The Nudge to Nurse
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 2, March-April 2002, pp. 55-56
While recently reveling in the fact that my dream of working at home has finally become a reality, it occurred to me that the momentum behind that pull to the hearth had as much to do with breastfeeding as anything.
Though the longing for motherhood had been planted long ago through satisfying experiences caring for other people’s children, breastfeeding is one of those aspects of childcare a woman can not experience prior to giving birth. As I developed my out-of-home career, I hadn’t a clue how deeply affected I would be by my breastfeeding relationship, nor how the desire to breastfeed my babies would cause me to rearrange my life.
My anxiety over whether breastfeeding would suit my first baby and I dissipated quickly following his birth. Stories from friends who had difficulty getting their babies to latch on did not match my experience. I found myself in awe over my new baby’s instantaneous expertise at the breast. He had it down better than I, and with confidence in him, my own skills soon improved. There were several weeks of discomfort and doubt as to whether I could persist on this breastfeeding venture. With patience, I found myself drawn into the bonding and feeding experience in a way that caught me unaware.
My plan was to wean my baby and begin bottle-feeding toward the end of my three-month maternity leave. My baby had other ideas. As the day of reckoning drew closer, I found my little one an adamantly unwilling participant in gradual weaning. He would scream every time a rubber nipple came within 100 feet, refusing to suckle the artificial device. By the time I was expected back at work I had made little progress, and this only increased my apprehension about returning. Because my husband had taken a leave of absence from his own job to usher in the next few months of our baby’s life, I found some solace in the fact that I wouldn’t have to place the burden of a stubborn bottle-feeder onto someone outside our family. But the persistence of our son drove my husband to despair. It was milk from a breast or no milk at all. Because Daddy hadn’t come properly equipped, he was completely powerless to soothe our ravenous child.
I decided to forgo weaning and find a way to be at home every couple of hours. It worked for a while. My job was flexible enough that, as long as my work got done, I basically could come and go as I pleased. My new routine consisted of work a while, receive a phone call, rush home to feed the baby, repeat. As this continued, I found myself wanting to stay with him more and more. My life was becoming complicated, but instead of insisting on weaning, I found myself working around my baby’s schedule and enjoying every stolen moment with him. I prepared myself to nurse through month six then give it up entirely. When a job change for my husband resulted in a move, I found myself searching for work that would accommodate a nursing mother. At the six-month mark I was enjoying that time with my son even more than I had initially. He was now alert enough to sneak endearing peeks at me, gently twirl my hair, or touch my face, as if to learn all he could about me while nursing. During those precious moments, I fell even more deeply in love with him.
Pressure to wean came from outside our home, but as the months went by, I had no desire to give up this special time with my child. My baby’s doctor assured me that nursing through a year would maximize health benefits. Armed with his advice, I stuck with it, ever more convinced it was the right thing to do for my baby and myself. I found a job as a nanny for a family willing to let my little guy join me at work. That job ended six months later with news of my second pregnancy. During my first trimester, I weaned my firstborn effortlessly at 15 months.
As my belly grew, I looked forward to nursing again and began refining details of how I would work breastfeeding into the part-time night job I’d accepted. Although pumping proved challenging initially, I had become so convinced of the virtues of human milk that it eventually became routine. After my daughter was born I toted my pump, bottles, and ice packs to work, and prepared a bottle for my daughter each evening during my 15-minute break. About the time I began feeling I might not have it in me to continue with this routine, my husband received a raise. The pay boost justified my staying home and leaving my outside job.
I looked to the days ahead with joy and knew I would treasure this time with my young children forever. The next obstacle I faced was convincing some in my life that weaning didn’t have to take place at six months or even a year. In my heart I knew that it should happen when both my child and I were ready. I became involved in a group of mothers, many of whom had nursed their children past 12 months, and came to know I was not a breastfeeding anomaly after all.
When my daughter was 17 months old, I continued breastfeeding her several times a day. That same month I learned the happy news that I was pregnant once more. I felt that in preparing for the nurturing of yet another child, I should wean. I gave myself a deadline, but was unable to meet it because my daughter just wasn’t ready. About that time I made the horrible discovery that our newest baby had died in the womb. I was brought to my knees in sorrow over the loss of this little being. A couple nights after the loss, my daughter awoke in the night, and as I went to her crib, picked her up, and cradled her in my arms to nurse, I realized that the powers of breastfeeding extend beyond bonding and feeding. I had lost my smallest baby, but the healing that took place as a result of that physical act of shared love between my child and me was immense.
We continued to try for another child. A year after our loss, we welcomed Elizabeth Grace into our lives. Our nursing relationship is now firmly in place. I will always look back on my nursing years as filled with happiness and a mutual understanding of love.