Thursday, 23 February 2017

My breastfeeding journey

Motherhood -- it's a journey that helps us to grow, that forces us to take responsibility and that brings us a treasure trove of tender, unforgettable, life-affirming moments. Through the struggles and the exhaustion and the fear, we fight our way to peace, joy and unfathomable love.

Motherhood changes us, and the person we are after we have our children is not the person we were before. It often changes us for the better, in so many ways -- caring for a vulnerable little one means we put another human being before ourselves and our own wants and desires. It makes us really take stock of our lives and focus on becoming, every day, the person we want our children to look up to and feel safe and loved with.

But I feel like motherhood should also come with a disclaimer: guilt and worry. From the very moment a woman announces her pregnancy, she is often hit with questions that can leave her feeling out of her depth and overwhelmed. Is she going to give birth naturally? Will she choose a midwife or a doctor? Who is going to be allowed in the delivery room? Will she circumcise her baby, if she has a boy? Will she cloth diaper, use disposables or practice elimination communication? What style of parenting will she and her husband use? Will she breastfeed, pump and feed from a bottle, or opt to go with formula?

It goes on, and on and on. And as your child gets older, the questions don't stop -- they just change. How much screen time should will you give your child? How much outside time? Will you go back to work, and put them in day care? Or have a grandparent look after them? What about preschool? Are you going to homeschool, enroll them in Catholic school, or public? And what about activities? Are they going to be in soccer, in baseball, in gymnastics...it's really never ending.

I've learned, in my almost six years of motherhood, to listen to my instincts, and those of my husband. If something feels off, like overscheduling our five-year-old, we'll tune into that and let her choose one activity she really enjoys, per season, to take part formally in. If we feel our 20-month-old isn't quite ready for potty training, as much as we'd love him to be, we wait for him. If our daughter wants to put bubble-gum pink streaks in her hair, and other people are telling us we shouldn't but we don't seem to see a problem with it, we'll go for it.

But I can remember just how overwhelmed I felt when I first had my daughter, even though I was the type of mom who totally went overboard in preparation. I'm a planner, an organizer. When I'm faced with something life changing and stressful, I dive headfirst into a pile of books. I even brought a parenting book with me to the hospital, and was reading it after I'd given birth. The nurses got a kick out of that!

One of my biggest dreams was to have a natural, medication-free birth. Okay, okay, if the pain got too bad, I'd probably give in and let them dose me. I mean, who am I kidding? I don't have a high pain threshold. But all my life, people have told me that I'm a "sturdy girl" with "child-bearing hips". Lovely! So, when I ended up having a caesarean-section with my eldest child, I felt pretty disappointed. When I learned I'd need one, I burst into tears, and felt that somehow I was already failing this whole motherhood thing.

Thankfully, shortly after I'd had my baby I got over my disappointment in not delivering her the "natural" way. And when I got pregnant with my son three years later, I really pushed for a vaginal birth, but when it turned out I couldn't have one, I didn't feel nearly as let-down as I had when Boo was born.

One thing that I think really helped me feel better about not being able to deliver my babies vaginally was the fact that I was able to breastfeed both of them. But it wasn't easy at first. My daughter and I were separated for almost an hour after she was born -- even though we were both doing fine and she was a strong, healthy 10 lb. baby, the hospital I'd had her in six years ago didn't really do family-friendly C-sections. They whisked her away after giving me a quick peek at her lovely, squishy, red face, and I didn't see her again until after I had been cleaned up, and my husband, mother and sister all got to hold Boo before I did. When Bubs was born, the C-section was much more personal. As soon as he came out, they made sure he was alright and then bundled him up tightly. I remember the primal surge of joy I felt at hearing his cries, and I will never forget how he immediately stopped crying when they laid him on my chest, his gorgeous little face mere inches from mine. I was able to nurse him in the recovery room, which was wonderful.

Boo, asleep after a nursing session (that's my arm, not my boob!)

With Boo, my milk took six days to come in. I was a nervous first-time mother, but I was determined to breastfeed, so I made sure no one supplemented her with formula or gave her a pacifier. Back when she was born the hospital policy was not to let husbands or partners sleep over, so we C-section moms didn't have any help. They kept our babies in the nursery overnight for the first night and took them to us for a feeding. With Bubs, the hospital was much more baby-friendly, and my husband was able to stay the night with us and help me when I needed it. I also kept him nestled firmly at my side -- sleeping and awake. We'd finally ended up co-sleeping with our daughter after weeks of not getting any sleep at all, and it had turned out so well that I was determined to do the same with our son from the start.

That, in addition to the fact that my body had already done this once before, meant that my milk came in on about day two or three with our son, whereas it took six days to come in with our daughter. I remember how worried I was! She was gaining weight and no one suggested I supplement, so she must have been getting enough colostrum, but I will always remember the night that I just couldn't take the worry anymore -- I called up a La Leche League hotline and cried while telling them that I was worried I was starving my baby! The very next morning, I woke up and my milk had come in with a vengeance.

I ended up nursing Boo until she was about three-and-a-half years old. I never intended to go that long. I thought I'd for sure nurse her until she was one, and I can remember making a feeble attempt to wean her at that time, but it just didn't feel right. So again, I listened to my instincts. Nursing was just such a great way to be close to her, to bond with her, to calm her and best of all, to put her to sleep! I really think it helped us to develop the amazing bond that we still have today. There was something about seeing her as a chubby six-month-old and thinking, wow, that's all me -- my milk has made her so strong and healthy! When I was pregnant with her brother, my milk ended up drying up, and I knew I had to stop soon or she'd want to tandem nurse (and nursing an almost four-year-old and a newborn was not something I was keen on!), so we ended up slowly, gradually ending our nursing relationship.

When our son came along, nursing was a lot easier -- in some ways. It didn't hurt as much at first, but he did have pretty bad reflux, and my powerful milk ejection reflex meant he was often choking at the breast, which made him very angry and he would cry a lot. But after a few months we really got into the swing of things. He's now almost 20 months old, and he is still nursing.
Bubs, in a milk-induced sleep

So why am I writing this now? I think it's because I know my nursing journey is coming to an end. Recently, Bubs started wanting to nurse like a newborn again -- four or five times a night, and plenty throughout the day. Sometimes, it's really frustrating. But then I heard about a mom who went through the same thing when her little guy was 20 months old, and then at 25 months, he was hardly nursing at all anymore.

While sometimes I daydream about a time our kids can spend a night, or even a weekend (I dare to dream!) at their grandparents' house, or when I can go all night without being woken up for "boo-boos", I know that when I am truly done nursing I will miss it. I will miss gazing into my baby's eyes as he seeks comfort from my breast, and I will miss his little hand playing with my fingers. I'll miss tickling him and watching him giggle and try to drink milk at the same time. So I'm trying to savour all these nursing sessions, because I don't know how long they will last. Will I nurse him as long as I did my daughter? Probably not. Let's face it, after around five years of combined breastfeeding, I'm needing a long break. But who knows? Maybe it's something he won't want to let go of for awhile.

Breastfeeding is a controversial topic, but this post isn't about the controversy. It's not about whether breast is best, or whether we should cover up when we nurse in public. It's just about my personal journey. Breastfeeding is one of the things I've had to work the hardest at, and it's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It's one of the things that make me proudest to be who I am. And it's a gift that I have give/am giving to my children that will always live on -- in my memories, as well as in their health and wellbeing.

But I encourage all parents, regardless of how they feed their children or the other parenting choices they make, to just enjoy every single blessed, golden moment. They won't be little forever. Time is speeding by, and when all is said and done and they're full-grown adults living under a different roof than ours, we will have our cherished memories. So let's make a lot of them, and let's enjoy them. Let's look up from our phones and into their eyes. Let's press pause on social media and on life and tarry awhile in the childhood of our little ones. They'll never forget it, and we'll always remember.

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