Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On Nursing

"Was this to be the last kiss she ever received from a little mouth, sweet with milk?" 
 Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undsent Book II, Part III, Chapter IV. 

 I had an epiphany last night which completely changed the way I view how I have fed my babies. You see, M and I have only recently stopped nursing. She was almost exactly ten months old and it was bitter sweet, but we were both really ready. I had always dreamed of nursing my children for years. My youngest brother, the only one whose nursing relationship I remember, nursed until he was four years old. I grew up perceiving that nursing was a wonderful thing that every mother was able to do. I loved the natural, earthy, consonance of breastfeeding, and I longed for the days when I would nurse my own children. So I was completely brought to my knees and devastated when I was unable to produce enough milk to exclusively nurse B. But there had been a thousand complications with my pregnancy and his delivery, and so, when I was able to raise my head and look forward again I told myself, "next time".

 Yes. Next time. Well, at three weeks old M was not gaining weight. And slowly, half an ounce at a time, she took more and more formula. I struggled with justifying my desire to nurse her with actually providing her with food. I wracked my brain trying to figure out where I had gone wrong. I wept every time I offered my daughter a bottle. And then I would feel guilty about wanting to control how much she got from a bottle so her demand would still up my supply. We ended up precariously balancing bottle feeding and nursing with a lact-aid nursing supplementer. But she was taking a full 24-30 ounces of formula per day, and when she was really hungry, she wanted a bottle. And, while using a supplementer allowed me to nurse M, it was cumbersome and finiky and just not natural. I am happy that we struck a balance that worked for as long as it did, but I did roll my eyes at myself for using bottles. Not because no one should use bottles, but because I felt like I was cheating on my own ideals.

I have a friend whose experience is eerily similar to my own. Her pediatrician comfortingly pointed out that, had it been six hundred years ago, there would have been other women around who could take our children and feed them. (The way God and nature intended, I bitterly added to myself). She assured my friend that we do things differently now, in this country, but that doesn't mean we don't care about our babies. But still I rolled my eyes at bottles and formula. They aren't dynamic. They aren't human.

 And then I read Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset. It is not a book about breast feeding. But it is a book about 14th century Norway. And in 14th century Norway, when babies, for whatever reason, are not fed by their mothers, they are fed by foster mothers and wet nurses. And, although it had never occurred to me, those babies develop close, natural, earthy, consonant relationships with their foster mothers. And they might even fuss and reach out for their foster mothers when held by their own mothers. And that would have broken my heart more than any bottle. 

I sat in bed last night holding my baby girl as she held her bottle, and I was so, so, so grateful that I am the one who feeds her. She likes food more than her bottle anyway. She is learning to drink from a cup. The bottles will be put away eventually. But I am the one she turns to when she needs something.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience! I can't believe how hard you have been on yourself for using bottles, and I wish I could have offered my support to you over the years. I remember you talking about nursing years ago, so I am sure it must have been difficult to not feel successful at it. But as you so rightly point out, you still fulfill your children's needs, and they look to you for comfort.

    For various reasons, we may be giving up nursing soon, and I had hoped it would last longer, but we will see what works out best.

    It's funny you should mention nursing friends' children. When Beth mentioned having trouble getting her baby to take a bottle, I wondered how she would feel if I had offered to nurse her baby. I am not sure how I would feel in that situation, and it's strange to think it must have been extremely common but is now unheard of.