Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Daughter's Nursing Story

Sadly, this is the closest thing to a nursing picture I have with my daughter. I always tried really hard to be discreet with her, and didn't like to show my breasts at all. She is about six days old in this picture, still in the NICU, and if I remember correctly, we had figured out the latch but she wasn't interested in nursing because she still had her feeding tube.

She was always an amazing nurser. It took us about a day to figure out the latch, since she didn't nurse until she was five days old, but once we learned, she could empty my breast in under five minutes. The NICU nurses had me worried since to them babies are supposed to nurse for fifteen minutes minimum, so we had to lie about her nursing length, even though she was having wet and dirty diapers and was gaining weight.

I did so many things with her I regret. Not only the birth, but with breastfeeding and starting solids. Thinking about all of it just makes me hurt for our lost breastfeeding relationship because I took the advice of others instead of going with my gut.

She was a month early, but when her actual age was 4 months old, we were told to start rice cereal. Her adjusted age was 3 months. Saying that makes me cringe. She was so young, so basically we sat her in her carrier and dripped rice cereal filled with breastmilk down her throat. I don't even know why we bothered with it. The rice was so watered down, we might as well have put it in a cup for her to drink.

At 5 months (4 months adjusted) we started orange vegetables. ONLY orange, just like her doctor said. She was yellow for the first three months of her life because her jaundice level had gotten so high and it was taking a long time to work out of the system, and then we started the orange foods. My baby was actually orange for a few months. Looking back I see how completely ridiculous it was.

At 6 months (5 months adjusted) we started green vegetables. Her orange slowly faded out as we added more foods, but even then, she never really liked food that much. We used the baby food jars, and if you have tasted them (besides some of the fruits) you know how truly disgusting they are.

I went back to work when she was almost six months old, and when she was about eight months she started nursing constantly. She was eating three solid meals a day, and we wouldn't ever really nurse during the day, but she would nurse ALL NIGHT LONG. At the time I had no idea it was normal and she was just reverse cycling and comfort nursing, so I thought something was wrong, and at nine months, I weaned her.

My family told me stories of how I was weaned at nine months and went straight to cows milk, so that's what we did.

My nine month old baby went from breastmilk to cows milk.

I heard it was fine, and we didn't have money for fomula, so I didn't see anything wrong with it.

After we stopped, she got sick more than she ever had been in her life. My milk never truly dried up, but there was no way I would be able to get my supply back, so I sucked it up, and realized that our nursing relationship was over.

When we had issues getting pregnant, I craved that missed relationship. I wasn't able to comfort her like I used to, and it felt like I had been replaced since the one thing only I could do for my daughter I had willingly given up. In place of a gallon of milk from a cow.

Fast forward to this August.

I had started learning earlier this year about the benefits of nursing toddlers, and even though I loved the idea, I had been raised thinking that toddlers did not need to be nursed and that it was "creepy". I was slowly coming around, but even now, sometimes the thought creeps into my head and I feel guilty for thinking about it.

I lost my pregnancy at 14 weeks and started pumping to donate my milk that had come in after the birth. Glade, who had been weaned at nine months, 28 months ago, started becoming very interested in my breasts and the milk. I had little jars in my freezer and I would fill them with milk and she would eat them like popsicles. She was healthier, and it made me feel good that I could do something for her.

She loved to help me set up my pump and help me attach everything I needed, and after I was finished, she would pump her breasts. She loved being involved with it all.

Then, about the end of August, she wanted to drink from my breast directly.

I was amazed. I had wanted to do this for so long, and I thought it would be as easy as pulling my shirt down and she would latch and go to town.

I was so so so wrong.

No matter what we did, neither of us could figure out how to get her to latch. When I weaned her she didn't have teeth, so that was one struggle on its own. Plus, she is very active, so she didn't like lying still for that long, since the easiest way for us to practice was side lying. We tried watching movies, having her suck on my finger, me showing her how to suck with my finger, I tried talking her through it, and all it did was end with me in tears and her wanting to go play.

She became disinterested, and I kept giving her my milk in cups or in her popsicles, and I thought we were done trying. It was like I had failed at nursing her all over again.

In Septembe, I had just finished pumping, and so my breast was still hanging out of my shirt, and Glade dove. She looked so excited that she just went for it.

And she latched!!

She was so thrilled that she popped off, looked at me completely shocked and said, "Mom, there's milk in my mouth!" and went back to nursing. I couldn't believe it!

My three year old, after 29 months off the breast, had successfully latched and nursed!

Even now, I cry thinking of how good that first time felt.

She didn't nurse very often, once or twice a day and sometimes if she gets hurt or upset, but even then, I know she is getting nutrition from me again, and hopefully it will keep her healthy this winter.

I know a lot of people would think I'm crazy for being so excited about nursing a three year old, but to me, this is one gift that my body knows how to give. I have never had a problem with breastmilk supply, and it feels like even if my body sucks at other things, it can sustain life through its milk.

My three year old is now also getting that gift, along with the two babies I donated to.

And for me, right now, this is something that I also needed. I am unable to give her a living sibling that she so desperately craves. I felt like a complete failure when I let her down and ended our relationship early. It shouldn't have been my place to decide that.

This time, I am doing it different. This time, we will do this as long as she wants. This time, it is her choice.

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In the end, she nursed for a month. One day she never asked for milk. And yet, this time, I am completely okay with it.

I miss our relationship, but this time, it was completely her choice to stop. I knew that we wouldn't have much time left since she was three and hadn't nursed in over two years, but I loved every second of our new relationship.

I don't have the guilt that I had when I weaned her before she was ready. I still have frozen milk in my freezer that she drinks or eats whenever she wants. It isn't as much as before, but she is healthier this winter already than years before.

I still sometimes think I should feel guilty for nursing a three year old, but I put it aside. The culture in the United States towards breastfeeding needs to change. Nursing toddlers is not a creepy thing. It won't make them sexual deviants, and it does not mean they will be dependent on their mother for the rest of their lives.

Breastfeeding is a special bond that I am so glad I got to re-do with my daughter. It is a gift that every child and every mother should receive, and age has nothing to do with when to stop.

8 comments:

Mama Mo said... [Reply to comment]

That was beautiful. I've got tears in my eyes... How wonderful you were able to put aside your misgivings and nurse your daughter again! Hooray for mamas and their milk! Thank you for sharing your story.

The ArtsyMama said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you so much for being to open and honest with us about your feelings and your nursing story. Thank you also for donating milk to babies in need. My son received donated milk from my friend - when I was having supply issues - and I am forever grateful for that gift she gave to him. I plan to pay it forward when we wean - which will be his choice not mine either. Thank you for being a special angel.

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

What a beautiful nursing story. We all have regrets. We all have things we would do differently. I'm so happy you guys got a second chance no matter how brief! Your last two posts have been just beautifully honest and inspring! Thank you so much!

Kylie said... [Reply to comment]

Beautiful. I pumped for my 27 weeker for 10 weeks, then my milk disappeared (stress and medication I think) I tried later to get my milk back and start nursing, but it didn't work.

I am so glad she started again, then finished on her own terms, like completion of a circle.

Stephanie Nichole said... [Reply to comment]

The relationship between mother and child while breast feeding is so beautiful! I so wish my daughter and I could of had that! Yes Im an adoptive mother that wishes she could of breast feed! One can wish it could happen one day! Thank You for sharing your story!

Rachael said... [Reply to comment]

What a wonderful story for you to share with everyone! Thank you for sharing. I cannot imagine the feelings you must have had with your extended nursing relationship. Way to trust your instincts!

Becky said... [Reply to comment]

Wow - what an amazing story! What a gift you gave/are giving to your daughter. As a momma who has received donated milk for my little guy (because we're adopting. I induced lactation, but don't produce much), thank you for being willing to pump and give someone else's baby a wonderful gift!

terra cotta momma said... [Reply to comment]

What a great story I loved reading it. It is so strange because today I wrote my nursing story too! I am so happy you got to give your daughter your breast-milk again.

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