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.

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