The single craziest experience of my life took place on Saturday, February 11, 2012. It was four days after our daughter was born, and we had spent the week in a hazy hospital fog, full of elation, bewilderment, and more than a little Vicodin. Everything was going well, except for the fact that my milk hadn’t come in and a condescending pediatrician whom I’d never even met before was warning me that it might not ever come in. If our baby lost more than 10 percent of her birth weight, she threatened, we’d need to start supplementing... and baby girl was currently at 9 percent.
Friday night, I sent my husband home to get a good night’s rest – his last for the next 18 years. Throughout the night, the nurses brought our daughter to me every few hours to feed, and I gazed down, attempting to mentally will the milk to flow from my breasts through her rosy little lips. The next morning, I did the slow, achy post-C-section shuffle into the bathroom to take a shower. I peeled my tank top over my head, and what I saw staring back at me was more startling, and left me more slack-jawed, than the fact that a human being had been excised from my belly while I lay awake just a few days earlier.
WHAT THE HELL ARE THOSE? That’s all I could think: "What are these monstrous torpedoes rocketing out of my chest?"
Just four hours ago, I had small a small B cup and could find work as a stunt double for Kate Hudson. But today, I would need to shoo away paparazzi who, with a red wig, might mistake me for Christina Hendricks. I felt like Josh Baskin in Big, going to bed a prepubescent 12 and waking up 30.
I texted my husband: “You are going to die when you get here.”
My milk had come in (and we fired that pediatrician!), baby began gaining weight, and so began 13 months of nursing. Her first year of life was filled with many highs and plenty of lows, but one constant has been my love of breastfeeding. From the moment the Labor and Delivery nurses placed her on my bare chest just an hour after delivery and she instinctively wriggled her way over to my left breast and began sucking, I was hooked on the intense connection and bond. It didn’t matter that in the beginning weeks, she kept falling asleep and we would have to gently flick her ears or strip her down and spritz cold water on her to wake her up so she’d eat enough. It didn’t matter than I wasn’t sleeping more than two or three hours in a row for weeks on end. I would stumble into the nursery at 3am, lay her across a pillow on my lap and gaze at her while she drank. The words, “This is my pleasure” ran through my mind, over and over.
I’ve managed to parlay the experience into entertaining blog fodder and even gave my breast pump a Twitter handle. I have nursed in restaurants, back alleys, coffee shop bathrooms, poolside and on United Flight 450, seat 32A (although I was better suited to seat 36C, heh heh!). I have lugged my Medela Pump In Style to Mexico, Miami, Rhode Island, New York, Michigan, Los Angeles, Orlando and more, and had La Leche League programmed into my cell phone on speed dial.
I have awkwardly hovered over our baby on her changing table, attempting to squirt breast milk into her eye to clear a clogged tear duct, until I realized a bottle of milk and a small spoon might be a tad less messy and far more precise. I have bought so many nursing pads, I’ve lobbied CostCo to start carrying them, and have sacrificed precious ice cream space in the freezer for bag after bag of frozen milk. And it’s been more than worth it, because when baby would be fussing (or sometimes downright screaming) from hunger, or crying from the surprise sting of a vaccination, relief was just inches away… and I was her relief. I’d click open my tank; her cries would be muffled, her eyes would roll back slightly and she would instantaneously start running her hand through her hair, over and over, soothing herself as she ate.
To be able to nourish another being in such an intimate way is an extraordinarily powerful feeling, and I was awestruck by my body’s capability. Sure, I loved the side effects — I basically ate whatever I wanted for a year without caloric repercussion and rocked never-before-experienced cleavage. My body image has been through the roof for the first time since… ever? But it was the cozy closeness — lying in bed together in the very early morning, stroking her blonde hair and holding her hand as she ate — that I craved and adored. Plus, she’s basically never been sick, and as her one-month doctor’s check-up progressed to her two-, four- and six-month appointments and she kept growing and growing, I felt an awesome sense of pride.
But with the all-time high came the all-time lows. I cried – A LOT. My husband and I bickered like never before. I’ve struggled significantly with anxiety and had an embarrassingly tough time striking a balance between work and parenthood. I looked like hell from the shoulders-up, thanks to cavernous under-eye circles, shedding hair and a skin tone whose matching Clinique foundation would be called Anemic. But breastfeeding was easy for the two of us, and it quickly became one of my favorite experiences ever.
Now, I’m packing away my nursing tanks and I feel like crying. For the past 13 months, I have cycled through these five tops, day in and day out. I have slept in them, planned outfits around them, worn them to Starbucks when they were stained with milk splotches and out to dinner at nice restaurants, dressed up with tight jeans and boots. They are black, black, grey, grey and navy blue with white lace trim, and they, along with my breast pump and impressive collection of plastic bottle parts, have essentially defined me.
And now it's time to stop nursing. A good friend suggested that, rather than picking a final date in the future and approaching it with dread, why not decide after the fact that, “Hey, maybe yesterday was my last session”? That way I’d enjoy the final nursing without realizing that’s what it was. So that's what I did. Over the course of two months or so, I ramped down from five sessions a day to one. Then I left for an overnight business trip — I even brought my pump with me — but when I returned, I decided it was time. So I don’t exactly remember the last session; they’re all kind of blended together in one composite memory. And what a lovely memory it is.
How did you know it was time to stop nursing? Was it hard for you to let go?