“I’ve been melted into something
too easy to spill. I make more
and more of myself in order
to make more and more of the baby.
He takes it, this making. And somehow
he’s made more of me, too.”
― Brenda Shaughnessy, Our Andromeda
it still blows my mind thinking that my body was able to create a little human being from scratch. or, to be more precise, from an egg and hundred millions of sperm cells. but miracles of nature don’t end with labor. another one, just as fascinating, that doesn’t cease to amaze me, is breastfeeding. isn’t it incredible that woman’s body can produce the substance that contains all nutrients needed not only to make a little human grow at an astounding rate, but also accumulate these adorable rolls of fat? not only mother’s milk has an unmatched amount of vitamins, but it also caters to specific needs of a child by producing exactly the right antibodies needed based on the data received from infants saliva. apart from scientific data and health benefits, it is just such a wonderful, deep and intimate way of bonding with your child.
writing about breastfeeding is like writing about motherhood – the topic too vast and overwhelming to cover in one shot. it is a journey of a woman, an incredible experience; it is huge, complex, and important so you just don’t know where to start. i started over a year ago with few disorganized notes, my first impressions and wows i could not contain. 15 months later this journey is getting to its end for me, and i can’t help but feel overly emotional, nostalgic and a little bit sad. i decided to share my story in a hope that it might be helpful for someone who is just starting to breastfeed, or even for someone who is expecting and having her doubts and worries about it, just like i did just over a year ago.
i remember being 20-something years old, just playing with idea of having kids “one day” but being quite decided on the subject of breastfeeding, which was “no way i am going to ruin my body”, the sentiment quite common among young women. in my early 30s i did breast implants, so breastfeeding turned into even more questionable option, now also based on the physics given. my doctor and Internet were both saying that it was still a possibility, so i let it be, without worrying too much, especially since i still had this approach of minimum damage to my body after labor.
and then i got pregnant, and everything changed. not right away of course, but slowly, gradually my mind was adjusting together with my body, my earlier ideas and superficial worries about motherhood seemed childlish and silly. i read a lot about breastfeeding and its benefits, and not to breastfeed for pure vanity reasons became out of question for me. it was only the fear of not being able to do it that was left, and i was regretting doing the surgery as my breasts were getting fuller and fuller every day.
getting close to my due date, i stocked up on breastfeeding accessories for all kind of scenarios – from nipple ointment and pads, to electric breast pump and nursing teas. i gave a firm “yes” to my midwife’s question about breastfeeding after labor, and was even considering taking one of the breastfeeding classes at the hospital. instead, a good friend briefed me on the process and recommended this website: http://kellymom.com/ which i studied carefully, and i felt pretty confident i would be fine on my own. my mother’s instinct was kicking in, my bra cup jumped from C to triple D, and week before labor my nipples started leaking colostrum, the so-called “pre-milk”.
at 7:50am on Mother’s day of 2015 they put the tiny screaming slippery “bundle of joy” on my chest, and he blindly, intuitively, hastily sucked on the left nipple. it was the most magical, mind-blowing, unforgettable moment of my life, and yet it felt just like the most natural thing on Earth. i didn’t experience any pain, just endless, overflowing happiness. we were one, intricately and intimately connected, and at that moment I knew the meaning of “forever”.
the same day I attended a short in-hospital class on breastfeeding just to confirm my inner confidence that everything was just like it should be. i was incredibly lucky that Leonardo seemed to do it perfectly well, while the lactation consultant was startled to see that instead of transparent colostrum my nipples were producing pure white milk, just few hours after labor. (FYI, it usually takes about a week for colostrum to become milk) she encouraged me to switch sides, even though Leo definitely preferred staying close to my heart.
it was not all rosy and without clouds, of course. after the first week on breastfeeding my breasts engorged even more, and i truly believed that the bra sizes like that didn’t exist in nature. and yet, i needed to wear the bra all the time to elevate the weight and discomfort, as well as i needed to change nursing pads frequently as my nipples were leaking milk continuously. Leonardo was a good sleeper since the very beginning, so at night we could go on without feeding for 4-6 hours, but then i would wake up in a puddle of my own milk, soaking through bra pads and wetting the bed. my nipples spattered milk in various directions just like a grass sprinklers in American movies, and my husband found it hilarious while I was embarrassed and concerned. concerned mostly because for a tiny few weeks old Leonardo this amount of milk was too much to handle, so he was gagging while nursing, burping a lot right after, and overall struggling with the whole process. leaving the house and feeding him on the go was completely out of question because it was such a messy, uncontrolled process. to elevate the “foreceful letdown” (official name of my problem) i needed to pump before nursing to take away the initial pressure and give Leonardo a chance to get to the good stuff with all the nutrients instead of being filled up with the “soup” (so called liquid part of the breast milk that comes out first).
i didn’t really need to stock up my freezer with milk because i was not planning to go back to work, at least not outside of the house. but my oversupply would allow me – no, in fact, demand! – to feed a soccer team of infants, so I started storing the milk “just in case”. the freezer filled up quickly, and my husband proudly showed the supplies to every guest we had at home, shocking them with an idea to start making cookies and ice-cream based on my milk. he had his grounds – we actually didn’t know what to do with the milk, because while the freezer was getting fuller and fuller, my supplies were still running high in real time. just to give you an idea – i could fill up two 5 ounces bottles simultaneously (left breast being a bit faster and more prolific) just within 3-5 minutes of pumping. FYI, on average it takes a woman about 20-40min to do so.
it took about 3 months for me to adjust and get to a comfortable level that allowed me to leave home without danger of soaking my top in public. after that it was pure bliss. the best food in the world, an immediate consolation, and the most effective medicine – all in one, it was always with me, there for my son. so we did it everywhere: on Brooklyn bridge, at the beach of Barcelona, in the jungle of Mexico, on the steps of Mayan pyramid, in an old Catholic Church in Spain. on a side note, while i believe that breastfeeding is nothing to be ashamed of and can be done in public, it also can be done discreetly and without attracting anybody’s attention or hurting other people’s feelings.
since Leo was 2 months old we travelled extensively, just like we did in our pre-child life, and partially it’s thanks to breastfeeding. we always travel light, and i couldn’t imagine doing it with bottles, sterilizers, formulas, all the things that would require an extra backpack, at least. i know some people do it, and I have a lot of respect for them, because it’s not easy. on the other hand, it really is when all you need for the trip is a breastfeeding-conscious outfit or two. I got to love flying on the plane with my little one. just like me, he learnt to fall asleep – while nursing – just before the takeoff.
since i knew everything about the benefits of breastfeeding, i also knew that it becomes a matter of pure comfort without additional perks of necessary nutrition after a baby turns one. so i planned to start weaning Leo off the breast by his first birthday. the date was fast approaching, but i realized that neither him, nor me were ready for it. i loved our intimate moments of bonding and tender quietness, and could not imagine giving them up just yet, nor did i see a reason. instead, i cut off all the day feedings except for the very last one before bed and the early morning one, as our most favorite. he seemed to didn’t notice a difference, and neither did i, and for couple months we went on like that.
we went back to all-day-long feedings during our trip to Russia just for the convenience of traveling i mentioned before. but something changed during the trip. at his 14th month, running around, saying his first words, eating all kind of “grownup” food, Leonardo suddenly didn’t look like a baby anymore, but rather like a very independent, curious and conscious baby-boy. his attitude to nursing also changed, it got a demanding, non-negotiable tone of a solo possessor, more of a whim rather than a necessity. my milk didn’t serve as food anymore, it was a pure entertainment. this is when i knew he was ready for weaning. and even though I was still not ready to let go (as mothers, we never are), i knew i should.
i was secretly hoping he would fight for it, but he didn’t, which also proved me right about the good timing. i substituted our morning and evening nursing for a bottle, and it went smooth, without any objections. in fact, it became easier to put him to sleep, as if now he knows that a bottle plus crib means sleep time – so he just rolls on his tummy and closes his eyes.
it’s been 10 days since i stopped nursing, and i do miss it ever so slightly, the same way i miss so many things from earlier months, when he was a tiny baby. but he grows fast, as all babies do, and there are so many new beautiful things to enjoy and indulge. i am learning to let go to prepare the mental space for new experiences, the new wows, new feelings and observations, new ways to bond. my breastfeeding journey has come to an end, but it’s only one of the many unforgettable experiences of motherhood, and i will be forever grateful to the Universe that i had a chance to live through it.