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A Nursing Strike

Patty O'Brien Novak
Dearborn Heights MI USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 3, May-June 2006, pp. 107-108.

I received the January-February 2006 issue of NEW BEGINNINGS in the mail today and was glancing through it with my 21-month-old daughter, Anna. She likes to look at the pictures of babies and children. One subhead in the article "Tips for Breastfeeding for One Year" really caught my attention: "Recognize the Signs of a Nursing Strike."

Reading about nursing strikes brought back a flood of memories and emotions, especially a deep, overwhelming sadness. And now the tears are flowing. I suffered through a nursing strike when my daughter was just shy of 11 months. It started on a Friday at 8:30 in the morning. I was blindsided. My daughter and I had enjoyed a peaceful, contented nursing session in the wee hours of the previous night. I'm grateful for that memory of peace. Then my world fell apart. When I offered my breast to my daughter at her usual early morning nursing, she started to latch on, then pushed away as if in horror and cried so very hard. I thought I had somehow hurt her. I tried repositioning and starting over, but I kept getting the same horrific response. I was dumbfounded. My mind raced, searching for possible causes and possible solutions (teething gel for her gums, a bit of pain reliever just in case something was hurting, moving from the bed to the chair). With each attempt at nursing, both of us became more upset. I finally put her in her bed and left her alone for a few minutes and she fell asleep. That was the last time my daughter nursed.

The next few days are a blur. Neither one of us slept much, neither one of us was happy. I kept trying different ways to get my daughter back to breastfeeding. I was hopeful at nighttime that she might latch on in a sleepy haze, but my hopes came crashing down around me when she pushed away and cried during those nursing attempts, too.

I pumped my milk and fed it to my daughter using a medicine dropper. She was never a fan of the bottle, so she rejected it during this time, too. Piecing bits together, I surmised that she was experiencing pain from teething. I thought that she might return to nursing once the teething pain subsided.

As the days went by, I started to lose hope that this was just a strike and had to face the bitter reality that this might become a sudden weaning. I needed help. I needed emotional support. I turned to La Leche League. I found a Group in Livonia, Michigan, USA. I came to the group at the end of my nursing days and cried during the meeting while telling my story. I am forever grateful to the women in my Group who supported me during this painful time of my life.

I tried many things in the days and weeks after my daughter's last nursing. For four weeks, I pumped three times a day and once at night to keep my supply on my daughter's schedule -- hoping, waiting, wanting her to return to the breast. I still marvel at how patient my dear son, then three, was with the extra pumping, and how he gave me so many hugs when my eyes were overflowing with tears.

On March 31, my daughter successfully brought forth four new teeth. Over the next few days, she gradually returned to her jolly, easygoing self. Once again, my hopes soared for a return to the breast. But alas, no more. It was in those dark days that I realized I was at the end of my nursing days.

I continued some of the rituals we developed during the strike, especially skin to skin cuddling. I missed that warm skin contact that comes with nursing. I missed gazing into each other's eyes. I missed breastfeeding. I related the sudden weaning to my husband and friends as similar feelings to the sudden death of a loved one. I felt despair, anger, and pain. I felt a deep loss. It was the end of our breastfeeding relationship, the end of a way of mothering, a way of nurturing, a way of caring.

In the days and months since my daughter's sudden weaning, she and I have found other ways to relate, other intimate ways for me to nurture her. At times, I still feel deep grief and sadness. I let the feelings flow. I know that overcoming a loss takes time, support, and self-nurturing.

At La Leche League meetings, my story is very different than most of the other mothers -- many just at the beginning of their breastfeeding relationships. I'm glad that they welcome me in. I'm glad that La Leche League Leaders and mothers are there for me.

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