Thursday, December 31, 2009

More than just my milk

I remember a comment someone made to me when I was struggling with breastfeeding Jonah, and feeling inadequate as a mother. She told me to remember that I was "more than just milk", and that Jonah needed my nurturing in many ways beyond nursing. I said, "of course", but really, inside, I was thinking "Are you kidding? Have you seen this baby?".

Our friends teased us that they didn't know what Jonah looked like for the first 6 months of his life; he was always nursing. Nursing in a carrier, nursing in his sleep, however, wherever, that's what he did. To be fair, he also screamed, but that was when he wasn't nursing, so I was incentivized to keep him on the boob pretty much 24/7.

I don't know which was the chicken and which the egg, but Jonah ended up as a baby whose only consolation was my breast. He nursed for comfort as well as nourishment, which is totally healthy and normal, but it was taken to the extreme. He never had any interest in cuddling or being rocked; if I was holding him and not nursing he was pissed.

Looking back, I definitely learned to equate nursing with mothering, and that basic equation led me to view giving him formula as tantamount to failure as a parent. This was the one thing he wanted from me, the one thing that I could give him and no one else could, and I worked so hard, day and night, to give it to him. It all worked out ok, but with my milk supply issues it probably would have been much easier on both of us if I had been willing to supplement.

Fast forward to my second baby, and breastfeeding is even harder than before. I have had to supplement with Galen, almost from birth. And while I thought I was prepared for the possibility, it has been very much a struggle not to feel like a failure. Every bottle that I gave Galen was painful for me, a reminder of the fact that I couldn't give him everything that he needed. Feelings of worthlessness plagued me, and followed me into bouts of post-partum depression. No encouraging words, no rationalization, nothing could shake me free from my own self judgement.

Until Galen, himself, managed to show me what I could not see on my own. We had been struggling with sleep issues for a while, and I was trying to get him down one night with little success. He was fussing while nursing, and I knew he was hungry, so I gave him a bottle. But he didn't want it, he just tensed up and began to cry. We were in the bed together, side-lying like we always sleep, and I kept trying over and over while he got more upset. Finally, I sat upright, picked him up and cradled him in my arms. He melted into me, and began rooting around for the bottle, which I gave him. He had just wanted to be held by me. It ended up being one of the sweetest, most tender moments that we had shared, with me giving him all of my love and nurturing, and him lapping it up. He finished the bottle and then wanted to breastfeed, so we laid back down and he nursed to sleep.

I don't think I can convey the shift that this allowed inside of me. I had been stressing, quite a bit, that Galen had been nursing less and less, and not knowing how to deal with the possibility of him weaning so young. But this one experience of closeness and true mothering while giving him a bottle made me realize that it will be ok.

I am so glad that I have worked as hard as I have, with my family's amazing support, to make nursing last this long, against all odds. It has given us a wonderful, strong bond, and strengthened Galen's body. And if it is not meant to go on much longer, I will miss it, and mourn it, but I will continue to give my baby everything that he needs. It is still my face that he looks for, my touch that soothes him. It's taken me a while to get here, but I finally know that I am, truly, more than just my milk.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Animal love

It is a powerful, startling and unique love that one succumbs to after giving birth. It consumes all senses, and occupies mind, body and soul. Having been in it for the second time of my life, I am really noticing how set apart it is from all the other loves I have felt.

When I was pregnant with Galen, I was so worried that I would not, could not possibly, love this new baby as much as I loved Jonah. The complete fierceness of motherhood felt singular, something so powerful that it could never be repeated. There was a point, early in (my first) labor with Galen that I really had to come up against and acknowledge my fears around becoming a parent of two. Having grown up an only child, it was a hard thing for me to comprehend. I remembered the raw intensity of feelings that overwhelmed me the first moment I touched Jonah, how my entire world cracked open and my heart exploded, and it seemed unrealistic to expect that to happen again.

And it didn't, not in the same way. Jonah's labor was so long and so hard, once it came to it's climax I was already in an altered state. As Paul said, we were exhausted physically and emotionally, and part of us probably doubted whether or not it would ever end, if we'd really get the baby after all that we'd gone through.

Galen's birth was intense, but felt so right, so clear, and when he fell into my hands it was just the natural conclusion to a natural process. It also made sense in that I had already done it once before, and, while it was different, it wasn't a surprise.

But that animal love was there. Still is, in fact, and getting stronger every day.

Animal love is my name for the fierce, instinctual way that my heart has wrapped itself around my boys. The way I know they're waking up a second before they stir. How their skin smells so good that I can't stop nuzzling them. The actual pain I feel when they hurt, and how it seems like I never knew joy until I heard them laugh. It is deep and primal, and I'm guessing it has had a lot to do with our species' success.

I am laying here, Jonah dreaming next to me while Galen nurses in his sleep, and I know that this is it. This one bliss... This must be love...

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