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37 weeks | We’re not ready for solids | no. 0030
I dreamed of a boychild once, many years ago. Since then, it is always as if I have just had the dream last night. It was one of those times when you actually feel a sensation. When, just before the bubble bursts and you regain your bearings, you enjoy the meaning of this thing being real. In this instance, it was a sensation of breastfeeding.
In the dream it is day time. A newborn, cradled in my arms, is wrapped in something soft that is both white and light blue. We are in a spacious, well-lit room. There are tall, white-paned windows on more than one wall. An oval area rug underfoot does not cover the expansive, dark wood floors. My bare feet brush against the gentle threads of the rug. I am home, presumably. It is quiet, except for a breeze coming through one of the windows in front of me. Seated in the center of the room in a rocking chair, I look at the view outside the window before returning my gaze to my son. At that moment he latches onto my breast. I feel a sudden, piercing warmth at the nipple. It could almost be described as being burned, but still there is something undeniably tender and maternal about the pain.
That’s when I wake up with a gasp. This dream is at once appreciated and distressing. I had just experienced my first loss weeks prior. As I took in the familiar setting of my actual room, and reluctantly allowed my head to find its way back to the pillow, I felt both great joy and sorrow. On the one hand it seemed some higher spirit was giving me a peak into possibility at a time of utter despair. And on the other hand it seemed a cruel taunting, the lingering strands of subconscious cellular memories that were desperate to mother. What could this mean?
At that time I had never actually breastfed anyone. I did not know what it really felt like. It was just one of those knowings that take root deep inside your soul. Like how when I first saw the munchkin’s face, I recognized him as someone I’d always known, even though I’d never seen him until that moment of his birth.
I remembered that dream through all of my successive miscarriages. It was one of the things anchoring me to the hope that one day my pregnancy would advance beyond the first trimester and allow me to cross the hallowed threshold into visible mothering. I took the dream, and the intense feeling of nursing, as a sign that I should not give up believing that there would come a time when a real baby would actually be at my breast.
A little more than 8 months ago, minutes after the munchkin was born, that time finally came. To say that I am wholeheartedly enthusiastic about breastfeeding my son is still a gross understatement. This opportunity to, as my midwife said, literally grow his body with food that comes from my own body, is beyond satisfying and empowering. To see his rapid development as a human being nourished solely on his mother’s milk is a pure gift, one I am thankful for everyday. This ability, this work of feeding him from the breast is such a vital part of my mothering process. Even if I tried (and I have!), I don’t think I will ever be able to count all the ways that breastfeeding has benefited me as the mother, and the munchkin as the baby.
All these thoughts are on the surface because for the past few weeks I have been wrestling with the periodic doubts that arise about my choice to continue nursing exclusively for the munchkin’s first year of life. Admittedly, he shows all the developmental signs of an infant who is ready to be introduced to solids. In fact, he’s been doing many of the things the books and internet sites and baby experts say a baby does when they’re interested in food. Still, I have not felt fully aligned with starting him on solids.
I begin to dig deeper into my reasonings after a trusted friend, who is also a seasoned professional in things related to infants, comes over to visit us. She says the munchkin is definitely ready to try solids, as evidenced by him reaching for food and mimicking chewing with his own mouth. I listen and acknowledge that, yes, he does exhibit those behaviors of readiness all the time. We talk about the nature of babies’ cues and why it’s important to follow them. She then says something that sparked this week’s post: “You also don’t want to miss his cues because you’re following your own agenda. It’s not just about you.”
This triggers a path of reflection. Why is it so important that I nurse him in this way? At first I have no immediate language for the intensity her thoughts stirred up in me. When I do find words for my feelings, I keep hearing the same question in my mind. But what about our ecosystem?
Since the munchkin’s birth, I have been exploring a concept that I call the motherbaby ecosystem. An ecosystem is defined as “a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment” (Apple Dictionary). The center then of a motherbaby ecosystem is the, initially, one-bodied, and then after the birth, two-bodied organisms. When the baby is inside the mother, it’s easier for the world to accept the interdependent nature of the two beings. The shared physical space fosters an unmitigated support for the mother who has to actively consider her and her baby’s needs as a joint process. This generally makes sense to everyone, and for many (but sadly, far too few) mothers, their families extend this understanding into the early months of the postpartum period.
But then things grow complicated. The mother and baby are now technically two distinct bodies, functioning with their own hearts, brains, and breaths. Some people outside the motherbaby ecosystem see this physical, literal separation as proof that baby’s needs are no longer connected to mother’s needs. But in my experience, this is just not true. Our needs as mommy and munchkin are intricately woven together, even as we gradually evolve further into our independent selves. The biochemical dialogue that sustains our breastfeeding is one of the most magical and sacred parts of the relationship between the mothering body and her baby. My hyper-vigilance to ensure nothing interferes with this conversation— one that masterfully regulates immunity, body temperature, sleep, blood-sugar levels, and hormones for the motherbaby ecosystem– emerged from the lesson I learned when I disrupted the process a while back by briefly experimenting with pumping milk. To make a long story short (and by short I mean, less than a whole other book I could write just about this), my brain knew the difference between making breastmilk for my baby and making milk for a breastpump. The hormonal balance was irreversibly altered and my body went through changes I was not ready for. I can’t go back in time and do things differently, but I can at least preserve this exclusive nursing rhythm for the rest of this first year.
Besides, it seems so natural and obvious to me that our process would continue to be extremely symbiotic, so recent the munchkin’s life outside the womb is. It’s only been a few months! It is tiring to commit my body in this way, but it’s also maternal instinct to protect the motherbaby ecosystem as best I can. I do this because it is the optimal, nurturing environment for my child. And for me.
I think one of the main reasons I want to delay solids is because it took me so long to get here in the first place. Here being the act of nursing my baby. There were many lonely moments in the weeks and months following a miscarriage, a silent recounting in my head of all the things I would not get to experience yet again. Breastfeeding was a privilege I lamented. After some time I would surrender to the grieving, resume a practice of faith in my uterus, take those slow but necessary steps back toward the altar of life’s beginnings.
This procession I know so well comes to mind when I consider the present needs of our mothermunckin ecosystem. In a very honest way, mothering my firstborn is cathartic for me. It is very important, given the extent of my traumas, that I take my time and thoroughly feel all the stages of this journey. One of the ways I do this is through the hours upon hours that I spend breastfeeding my real, live son. When he was just born, I didn’t know that I would want to nurse exclusively. But then the months started whizzing by. Before I knew it, I already had to refer to his birth as happening last year.
I was genuinely thrilled to learn that my breastmilk is more than capable of meeting 100% of the munchkin’s nutritional needs for the first year of life. I took this as a nod from nature that, while popular, introducing solid food is still wholly optional for now. It then occurred to me that perhaps the creator knew it would be wise to establish a wide spectrum of choices when it came to transitions between mother and child. Every mother knows what feels right to her. Of all the major developments the munchkin will go through– teeth, motor skills, language, critical thinking– how he eats is the only one directly linked to my body. And so it is vital that we feel ready and good about making changes to our feeding process.
Nature’s habitual abundance– as revealed through the generous powers of breastmilk– is confirmation to me that I am not an oddball. Rather, I am just a mother whose ecosystem functions best at the slowest progression possible. It is comforting to know that even amidst a society bent on accelerating through everything, there is room for me too. I also think it’s definitely okay that the munchkin– who is by no means going hungry– waits on mommy this time. It’s not just about me, but it’s not just about him either when it comes to breastfeeding. We’re an us. And it will likely take us one full rotation around the sun before I will offer him food that does not come from my body.
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.