through engorgement.
In the early months of Selah's little life, I nursed my girls a couple of times together. It was a strange sensation to look down and see them both at my breast. Our tandem time was short lived as Moriah weaned herself when Selah was just a couple of months old. I had enjoyed the pregnancy and tandem nursing and was so thankful for that double blessing. Little did I know that blessing would soon repeat itself. When Selah was six months old, I became pregnant again. This time I was exclusively nursing (summer) and pregnant (spring) simultaneously!.
Fifteen months to the day after Selah's birth, she nursed from my breast as I went into labor. It had become a tradition and rite of passage of sorts. I birthed her brother, Hunter, in the same hospital room after another wonderful (and thankfully shorter) natural labor. Hunter enjoyed not just colostrum, but full-streaming milk after delivery, as Selah had kept it flowing throughout my pregnancy. She was used to nursing several times a day and was more than happy to empty my breasts when I became engorged.
Hunter was a natural nurser. The challenge this time was trying to balance Selah's nursing needs with making sure Hunter was well fed. I didn't want him to fill up on foremilk alone, so I'd let Selah nurse first so he would get the fatty hind milk. At first he took just one side, so I'd rotate that side from feeding to feeding. To my delight I was able to keep both of my babies happy. I even became proficient at nursing them together.
While I had dreamed of my little Moriah conducting baby lactation sessions, it would be her younger sister who would educate us all. Days old, Hunter's hand was held by his older sister as the two of them nursed together. Selah would take the lead by allowing her brother to latch on during our group times together before finding her special spot against me. She made true tandem nursing seamless. As our days turned into weeks and months, she learned the value of sharing and empathy for others. Even when nursing her alone, she would come off my breast saying, "Hunty need milk." Through nursing she has learned how to nurture, share, and put others before herself. What wonderful life lessons.
Hunter recently had his first birthday. Selah is an active two-year-old who loves "mommy's milk" as much as ever. I often wonder if it will be Hunter who will wean himself first, or if in the natural progression of growing up they will follow one after the other. I wonder if my nursing career is heading into winter when they both wean, or if Hunter will have a younger sibling to whom to pass the baton. What I do know is that my tandem experience has been twice blessed.