Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bitter-Sweet Sorrow: Weaning

Nursing Seth for the first time, June 11th, 2007, around 12:20am. He was immediately a pro.


My nursing journey has come to an end, I'm afraid. After a decade of nursing babies and toddlers, my breasts have been forced into retirement by my sixteen month old who has outgrown the need for "mum". This was an unexpected turn of events for me, as all of his siblings seemed to be headed for college, boob attached. But alas, the turmoil of the spring and our separation in April for nine days, seemed to have taken its toll on our breastfeeding relationship, as he slowly consumed less and less of mama's milk and more solids from that point on.

A lot of the last ten, almost eleven years, has found me identified with nursing in one way or another. As a twenty-seven year-old new mother, disappointed and guilt-ridden with my less-than optimal birth experience, I was bound and determined to see my seemingly impossible breast-feeding commitment through til at least the six-month mark, where, at the time, in 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised women to strive for (the recommendation now is one-year, with the World Health Organization holding fast to a two-year mark). At three days old, Lily decided not to take the breast at all and hence my journey of anguish then strength began. Tom and I, determined to succeed at giving her what we felt was best, almost lived in Alexandria at our lactation consultant's home, attempting to soak up all of her wisdom and instruction, even on Thanksgiving Day. I cried day after day, night after night, as we fed her via syringe then by bottle, with me pumping every hour on the hour for two weeks. Then one night, around 11pm, as I sobbed uncontrollably and sang "Amazing Grace" while making the attempt, one more time, she finally caught on and nursed like a champ for over two years (and each baby I had, thereafter, was a huge pain in the toot in this department, causing me to want to quit many, many times). I found solace in my local La Leche League meetings, surrounding myself with powerful, intelligent women who were following the same path. As soon as I was eligible, I began pursuing qualifications for leadership and, after moving to Maryland, became a co-leader then went on to starting and leading my own evening group in my home in Riverdale. There were months where I'd have almost twenty nursing moms and babes in my living room- and I'd feel a surge of empowerment that I'd pursued something so meaningful and fulfilling- more than anything in my life up to that point, next to mothering itself.

My mother's breast cancer diagnosis, in 2003, reinforced the importance of this decision we'd made with our babies- with studies confirming that for each year of nursing, the chances of being hit by this awful disease were less and less likely. A decade of nursing, in fact, has brought my chances to nearly zero, for which I am truly grateful.

I don't know that I'll ever again have the privilege to feel the bond that a nursing relationship brings between mother and baby. Those days for me may be over- Seth perhaps being our last biological child. But not a moment will I ever regret the anguish and then the joy of breastfeeding- what an amazing journey.

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Forty-three year-old, mother and staunch advocate of four young children, passionate warrior of truth and self, finding the soul in each day, sharing my struggles and triumphs as I live them. Mostly I do this for me, so my thoughts don't race as much at night as they used to. But I also give this to those of you who need to know, in any or every way, that you are not alone.

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