There’s Something I Want to Get Off My Chest
But not really. More accurately, There’s Something That Wants to Get Off My Chest.
Bumblebee is almost 15 months old now, and she is starting to give me signs that a very special, very beautiful, very emotional part of our relationship may be soon to end. And, as with so many other symbols of growth, in ourselves and in our babies, with it will come a certain amount of both mourning and celebration.
I always knew that I would breastfeed; I was adamant about it during my pregnancy, and as my breasts grew to prepare for the bounty they would soon bestow upon my baby, the thought filled me with confidence and empowerment. To be sure, less than an hour after her birth, my sweet girl was latched on, suckling away peacefully as I sleepily marveled at her amazing instinct and ability to accomplish such a feat. Mine too.
In the days and weeks following bumblebee’s birth, I was surrounded by a remarkable network of women that helped ensure our breastfeeding success: my wonderful midwives saw me almost every day for the first two weeks of my post-partum life; my sister, who had breastfed her own daughter for almost two years, took care of both my new little family and new milk supply, whether I needed hot compresses to ease engourgement, cold packs to ease sore nipples, healthy meals and delicious smoothies, or calling upon her midwife friends for a consultation when, on day 5, my nipples were sore, bleeding, cracked and had I not the support system I did, might have thrown in the towel (diagnosis? Bad positioning. I lifted bumblebee slightly higher and the discomfort eased.); and my wonderful husband, who was perhaps as awestruck at my ability to nourish our child (not to mention at the size of my boobs), as he was our child herself. For many months he dutifully fulfilled his part of the ‘penelope takes care of bumblebee, I take care of penelope’ plan.
I have always loved nursing bumblebee. I’ve never had any other problems besides the one that we solved on day 5, and certainly have never minded that, for the first 6 months of her life, the responsibility of her sustanance fell solely on me. That I had something no other person in this world, including her loving father, could provide for her was something that I cherished.
Bumblebee’s birth coincided with that of the warm summer weather, so we got to know each other skin to skin; unshrouded tummy to unshrouded tummy, warm cheek to bare arm. Almost from the very beginning bumblebee would tickle my side while nursing; tiny hand unfurling against my body, set in rhythm with her pursing lips.
The first 6 months of bumblebee’s life were, to me, the easiest; my baby and her food supply always together; the ultimate in portability. We went somewhere everyday, and many of my favourite experiences as a new mother were being out with my child and usually another mother or two, spending hours in our neighbourhood coffee shop or luxuriating in the shade of a tree, laughing, surviving, talking about all the things that so astonish new moms, with our new babes asleep in our arms or at the breast. It always came out in public. Anywhere, anytime. There is nothing offensive, sexual or secret about feeding a baby, and I have never treated it as such. I have never, to this day, experienced a negative reaction from anyone while nursing in public.
When she demanded milk every two hours, round the clock, never going longer than three, I would happily acquiesce. My baby has never once slept through the night, but ‘waking’, for us, means bumblebee squirms even closer, and I turn towards her. Tummy full, she would wrap her arms around the one I’ve tucked under my head (later, around my neck), and we would sleep.
I was bumblebee’s 24-hour buffet. There were times when bumblebee did not even care if I woke up to nurse. She would simply sit up and careen herself forward onto my boob. A surprising way to be waked, but great joke fodder for chris.
The introduction of solids left me feeling a little bit lost. Though the frequency of breastfeedings was reduced only slightly at first, I was acutely aware of the fact that I was no longer indespensible. My baby’s survival was no longer dependent on my presence. I found myself putting away the spoon at the first sign of bumblebee’s diminishing interest in her meal, to place her at my breast. I was as lax with meals as I was with a sleep schedule, knowing that bumblebee would not be without nutrition as long as me and my boobs were around. But bumblebee loved food. She loved her rice cereal and homemade purees. With every bite that filled her tummy, my daughter’s first act of emancipation left me feeling a little bit empty.
Our family dynamic changed at this time too, for the better. With chris able to partner on another aspect of caring for bumblebee, I was able to gain a little bit more time. I also felt more comfortable leaving them for longer stretches of time, knowing that if bumblebee refused the milk I had pumped into a bottle, there were other options for sustenance. This freedom helped to encourage my reticent acceptance of bumblebee’s maturation.
With bumblebee’s ever-expanding food repertoire came changes in her motivation to breastfeed. While she no longer solely had to depend on her mother’s milk for sustenance, she still hungered for the comfort and ritual it provided. I did too. Every bonk that my increasingly mobile monkey incurred; every tired, confused, clingy half-hour that preceeded sleep; every fright and every concluded separation between us was soothed at the breast.
When I went back to work, my breasts rebelled. Bumblebee was happy enough with her sippy cup of goat’s milk while I was away, but my boobs were not. For the first two weeks they would swell, leak, harden and threaten lactation mutiny. The right one, with which I exclusively fed bumblebee at night, was comically, ridiculously larger than the left. They were in shock. I hadn’t pumped, as bumblebee was old enough to have an alternative, and I had never been very good at it. I did not want to put pressure on myself to produce as much as bumblebee would need during the day, as I was still sorting out so many confusing and difficult emotions associated with my return to work.
My breasts yearned for my baby, and as soon as I walked into my house, they got what they wanted. Sweet was the relief that I was home, my baby was in my arms, the pressure in my chest was enjoying reprieve, and I was back in the role that I so honoured.
And now? Now, I have been back at work for a few months and a new rhythm gives pace to our lives. Bumblebee is thriving, and my desk at work is as messy as it ever was. My bumblebee is a toddling, curious, incredible creature of almost 15 months, and my breasts have adjusted. Now when I walk in the door bumblebee flaps her little arms and beckons me with mmmmm, mmmmm, getting very upset if I should have the nerve to put my bag away, or worse, go pee, before she gets booby. But it’s not quite the same anymore. Before she has barely begun she pulls herself off again, distracted by any number of things. She will still nurse before and during sleep, but my milk does not have the magical, sleep-inducing powers it once did. I fall asleep more often than bumblebee does. Comfort is given in many ways, by both her father and myself.
I get the feeling that she nurses now to simply assert her ownership of me; to let me know that she is still in charge.
I used to joke that I would stop nursing when bumblebee could undo my bra. I thought I would have to wean before she would. As my little pixie changes before my eyes, explores her burgeoning world and increasingly declares her 15-month old version of independence, I wonder how much longer this chapter will last. I do so look forward to getting a new bra, losing the last few baby pounds and all the other things a weaned mother enjoys. But that, I suppose, is part of the wonderful dichotomy of motherhood. With the lightening of my breasts, a heavying of my heart.