Breastfeeding did not come easy for me. After 24 hours of not nursing, the nurses in the hospital insisted I give Sophie some formula. Then they rolled in an industrial-sized breast pump. And out rolled everything I thought nursing would be.
After being seen by several lactation consultants in the hospital, talking to several more on the phone once home, and visiting one on our own time (and dime) outside our hospital stay, we had a plan. I would nurse Sophie using a nipple shield, a terrible and wonderful invention. Terrible because it needed to be cleaned after every nursing session. Terrible because Sophie would constantly knock it off, flinging milk everywhere. Terrible because it made nursing in public—even with a cover—more difficult. Terrible because it was a piece of silicone separating me from her. But wonderful—absolutely wonderful—because with it, Sophie was able to nurse.
Then there was the issue of time. In the beginning, babies need fed every three hours—from the time you begin the feeding—around the clock. When using a nipple shield you’re supposed to pump—in addition to nursing—to keep up your supply. So it went like this: 1. Attempt to nurse without the shield. 2. Nurse with the shield. 3. Pump. 4. Clean pump and shield. By the time I got through this process I would, at times, only have an hour before I would need to start the process all over again. Meaning, in the middle of the night, I would only have an hour to sleep. And that’s when sleep deprivation set in.
I began making goals. In the beginning, they were in days. But then days turned to weeks. And then weeks turned to months. I read books with names like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I attended a local La Leche League Meeting. I talked to people who had used a nipple shield. I searched for resources online.
But one day step No. 1 didn’t lead to step No. 2. She nursed. On her own. Without the shield. It was only for a moment, but it was a moment. That moment led to longer moments, which eventually led to entire sessions. No more shield. No more pumping. No more constantly washing plastic. It became so easy. It became so nice. It became what I thought nursing would be.
My goals changed. Six months turned to nine, which turned to a year. I nursed on demand, which meant that sometimes, at 10 months, she would still nurse six to eight times a day. And, after slowly cutting out sessions, on April 30, at 13 months, I nursed her for the last time.
I love that I was able to give this gift to her. Nursing helped force a bond during those trying first few months, and I love how that bond remained—and grew stronger—as she grew older. Nursing trumped all—it calmed tears, softened bad days and allowed quiet time when our days were no longer quiet.
But I don’t think I could have done it without my circle of support. As I recovered from a c-section it was Andy who brought Sophie to me, put her back to sleep, and was constantly washing nipple shields, breast pump parts and glass bottles. Despite his own sleep deprivation, despite the fact that he was doing so much work without any of the bonding experience, he never—not once—complained.
I’m thankful for my mom and her constant encouragement to keep nursing, and for my mother-in-law, Jill, who reminded me that it’s OK to stop, which made nursing something I wanted to do—not had to do—which is a huge difference.
I’m thankful for my sister Katy, who, when visiting, would sit in bed with me and keep me company while I nursed. I’m thankful for my sister-in-law, Liz, who said it was no big deal that I nurse under cover, while sitting next to her in a restaurant, so I wouldn’t have to miss her company, the conversation, my meal.
I’m thankful for my dad and father-in-law, who always asked me how it was going, how I was doing, how Sophie was doing with it.
I’m thankful for my brother Kyle, who sat right down next to me on the couch at my parents’ house when I was nursing Sophie, sans cover, and carried on a conversation with me like it was no big deal.
I’m thankful for the usher at the Greensboro Grasshoppers game who let me leave the park and come back, even though it was against the rules, so I could nurse Sophie in a quiet place.
I’m thankful for the flight attendants who didn’t bat an eye when I nursed Sophie during takeoffs and landings, always stopping to ask me specifically if there was anything I needed and if I—we—were OK.
I’m thankful for my friend Dara who sat on the floor of the nursing room at Kenwood Mall with me on the many cold winter days when I just wanted to get out of the house. I’m thankful for my friends Kristin and Kathy who assured me—and practically insisted—I nurse a very hungry Sophie while dining at a restaurant with former colleagues. I’m thankful for my friend Rachel who helped hold down my nursing cover on a windy day at the park. I’m thankful for my friends who didn’t mind breast milk stored in their fridge, who didn’t mind me nursing at a cookout, who found humor in my leaking and lopsidedness, and who never judged when, at almost a year, I was still nursing Sophie several times a day.
I often hear stories of lack of support when it comes to nursing. I’m so thankful my experience was the opposite.
I cried the last time I nursed her. But with the last time also came a great sense of freedom. I can have a second glass of wine now. I’m no longer restricted to just Tylenol. I don’t have to worry about milk in the freezer should I get in a car accident or should I want a night out or should I be late from getting home.
They say nursing is a gift you can give to your baby. Well, Sophie learning to nurse—and loving it—was a gift she gave to me as well. And, perhaps, one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
April 30, 2009
“A thing on mother’s milk and kisses fed.” —Homer