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19 weeks | No one said breastmilk is forever | no. 0012
These words are not coming easy today. Partly because they are doing work on the roof. Banging, sawing, drilling an unwanted soundtrack on the one day this week I am finding time to write. And also because there is a mental traffic jam, a pesky censor flagging my feelings, telling me over and over that if I could just get over it like all the other mothers eventually do, then I wouldn’t even need to write what I am about to write. But really, my words are caught up because I’m trying to figure out how to say that this part of the mothering saddens me: that one day my child will outgrow the breast.
My mind vacillates between worrying that these feelings are just another invention of my privileged mothering (and that I’m making too much of something too soon because we’ll still be primarily breastfeeding for a long time), and reassuring myself that it’s emotionally healthy to own my irrational reservations about life after breastmilk. In the midst of my cognitive tug of war, I try to comfort a fussy munchkin. He wants my attention, and I want him to nurse, nap, repeat. The being-awake option would be welcome, but he is not interested in any of these cute toys that are allegedly designed to give mommy a minute. Today they are failing gloriously at simple tasks: satiate itchy gums, make pleasant noises, be intriguingly colorful, stimulate hand-eye coordination. Entertain his rapidly growing curiosity long enough for a pot to get stirred, a word to get spelled, a thought to emerge before being swept away into the sea of things to do later.
Needless to say, it’s not working. I have been staring at the same few lines for over an hour. Wednesday’s Bloom will be posting late today. And I have no functional plans for dinner, or the lunch that’s supposed to come before that. But I am committed to telling these stories and this one that I’m trying to write is about my reluctance to start using the breast pump. I am not excited about it at all. I LOVE the freedom (and control) of breastfeeding on demand. I love being able to have a food supply for my son that is always the right temperature, contains whatever antibodies his immune system is craving at the moment, and is 100% uncontaminated because it’s directly served from my breast to his mouth. I love being the one person on the planet who can feed him, soothe him, heal him, and grow him with the breastmilk in my own body.
I tell myself, It’s just because you don’t want to let go. But seriously, when would I ever want to let go of this magical power that breastfeeding gives me? On my own, I don’t know when I would schedule that day. I know, it’s such an impossible notion that makes no logical sense. What, is he supposed to be twenty years old and still on the breast? Ok…that’s another conversation, but you get what I mean. I think that’s why nature takes these difficult transitions out of mommy’s hands. Has the baby grow teeth while still nursing. I hear from all the mommies that the first bite is excruciating. Maybe that will change me.
I don’t even immediately need to start storing milk and making bottles for the munchkin. But because this inevitable stage is approaching, possibly in the next few weeks– where he’s occasionally away from me for two whole hours (he can sometimes go without nursing for longer than that, but everyday is different)– and because this is clearly so hard for me, I figure I should face what feels uncomfortable and start the process slowly. This looks something like me experimenting with the pump, reading books and online articles about bottling breastmilk, asking other mothers about their experiences, opening and testing out the bottles we have, and culminating with munchkin having his first bottle from his father.
Underneath the logistics of what I know is a part of my baby be(come)ing more independent of me, are the tangled sensations of many other things. I have always resisted being told how to make my mothering more convenient. This has something to do with the reality that it has taken me so much to get here, to this space where I can exist visibly as a mother. I am in no rush to get through it, to get back to doing things on my own time, to experience the uninterrupted flow of life without dozing off in the middle of what used to be so important. I greet this hard, tedious, exhaustive work with open arms because I know what it is like to have nothing to hold at all.
Because of my complicated process of be(come)ing a mother, I have not genuinely wished to sleep through the night without nursing. I have not felt constricted by the reality of what it means that all of my child’s nutritional needs come from my left and right breasts. I haven’t been eager to be out and about where there are no comfortable spaces to breastfeed. I do not want to supplement with formula, nor am I in any hurry to start buying food when my body produces an abundance of free breastmilk. I have not wished to go anywhere that would have me routinely away from him for so long he would need multiple bottles. I know the time will come when he doesn’t need to breastfeed. And I am not interested in helping that moment along.
I have appreciated exclusively breastfeeding as is. Making sure I drink water, eat protein, eat greens and fruit, get plenty of vitamin C, take vitamins, alternate feeding from each side, rub sore nipples with coconut oil (even that is rarely necessary), be semi-awake when nursing at night in case he needs to sit up or burp, keep trying for a secure latch, and endure the discomfort of an imperfect latch. These things have been more than manageable. All this said, I might start taking a writing class once a week. Even though Oscar will be close by with the munchkin so that I can nurse him just before the class begins, I thought (read: my mother suggested) it would be a good idea to have a back-up bottle of breastmilk in case the munchkin gets hungry. Of course, I was just planning to step out of class and nurse him if necessary, but my mother thought this might be a tad disruptive. This class opportunity aside, in a few months there are at least two special events where the munchkin will need to be with his father or his grandmother for an extended period of time. So this need of mine to figure out how he’s cared for in the best way possible when he’s away from me is why the coming changes are taking up so much space in my thoughts today.
When I get to the heart of the choices I must make it comes down to this: I’d rather he have bottles of my breastmilk than bottles of formula. And because I’m blessed to be able to make so much milk, I’ll make extra for my munchkin. In the meantime, I will try my best to welcome the new work of cleaning bottles and artificial nipples, learning how long stored milk can stay fresh out of the refrigerator, and giving our family plenty of time to practice this new feeding option. Per usual, I have only just begun to unpack some of these deep things about my feelings and process. I have so much more to say about breastfeeding and my anxieties about the transitions ahead. But I promised the munchkin I’d wrap this writing up during his last nap and finally read him a story. He’s awake now and his fascination with his toes will only last but so long. Looking forward to sharing more about this journey in a future post.
Happy blooms beautiful world.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.