Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bittersweet goodbye

This past Saturday morning, I did the usual pre-nap routine with little miss—I closed the shades to her room, zipped her up in the sleep sack, sang her a lullaby, and sat down with her in the rocking glider.  I cradled little miss in my lap, and offered to nurse.  She hesitated and shook her head no.  I knew that was it: she had decided nursing was no longer for her.  As I put her down in her crib for naptime, she cried a little, and I shed a few tears myself.

I have been lucky: for both my kids, I was able to breastfeed them through their first year of life.  Believe me, it wasn’t always easy. You name it, I weathered it: sore and cracked nipples, breast engorgement, mastitis, plugged ducts, leaky breasts.  I am an old pro when it comes to the associated gear. I have a wardrobe of nursing tanks that provide easy access to the boob while discretely covering that awkward, inevitable postpartum midsection jelly-belly; glamourmom is my personal favorite brand (both for the design and the cool name).   Over the years, I have stocked up other nursing paraphernalia: boppy, breast pads, lanolin (my BFF), softjels and soothies.

For when I was away from my kids and couldn't breasfeed, I bought the Cadillac of breastpumps: the Medela “freestyle”—named such because it is powered by a battery pack rather than an outlet plug.  Admittedly it does allow you to walk around, rather than sit captive in one place...though I don't think it feels so “free”—after all, you are pumping milk from your breasts. (Did I hear, “Moo”?)  With my pump and “hands-free bustier” to hold those pump horns in place, I have pumped everywhere: at home (walking around doing chores), work (sitting at my computer desk between meetings), and even in airport bathrooms (icky). Once a conference, I was so relieved to find a proper (ie, clean, private, and comfortable) mother’s pumping room,  I emailed the organization sponsoring the pump room, thanking them profusely.  

Physical discomforts and logistical challenges aside, breastfeeding has been a joy.  After the initial “how does this process work anyway?” (and to my surprise, I had to re-learn it each time—after all, each child is different), it’s been a mutual admiration club.  My two kids have loved nursing—almost too much—the dude initially refused taking a bottle, and little miss never did.  Eventually, after we got through the discomfort of the early days of nursing and the sleepless newborn nights, I loved it too.  I cherished the physical closeness, the chance to slow down during the day to cradle them, to caress their baby thighs, admire their baby toes, and hold their baby hands. 

And as they grew, I cherished holding them in my arms and marveling about how big they had gotten.  But soon, it felt like time for each to wean.  With the dude, around that one-year mark I started weaning little by little, dropping one feed at a time.  At first it was hard.  But soon he was dropping feeds on his own.  For a few weeks, he held on to that last feed...until one day before nursing, he sat up, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and that was it. A bit anti-climactic, but very sweet.  I still remember that moment vividly.

With little miss, I was very conscious that the end of nursing also meant the end of infant-hood in our household.  This summer, even as I suffered a few cuts on my nipples, I hung on.  With each feed, I experienced excruciating discomfort--I never thought a tiny, 1/2 centimeter cut could be so painful! I slathered on lanolin, used a breast shield between nursing sessions to help the healing process, and took ibuprofen around the clock to mitigate the pain.  Many times, I contemplated quitting cold turkey.  But I gritted my teeth and soldiered on, committed to the slow wean, as I had done with the dude.  In retrospect, I was a little crazy. But I couldn't quite let go—I knew that when it was over, it would really be over.

Little miss never looked back after that day.  She's never asked to nurse again.  So this week, I’ve given away all my nursing gear.  I’ve noticed I’ve also felt a little blue.  I know that will pass—I’m mourning a big change in my baby’s life, and in mine.  In life, every goodbye is also a hello—in this case, to a new exciting phase: toddlerhood.  Many joys await, but for now, I'm still reminiscing about nursing my baby. It is a bittersweet goodbye indeed.