18 months ago our fourth baby, sweet Virginia Rose, came into this world peacefully yet ready to nurse! So…it happened. This time around I felt more prepared, armed with information, knowledge and support people that I would later ask 1001 questions about all things breastfeeding. My last three attempts at breastfeeding were a major failure, but I was determined to try again. This was my last shot at breastfeeding being she was likely to be our last baby. I wanted to give her the most natural source of nutrition that I could. I knew I could be that for her. Or at least I would try like hell to do so. I needed to feel like I could do this, that my body was made to breastfeed a child, and that it wasn’t broken. People kept telling me that this was the most beautiful gift I could give my child…
Our first year? Well. It was some gift. Anything that could go wrong went wrong. Lip tie, tongue tie, low milk supply, bleeding, cracks, nipple pain, forceful letdown, block feeding, mastitis THREE TIMES, clogged ducts, lots of crying (me and her), bottle refusal, caffeine sensitivity, engorgement, nursing in public insecurities, pain, pain and more pain. We went through so much together.
Constantly on repeat in my head: Virginia I love you, we can do this.
It has been 18 months. My breasts now have their own seat at the dinner table. Not because they are huge, no, because they are sweet Virginia Rose’s most prized possession. My husband doesn’t bat an eye anymore when I walk across our room half naked. (Meh, give it a few years bu. Right now they have only one purpose.) We haven’t actually been away on a date night since she was born. Where the boobs go, so does Virginia. Nursing in public? No big deal. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Have you tried putting a blanket over a toddlers head AND tried to breastfeed said toddler? They think it’s a game of peek-a-boo. It just doesn’t work. Multitasking? I’ve deemed myself the queen at multitasking and breastfeeding. I have four kids, not sure that I have a choice in that matter. There is no rocking chair, kindle reading, nursing sessions in this mom’s life. I give all the props to my love of babywearing. Nothing saves the day better than a woven wrap and a baby sound asleep on your back!
Today, Virginia is old enough to ask for milk. Her sweet little voice muttering “moo pwease” while she makes the sign for milk, and stares wide eyed at my breasts with a huge grin until I give in and lift my shirt. She lets out this growl, almost a roar, as she goes to latch on. As cute as it is, at that point I feel like a piece of meat she’s about to devour. Nursing a toddler is the real deal, people. Drive by milk, comfort milk, milk to escape overwhelming situations, you name it. She calls the shots. AND THAT’S OKAY! There are moments where breastfeeding suddenly feels like the worst decision ever because all I feel like is a cow. I’ve caught myself many times from throwing in the towel.
Deep breathe. Virginia I love you, we can do this.
Moments when I am still sitting on the couch 2 hours later at 10:56pm while she nurses off of each side, trying to soothe her to sleep. She is pulling at my nipples with her tiny, yet raptor-like fingernails as I am pushing through the discomfort. She falls asleep, I try to lay her down, and her sweet little hands tighten their grip on my shirt. Ok, I won’t move after all.
My husband, oh my sweet husband, he will catch me in the glorious moments where my face just screams defeat. He will look at me and tell me to just GIVE UP. I wasn’t sure where he was ever going with saying such a thing, but the strong willed mama in me always came out when he would. I never gave up. I pushed through the pain, the emotion, the annoyance, the constant doubting, and insecurities…all of it.
It all came full circle for me and Virginia on the eve of her turning 19 months. Exhausted after a long day, trying to get this her to sleep by nursing her down in our bed, I came walking back into the living room, babe in arms, with that same look of defeat. We both plopped back down on the sofa. Virginia twiddling one nipple while nursing off of the other. I was just about to break into tears when my husband got my attention. I looked at him and he said with SO much honesty and love, “honey, you are going to miss this in a few years. You are doing great. I love you and I’m proud of you.”
It was in those few words that it all felt O.K. It was okay to feel like I wanted to quit, it was okay to feel all the feels I had ever felt these past 18 months. For months he was telling me to just give up. A good part of my life growing up, that was all that I did. Give up. On sports, on relationships, on school, on finances, I gave up on a lot. Not this time. This time, I put her needs before my wants. That is all that I ever dreamed of. I looked down at her, and he was right. She was always growing, always changing. I would miss her sweet gaze when she stopped nursing to look up at me. Her sweet little hands rubbing my face, or even her toes going up my nose I know I would miss. I would miss her little growl. I would miss this moment like I miss the time she used to pucker her lips at me to signal she wanted milk. I know now that’s what he wanted me to see.
We have come farther than I ever thought we would. Whenever it is, at whatever age she decides she is ready to self-wean, these moments I will never forget. I will miss this more than I ever thought I would. I’m proud of us. We did this. It’s not only the best thing for her, but it has been the best thing for me as well.
18 months strong. That’s where we are now. If I had just one piece of advice for new moms planning to breastfeed it would be: support. Find all the support. Get in a moms group. Find a Breastfeeding USA chapter near you. Educate yourself. Speak to your family about your plans to breastfeed and ask for their full support. When stuff hits the fan, you won’t feel alone. You can do this. Embrace the tough moments. Cherish the beautiful moments. You can’t get them back.
Even baby toes in your nose.
Nursing session photographed by Bonnie Hussey Photography. http://www.bonniehusseyphotography.com/