Written May 26th:
Last week was yet another week of this pregnancy kicking my butt. By Thursday afternoon at work when my husband called to say he was sick again, I knew we needed help. There was just no way I could do another night of single parenting, so we called in for reinforcements. Nana and Papa to the rescue! They picked up Stella from daycare and took her to their house for the night – Charlie and I were in bed at 6:30pm. The next morning my MIL called me and said her friend had offered to watch Stella for the day if that would help me out (I have Friday’s off from work). I only hesitated for a moment before Charlie talked some sense into me. Stella went over there for the day, and then late that afternoon Charlie called me and suggested we take one more night to be child free and sleep. I was reluctant because I’ve never gone that long without seeing OR nursing Bells, but he talked me into it, and it was great. By 7pm, we were in bed again.
And that was how our breastfeeding journey suddenly, without huge fanfare or time for me to really acknowledge or grieve the suddenness of it all, came to an end.
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around writing this post for nearly six weeks now, and I’m really not sure what’s about to spill from my fingertips. I’ve written before about how my birth experience with Stella was my first huge step towards healing after our IF journey. Feeling strong and healthy & confident in my body’s ability to do something was truly amazing, and thankfully breastfeeding just continued that path of healing for me.
I know a lot of people struggle with breastfeeding, but after the initial few days, we really didn’t. I don’t mean it was 100% easy in the beginning, because it definitely wasn’t. Stella was sleepy and puking up a lot of gunk those first couple of days, and the peds doc in the hospital was all over me to supplement because she wasn’t nursing “enough” (whatever that arbitrary term is supposed to mean). They even made me syringe feed her 2-3 mL of formula before they would discharge us! However, once we got to the comfort of home, both of us were able to relax and really get into a rhythm with each other, and it just got easier from there. At times it was definitely all consuming and exhausting and painful while Stella and I figured things out – but at the same time it was wonderful and exhilarating and touching and perfect. I can’t begin to estimate how many hundred (thousands?) of hours I spent rocking her little body and drinking in the perfection of every part of her tiny being.
Before I became pregnant again, I was so afraid of the day Stella would choose to wean herself – I was petrified I’d never get to experience that bond again, and as much as I wanted to start TTC again, I wasn’t willing to give up nursing for only that purpose. When my cycle came back on its own at 15mo postpartum (after three months of nursing only 2-3x/day), I was hugely relieved that I wouldn’t have to make that decision. Nursing was an incredibly emotional journey for me, and I’m so thankful we were able to continue it for as long as we did. It was very bittersweet when I got so nauseous and touched out during this early pregnancy that I suddenly needed Stella to be weaned because I never wanted breastfeeding to be something I dreaded or regretted doing with her.
I came across this beautiful letter a few months ago and immediately knew that I’d like to write something similar for Stella, so here goes nothing.
For 521 days – that’s 17 months and two weeks – you and I were connected in one of the most intimate ways possible. When you were first born, I had no concept of the magnitude of how amazing it would feel to hold you in my arms and literally feed you with the milk of my own body. That being said, I honestly didn’t have a hard and fast goal in mind for how long we’d continue on our breastfeeding journey together. When I found out I’d be going back to work when you were 8 weeks old, it made the end goal seem even more uncertain. Sometimes I thought six months would be all we would do, sometimes one year. At some point after a year, it became more of a fluid goal, moving and changing by the month. By the end, you could run over to me and sign “milk please” while saying “mama, gook peeeese!” – and it was the sweetest thing in the world. Anyone who says that no child should nurse past the age they can ask for it is ridiculous — or realized that a newborn’s mewling cry is also them asking for it.
We have nursed all around the country, you and I, in Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin. We have nursed on 20 planes, in countless back seats of vehicles, and on numerous airport shuttle buses. We have nursed on park benches and back porches, in church pews and and rodeo grandstands, at baseball games and in restaurants. We have been blessed to almost always have supportive people around us who weren’t freaked out by the natural act of nursing – instead they celebrated it!
Sometimes you’d nurse for a minute, sometimes you’d nurse for an hour. I pumped at work four days a week for nine months to ensure that you’d have mama’s milk to drink every day of your life that first year. For six months you had nothing but my milk, and for the next six months you had nothing but my milk and solid foods. When we switched to cow’s milk at one year during the day, I was SO proud of you for not even giving it a second thought when I handed you a sippy cup, but I was also a little sad that the one food source that had sustained you for so well for so long was no longer the only thing necessary in your life.
Nursing was a source of comfort for both of us. If you were tired, or sick, or we simply missed each other after a long day apart, nursing was our time to reconnect. You slept in our bed for the first six months of your life, and you and I were both learned to be pros at the middle of the night cuddles and feedings while remaining half asleep. I loved (nearly!) every minute of it.
Thank you Stella – thank you for being patient and learning with me. Thank you for knowing when I wasn’t ready for it to end, and thank you for going with it when I needed it to end so abruptly. Thank you for every caress of my cheek and pull of my hair. Thank you for every loving gaze and milk drunk grin. Thank you for being my daughter, and for loving me as much as I love you.
Because of the GPOMB (gratuitous pictures of my boobs) I’ll be PWP this post after a week or so, just FYI!