Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Saying "Farewell" to Breastfeeding

It was a sad weekend for me.  After more than fifteen months of what I would call a truly wonderful experience, I said “farewell” to breastfeeding.  Looking back on more than a year of the most special bonding time with my baby girl, I thought I would write a small reflection on what the experience has meant to me.

From the time I was pregnant I had it in my head that I would try to breastfeed.  I was lucky that I had such a great support system around me.  My husband was thrilled that I was willing to give it a shot, knowing full well how difficult it can be.  My mom, a woman who not only breastfed twins for six months, but then breastfed a singleton for a full year, was also behind me.  She also spent many years as a breastfeeding counselor, so I felt confident she could assist and guide me as much as I needed. 

No books prepare you for what breastfeeding is really like.  No first hand experiences really do it justice.  I knew it would be challenging, that I might not have a great milk supply, that the baby could have latch issues, or the pain could be too severe for me to continue.  I heard all of that.  I read all of that.  Yet what I didn’t read was how amazing it was, how fulfilling it was, and how it intimate it was to bond with your baby.

It really is.  Breastfeeding was the greatest thing I have done for my little girl.  Each well-check she had at the doctor was a reminder that I was still continuing to grow my baby.  Each nursing session was a time for us to be one, just her and me.  I loved watching her nurse, loved watching her as she got older and she knew just what to do.  My heart melted each time she fell asleep as snuggled in to me, belly full.  Once I went back to work, it was the first thing she wanted to do once we got home from the babysitter’s.  It was our time to reconnect and be together.

As she got older, nursing got harder.  No, it wasn’t because of her teeth, as some will assume.  Rather, it was from her curiosity of the world.  It is hard to nurse when you are trying to roll around, pet the dog, play with toys, and just check out what is happening all around.  At thirteen months nursing became just a morning and night routine.  We both still enjoyed it and on occasion she would verbally ask to nurse.  Yet I knew our time was limited.

The last few weeks have let me know that time was almost up.  Shortly after she would latch, Kendall would quickly sit up and ask for, “More?”  I was losing my supply.  So this past Saturday was the last time Kendall nursed.  We woke up on Sunday, I got her a cup of whole milk, and we went about our day.  That was it.  We were finished.

I didn’t have to go through the pain that many moms experience of “drying up.”  I was already dry.  Still, I felt an ache in my heart.  For fifteen and a half months I provided my daughter with food, immunity, and comfort.  Of course, she eats all read food now, so nourishment wasn’t a concern.  But how would I comfort her?  Tears in the night were quickly calmed with nursing.  How would we manage now?

Last night was my first test.  It isn’t often that Kendall cries in the night, so when she does I know she needs me.  Her cries cut the silence in the house at 12:30 am.  I went in to her room, picked her up out of her crib, and held her close.  She was still crying.  I grabbed her blankie, gave it to her to snuggle, but still she cried.  We went in to the kitchen and got her a cup of water.  That seemed to help.  Then we went back to her room, sat in her rocking chair, and I told her a story from when I was little.  As a little girl, I absolutely loved hearing stories from my mom’s childhood.  They were my favorite!  Things seemed so different.  What the heck was penny candy?  How could you walk uphill to school BOTH ways?  If I liked my mom’s stories so much, maybe Kendall would like mine.

I told her about the blizzard of ’93.  I was in third grade that year and we had off more than a week from school due to the most snow I had ever seen in my almost eight years of life.  Knowing that we had off from school, my mom had woken up my sister and me in the middle of the night.  She made us homemade hot chocolate and turned on the movie “A Muppet's Christmas Carol.”  We all snuggled on the couch under a big blanket, sipping our hot chocolate and making plans for a day of fun in the snow.  It is just one of my special memories growing up, but one that I hope to do with my own kids someday.  I shared my hopes with Kendall as she quieted down and began to fall back to sleep. 

Our days of breastfeeding may be over, but our days of bonding are not.  I am sad to close this incredible chapter in our relationship together as mother and child, but I feel extremely blessed to know that so many more chapters are there, waiting to be opened.  We will continue to bond and grow together, just differently.  And I look forward to cherishing those experiences just as much as I cherish this one.

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