October 1, 2010

An Unexpectedly Fond Farewell

This is only slightly relevant, but it does make me laugh!

In the Smith house, October 5th means more than just birthday cake. It means a transition to whole milk and sippy cups. It means Mac's bottles are put away and my trusty Medela pump, and all of the delightful gear that goes with it, is packed up. It means I have accomplished even more than I set out to do: I breastfed my son for a year.

I don't speak publicly about nursing often, as it's a pretty personal topic and I don't want to be found by keywords that bring out the crazies. (Remember when boys typed 58008 in their calculators and giggled while reading it upside down? Some haven't outgrown that instinct.)

That said, I remember googling "breastfeeding encouragement" at 4am last October. I recall reading and rereading a list of 101 reasons to nurse - it was all that got me through a particularly trying day. I slept with ice packs and heating pads and Advil by my side, scrounging the internet looking for ways to make a go of this nursing thing. I'd love to encourage even one woman who comes across this blog.

Late last summer, when asked, I said I'd try breastfeeding and see how it went - no pressure. If it worked, great. If it didn't, we'd try formula. (But, and I remember this so clearly, I'd never breastfeed "for a full year" or anything. I knew so few women who had done that; it almost seemed odd.)

What I didn't account for in my lackadaisical "we'll see how this goes" attitude is myself; I'm far from laidback when it comes to even the most vague commitments. I put tremendous pressure on myself to make it work in the early weeks, when I hit almost every bump in the book. I couldn't quit unless it was on my terms; I knew my problems were only superficial, not the "my baby isn't getting enough food" or "my body physically can't do this" kind. I felt bound to make this work until I really knew I couldn't anymore.

My first goal was two weeks, which I considered a legitimate try, but I really wanted to make it to six. For a hundred reasons, exhaustion not the least of which, those were some of the most challenging weeks I've ever lived through - but I did survive, and even enjoy the overall experience. Just not every last moment.

There were nights when Mac and I both cried out of frustration. There were prayers said about my inability to do anything right and about, shall we say, my 58008. I laughed with a neighbor that I hadn't prayed about my bust for 15 years, since I wanted desperately just to have one. My neighbor was right - those moments are humbling in the extreme, but they serve to give us perspective, to make us entirely reliant on the Lord and thankful for those who support us.

The early weeks of breastfeeding felt harder than labor because they were a choice. Labor was definite; it was going to happen whether I got on board or not. Breastfeeding was a choice I made eight times a day; it was taxing physically and emotionally.

After I made it to six weeks, a weight lifted and things got much, much easier. I wanted to nurse for the remainder of my maternity leave (12 weeks) and see how things went when I was back in the office.

Had I remained at my full time job, I would not have been able to continue breastfeeding. I was fortunate to have a "mothers' room" on site, but pumping four times a day was not working out well for me; I dipped into my frozen stash more than I liked. I might have made it to my (big, shiny, overall, please let me get there!) six month goal if I'd stayed at my job, but it would have been a stretch.

After reaching that "far off but finally here" six month mark in April, I really did commit to see how it goes. We'd stop nursing when it stopped working for us. It never did, especially when I thought of the money I was saving, of the ease, benefits and convenience for both me and Mac.

Being home with Mac more made breastfeeding much easier than the ordeal it felt like at the start. The irony is that once you're more rested, once the baby sleeps longer and you know him more and understand more about nursing, he starts eating less often. And you start feeling more sane, a funny side effect of longer stretches of sleep.

Once those stars align, it's all downhill. Meals take less time. You fumble less and succeed without nearly as much effort. You feel more confident and prepared and know what to expect. The beginning is a perfect storm of exhaustion, hormones, ignorance, confusion and panic. Once I pushed through the rough start we had, though, things got easier. Enjoyable, even.

Many react with surprise when they find out Mac has nursed this first year of his life. Truth be told, I'm surprised, too. Surprised that our difficulties last fall went away. Surprised that I chose to do something for a full year that caused me moments of heartache and discomfort early on; I'm a person who tends to run from such things. Most of all, I'm surprised at how sad I am to see this part of my life come to a close.

We're phasing out nursing times and praying that Mac learns to drink from, not just chew on, sippy cups. By his first birthday, we will be done with breastfeeding.

Mac nurses less in a week now than he did each day of his early months. (Eight times a day x mom and baby who are new at breast feeding = a lot of time getting the hang of things. In his twelfth month, Mac's three mom-based meals a day totaled less than 30 minutes daily.)

Many days, mealtimes are the only moments I get to hold a still, silent Mac, when he's not pushing off to get something he wants. They're fleeting, sweet times - and they're almost over.

I know some women choose to nurse past twelve months, but for us now is the time to wean. It's the start of a new chapter and the end of a bittersweet one.

It's another milestone in a wonderful year. Eleven months ago you could have knocked me over with a feather to hear that I'd be sad to give up what was such a difficult part of motherhood. And yet I am.

If Bradley and I are blessed with another baby one day, my goal (again) would be to nurse for six months. In the beginning, this goal will seem impossible, but I'm armed with experience and hopeful that I can be successful again. I hope I can start with small mini-goals and give myself the time and freedom to truly see what works for us. I know every situation must be different.

For now, I'm trying not to feel nuts for wistfully ending something that has had its ups and downs. How can I miss what was once so hard for me? Maybe that's the magic of motherhood - it's hard to explain, but even the tough stuff can be sweet.


KVH said...

I can honestly say that I know how you feel. I was there once and your story sounds just like mine. My daughter is 15 months now and the transition was nothing but great. I'm sure Mac will do just fine during this transition period and I know you will, too!

The Doyle Family said...

Anne - what you did was a wonderful, special gift to little Mac! Although I quit nursing at 6 weeks, but pumped until 7 months and had enough milk to last til 11 months, this is one thing in my life that I can say I set a goal and actually accomplished it. I am not a boastful person but love to brag about this one...and you should too!!

Brooke Turner said...

Anne, what a sweet post!

I must say, I will not be sad to pack away all the Medela stuff when that day comes!

The Gaymons said...

Way to Go, Anne! And Happy Birthday to Sweet Mac!

Suze said...

I have a niece on the way - due in february! my sister is new to whole breastfeeding and if she should. What would you recommend and for how long? This is her first child. oh and happy birthday to MAC ! I wish my niece would be here sooner than later but then again im afraid once she's here time will fly by and ill be wishing she was still in my sisters tummy ! anyway, have a great monday :)

Margaret said...

Congratulations!!! What a wonderful gift you gave Mac, and what an amazing sacrifice of your body and your time that you gave to your sweet boy. I nursed all three of my kiddos (for 5, 12, and 7 months), although Emma Claire was the only one who made it to a year, and I know how bittersweet it is to wean, especially after making it for that long. Proud of you, mama! :)

Jennifer said...

Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment!! That is something you should be truly proud of, especially since extended breastfeeders seem few and far between these days. My goal is a year as well, currently on month 5!

Nicole said...

I feel like you just read that entire post out of my mind...can I borrow that whenever Mills turns a year old? Haha! :) I'm hanging in until a year, too (that's my goal, of course), and I just know I will have the same bittersweet feeling!
Way to go, momma! Such a precious accomplishment!

Lauren Vicars said...

Anne, I just now read this post for the first time, coincidentally as I was nursing C! She's 13 months now, with no intentions of giving it up...although I'm trying to slowly cut back. Like you, it's about the only "still" time I get to spend with her...and I am so surprised (and proud of myself) I've made it this long! Pat yourself on the back :)

Shannon Sentences said...

This is a really old post of yours, but I am reading it for the first time and felt compelled to comment because I am almost 7 months into breastfeeding my son and am hoping to make it at least the full year. I agree with you entirely that the small goals and a determined spirit are what it takes because it truly is hard and trying at first. I'll be curious to hear your experience now with Mary Brooks and whether there is again that difficult learning curve. I still have a love/hate relationship with my trusty Medela pump and love the weekends, when I can put it away till Monday. But I know I'm doing something great for my son and really special for our relationship (agreed on the only quiet, still time with him), and that makes it all worth it. Well done!


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