This post is more personal than most – sharing my thoughts (and some photos) of breastfeeding.
I shared last week why I feel birth photography is worth the investment. I believe the same of family photography (on my To Do list for this summer!) but I also think there are countless moments in our daily life that we want to capture – and they certainly don’t all need a professional photographer. Wouldn’t that be nice, though? To have someone making us look beautiful while forever preserving the sweet moments of our family’s life – glossing over the raging naked one year old kicking on my floor and the marker drawings on the door compliments of my three year old and the five year old standing on the kitchen counter helping herself to snacks? We won’t discuss my older three who are now strangely camera avoidant. (I have seen some photographers now offering “Day in the Life” packages which sound so fun! If I ever cleaned my house enough to feel comfortable having a photographer here snapping pictures of my reality.)
Anyhoo, yesterday my baby turned 21 months old. A few days ago she woke up during the night (she does that a lot) and I offered to nurse her as I normally do in my delirious asleep state and she said no. Huh?? That woke my brain up more. She pointed to the cup on my nightstand and said, “Ice.” I handed over my water cup, she drank, then laid back down and fell asleep. I was so confused! What does this mean? Are you weaning? Thinking about weaning? Just thirsty? Wanted something cold this time? (Image is my sweet girl nursing for the very first time.)
I don’t know, but it made me realize our nursing days are numbered. My other children I weaned before they were ready, and I told myself that with our littlest and last I would let her decide when it was time to stop. This was my first indication that she preferred something over the breast, and I wasn’t offended but I was surprised.
While I was a very bashful first time nurser (excusing myself to another room, covering up, not nursing anywhere remotely public) I’ve found that with each baby I get more discrete and more comfortable. I still tend to nurse in more private spots as I have easily distracted babies, but I am thrilled to see moms nursing with confidence.
Nursing is NOT easy. It may be natural, but it takes work and learning and it’s a challenge! Yes, I’ve had the lovely rosy glow moments of gazing into my babies’ eyes and feeling such overwhelming love (and hormones) and gratitude that I could nourish them like this. But I’ve also had babies who struggled with nursing, who could not nurse at various times. I’ve battled thrush and mastitis and clogged ducts, I’ve had bleeding & cracked nipples, I pumped for three months around the clock every three hours (waking up all. night. long. to pump) while my baby was in the NICU and I’ve struggled with hyper-lactation and engorgement (ouch!) AND with insufficient supply and all the supplements that entails. I’ve gone years of my life without dairy because of milk protein sensitivity, including a year also egg free for my allergy boy. I’ve nursed while exhausted and pregnant and barfing and tandem nursed my toddler and newborn. I’ve been bitten numerous times by sad teething babies or little ones falling asleep (and locking their jaw – ow.) I’ve also had bored little ones nursing while poking me in the face, the eye, sticking their fingers in my mouth, pulling my glasses off, tangling their fingers in my hair, trying to see something across the room while still attached, etc, etc. For over seven years of my life my top priority in all clothing choices is, “How quickly can I get this top up, down, or open to get boob access?” Yes, I realize how odd that sounds! But nursing a baby impacts virtually every aspect of your life – how long you can be away on errands, what you eat, how you sleep, what you wear.
NURSING IS HARD. If you nursed or pumped even one feeding ever then pat yourself on the back because you did good!!! Nursing is not easy – but it’s also one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
So as I pondered the beginning of the end of my nursing career, I asked my husband to snap a photo of our wiggly little girl nursing this evening. These are what he captured, straight out of the camera – candid family moment. (I know, he’s good!) But I wanted to share these in part because looking at them I see a baby. She’s 21 months old, and when I was expecting my first I hoped to nurse for a year. Thinking that was the recommended guidelines, I weaned him (amidst great protest) the week he turned one. I remember hearing that if a baby could walk and talk they were too old to nurse (this was NOT from a reliable source!!) But my baby walked at nine months and he was so clearly still a baby. My chatterbox little girl started talking at 9 months and again – such a tiny baby very much in need of nursing. It made me question those rather arbitrary guidelines, and the rest of my babies I nursed longer. I didn’t imagine nursing an almost 2 year old, but I see these photos and see someone still very much loving and benefitting from breastfeeding. Though she is looking rather mischievous here. During some of those marathon nursing sessions when I felt like I would have someone permanently attached to my breast forever I didn’t always have a great appreciation for my ability to nurse. But it’s a gift, to be able to nourish our babies. When I was not able to nurse there were a lot of tears shed – mine and theirs. No doubt when this little girl decides she’s ready to move on to the next stage of her journey and gives up breastfeeding I will also shed some tears. It’s bittersweet.