|Last Bottle of Liquid Gold|
To all men who might happen upon this page, you might want to skip this post. It is about milk that comes out of boobs.
All of The Baby’s firsts- first time rolling over, first time standing up, first time crawling, first time taking steps, etc, have been the last firsts for me. This is the last time one of our children will pull herself up for the first time, or say her first word, or take her first unassisted steps. Each milestone is wrought with a bittersweet choking back of sadness for the all too swift passage of time. Among the rapidly growing list of firsts, I never expected to add the first time she refused to breast feed so soon. She has become the most curious and busy little being. She would rather starve than miss out on an opportunity to seek out danger in tight spaces around the house. There were hints that this day was arriving. She would nurse for a few minutes, whip her head away from me, and then fight her way out of my hold to follow the cat. But, she was still waking in the middle of the night to sneak in a session. I did not deprive her of it, as it was the only time that she was perfectly calm and cuddlesome.
When you are pregnant, no one ever tells you how troublesome and complicated breastfeeding can be. You read the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and you are led to believe that this process is a natural, precious gift and it will flow from you as freely as your love for your new child. The book also makes sure to let you know, in no uncertain terms, that if the milk doth not flow, it is your damn fault. I had nursed First Born Son through a case of double mastitis which lasted for 8 weeks. I finally gave up when the pain was too unbearable, the fevers were so high that I could not safely cradle him in my arms due to fainting spells; and, we had exhausted all antibiotics which were safe for breastfeeding. I was gun shy with H- and decided that, with a toddler at home, I did not want to suffer through an illness like that again. And with Princess Commando, my attempts were more concerted; but, she fell ill at 6 weeks old with meningitis, was hospitalized and I was told to temporarily halt nursing. I, too, became very ill and did not have the energy to pump in order to maintain my supply. With The Baby, I was determined to make nursing work. The hospital lactation consultants were kind and patient; but, my boobs were unruly and it took these veteran nurses several attempts to figure out what might aid our situation. We were sent home with an arsenal of nursing devices and the faith that it would all work out. But, it wasn’t working. At The Baby’s 3 day old appointment with the pediatrician she appeared to be gaining some weight; but, at 6 days old, she had lost some and she was not pooping. The pediatrician sent me to a lactation consultant who determined that the supply was there, The Baby’s ability to suck was there but something was disconnected. The solution was to pump and feed. So, I invested in an expensive electric pump and proceeded to provide for her that way. She was gaining weight nicely and she finally pooped; but, the process was torture. I’d pump, feed, pump, feed. I was exhausted and in pain. This was my last baby. I wanted to enjoy these moments with her. So, I quit at 6 weeks. She was already colicky and I felt like I needed to focus my efforts on comforting her. I felt like a failure- a breastfeeding drop out. At 8 weeks old, during an extremely trying fit of colicky screaming, she began to root. We were alone in my bed, it was quiet in the house, so I offered the breast and she took it. It was magic.
I managed to exclusively breastfeed her for a total of 6 months (minus the 2 weeks I took a break) before we introduced solid food and occasional bottles of formula. I did not have a breastfeeding goal in mind- I just wanted to offer this as long as I could, in whatever amount was available. There were a lot of trials along the way. I nursed through the stomach flu and a 6 week battle with vertigo. I nursed through painful plugged ducts. I nursed and pumped (by hand) around the clock to compensate for another drop in supply which caused a plateau in The Baby’s weight gain. I waited patiently through her increasing distractibility- offering myself to her more times throughout the day to ensure she was getting enough. I literally cried over spilled milk when I tripped over the dog on the way to the kitchen dropping an uncapped bottle of freshly squeezed boob juice (as the older kids called it) on the floor. My supply had been dwindling since we started to introduce solid foods and since she (gloriously) started sleeping through the night. I put even more effort into maintaining what was left by taking herbal supplements, eating oatmeal, pumping, etc. She would take what I offered in a bottle, but she no longer wanted to be pinned down to the breast. And, trying to manage and measure it all became an obsession which quickly wore me down. It just felt like it was time to close this chapter.
We made it to 9 months and one week. I pumped one last measly bottle the other night and put it in the fridge to save for a quiet moment. I discarded the parts of my manual pump last night (the electric pump was sold to a friend the first time I retired). I even made sure this pump touched Princess Commando’s old, stepped- in–dog- poop sneakers which were sitting at the top of the garbage pile so I wouldn’t be tempted to pull it out. I warned the Mr. that it was going to be emotional for me. He was sympathetic; but, of course, a man will never experience this. And, even the most empathetic husband and father will never quite appreciate the true purpose of the fun bags and all of the labor that went into sustaining his child. And, by no fault of his own, he will never fully understand how monumental and emotional the decision to cease nursing is for a mother.
I sat with her, early this Sunday morning, in her rocking chair before her morning nap. I gave her the warmed bottle of milk- the last bottle of liquid gold. She fell into the most peaceful milk coma. I lingered a little longer than I normally would, examining the pristine sweetness of her little face- the downy red hair, the long deep copper lashes, the rosy cheeks, button nose (where did that come from?) and cupid’s bow lips. And, I thanked her for being here and for giving me this experience.