Ebb and Flow

I didn’t know the ways having a child, a son, would so profoundly change me. I knew I would be different, I didn’t know at times I would become unrecognizable. I knew that my heart would grow, I had no idea it could hold the whole universe and still pour over because nothing could hold what I feel for this little man. I knew it would be hard, I did not realize that I would sink into the driver’s seat each day with a full day’s of exhaustion just getting us in the car so I could make my way toward my workday. I just didn’t know.

I wrote this piece in April of 2021, when my little man was turning four in May. As he is about to turn seven this year, I look back at the mom that was asking how can that be? Four years old. I see a lot of beauty and wisdom she had to share and so I wanted to bring her words into 2024 to share with you…

“He is becoming more independent every day. He is signed up for pre-school in the fall. Each day another last shred of his baby self grows into a lean little boy. It’s funny how you grow and change right along with them.

Tree of Life Animation. Full Term Nursing

One of the most profound parts of motherhood, outside of growing another human and brining them into the world, has been breastfeeding. Oh Lord it was not easy. It did NOT come naturally or without pain. If it was not for our health department’s lactation consultant and her limitless support I would not have the story to share that I do. She coached me through latching Oscar via text at 11 pm Oscar’s second night in the hospital. Everyone was giving different advice and none of it was working, once the room settled I sent Danika a text, remembering she said in her class to reach out anytime. He was eating within 15 minutes. She was at the hospital first thing in the morning, on Mother’s Day, to visit us in person. She made home visits, answered endless texts with pictures for explanation and even visited me at work. She wears a cape my friends.

Oscar was entirely breastfed. He took voraciously to solid food at 6 months but had only my milk prior to that. To watch this 7lb 8oz little being grow into someone that after a few months was in the high 90th percentile for weight and height and remains there to this day was astounding. My body made just what he needed to be healthy and thriving. I did pump after a few weeks at home, so Dad could feed him, though soon after we both agreed it made more sense at home for him to nurse. He never liked the milk I frozen while on maternity leave, from the tap was his favorite but an unfrozen bottle of my milk while I was away was tolerated. I was able to take breaks from work to go nurse him and I brought him to work with me for a few months too but by four months old he was over office life. Just like clockwork on his first birthday he took his first steps and no longer wanted anything to do with the bottle. He still loved to nurse.

Pumping at work was awkward. I worked in an office on the second floor and we had a little private meeting room I could go to. It didn’t have curtains, though we bought blinds we never put up. I really did not care honestly. Oversized chairs and a couch were purchased but never really worked well for pumping. The reality was, I got two 20 minute pumping breaks and I needed to pump more than that in a shift or I used them up going to nurse my son. I tried to take all my pumping gear to the little room, set it up, bring my laptop and work so I could still be productive. I did this for a few days, then I got an idea. My cubical didn’t have a door but a shower rod and curtain later and I had a private area. There were equal males and females in our office and my pump left very little to the imagination due to the sounds it made but I started pumping in my cubical. At first no-one would talk to me while I was pumping but since I pumped in there for almost a year, it became as normal as any other office conversation spot. I figure I did my part in normalizing pumping. My workplace really did try to support me, it’s just incredibly hard to pump at work. Being able to be a working nursing mother is a privilege in our world today.

Collage of nursing photos

I can’t tell you how many hours in these first four years I spent with a sweaty little fellow ether sleep-nursing or cuddling with my breast as his most treasured comfort. My son napped on me up until very recently, now he naps with me on the couch. It’s just how we do it. He naps by himself for others but for me, it was on me or nothing. I don’t regret a minute of it. Sure I could have done laundry, taken a shower, prepped dinner but instead I held him, feel deeper in love with each and every speck of him and I napped quite often too.

While we are on the subject I rocked and nursed him to sleep. Most nights he still ends up wanting to come to my chair and be rocked to sleep. When I’m gone for the evening he might rock a bit with dad and then goes to his bed and goes to sleep on his own. With me, he falls asleep in my arms and I carry all 48 pounds of him across the upstairs to bed. I don’t think I will ever regret those hours either.

As I said earlier, it wasn’t all sweet. My nipples were raw and often bleeding. Soaking them in two shot glasses of warm salt water was how you could find me if I didn’t have Oscar latched. I had thrush a couple of times and cracked nipples that hurt so badly I almost gave up so many times. Again, Danika was my saving grace and I never did give up.

Let me tell you as soon as some folks know you are nursing, they want to know when you will be done. My common response became, “at least by the time he graduates high school.” People want to see the baby, but they don’t want to see the mama nurse him. Well, they either found their way or stopped visiting. Soon enough we made it one year. Then my goal was to wean him by two years. My husband would have rather seen him weaned sooner back then, but we agreed on two years. Then two came and went. My husband and I found a peace about the process and I told him I had to be the one 100% driving the bus on this one, well Oscar and I together. Somewhere along the way he fully supported natural weaning and that is what we did. Oscar led the process. I stopped night feedings somewhere between one and two years old but he dropped the rest of them on his own, down to a couple weeks ago when he stated going days without nursing. For the last 6 months he nursed for 10-15 seconds per side at night, then down to every day or two , now we are done.

Just last night he was up after soaking his bed and while crying said “I miss my milk mommy” and I said. “I do too baby.” I am ready to have my body back (or more of it back, this guy has a fascination with my belly button that drives me crazy) but I will miss that sweetness. It’s nourishment, medicine and comfort all in one. That I can’t give him a tonic my body makes to ward off every illness he or I encounters is a little daunting. It has been the most profound four years. Especially in a global pandemic.

I went out just last night and got an amazing new adaptogen blend, I have missed my herbal allies that were not for use while breastfeeding. It was a liberating moment and also a little sobering. We are really done. Oscar is finding his way as a little being independent of me. The bond we have from these four years I know will serve him well for life. I am excited for what the next four years look like. I will be mourning the sweetness lost while I celebrate the independence gained, both his and mine. It is a dance, motherhood. I’ve never been one that is able to follow a dance routine but when I find my own flow, I do just fine. So that is what I will keep doing all the way through.”

And that is what I have done. And will continue to do. Find my own flow and follow it. Though nursing us years behind us, there are such sweet moments every single day. Tonight it was a little foot rub he gifted me to avoid a couple more minutes before bed. And we are both the better for it.

Here’s another gem from Northern Michigan Artist May Erlewine. I hope each of you are taking in the Sweet Days. We sure need them to soften the bitter ones.

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