penelope and bumblebee

Good grammar costs nothing.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

There’s Something I Want to Get Off My Chest

A Perfect Post

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.


  • At 12:02 AM, Anonymous Naomi said…

    A beautiful post. We breastfed for only 7 months, and it was a difficult journey. It ended not by my choice, but by the choice of a stubborn boy who didn't like the slow flow of the breast, screaming and pushing it away.

    I learned a lot on my journey, and hope that, with my second, I will have an easier time. Your post gives me hope!

  • At 12:44 AM, Anonymous Kilroy_60 said…

    Had a recent bout of Bloggus Interruptus at Fear And Loathing In The Blogosphere. I think I'm over it now.

    I was doing some maintenance and updating today. Wanted to follow-up with you regarding a link exchange.

    I looks like all is going well with you. The blog is interesting. Bumblebee appears to be doing wonderfully and your husband now has a name! :-)

    I listed some questions in a recent post, perhaps you would come by for a look and write some answer for me.

    Happy Blogging! I'll look forward to hear from you.

  • At 2:44 AM, Blogger lisalou said…

    Sappy. sappy. Sweet booby love!
    I loved this post. I swear I felt my own boobies twitching when I read it.

  • At 11:06 AM, Blogger Amanda said…

    Oh my, reading your post honestly brought some tears to my eyes. I am motivated now to write my experience of breastfeeding my daughter. I exclusively breastfed for almost 6 months and she weaned at 13 months, I think honestly it was the hardest thing I ever did. It happened because I truly believed that she was ready to move on--I questioned whether or not I was ready to--it took a good month to get over feeling guilty for having weaned her.
    Breastfeeding was the most incredible experience ever! I loved it and sometimes yearn to do it again--it certainly did provide my daughter with great comfort as well--it was the ultimate cure for anything and everything.

  • At 2:16 PM, Blogger metro mama said…

    Beautiful post.

  • At 5:12 PM, Blogger bubandpie said…

    Such a beautiful, beautiful post. I breastfed both my children for nine months apiece, but for us it wasn't really the relationship you described: I had a fast, fast flow so both my babies had to gulp fast and then get on with their day - we could never use breastfeeding for comfort (and in the Pie's case, I often had to comfort her after the trauma of the spray-and-gulp fest). Both my kids became very distractable by nine months of age, so weaning became the lesser of two evils (not quite as traumatic as dealing with a baby who screams and pushes the breast away).

    I really loved reading about the closeness and fulfillment that the breastfeeding relationship brought you and your daughter. Wonderful post.

  • At 2:03 AM, Blogger Her Bad Mother said…

    Crying here.

    We *just* weaned. 8 and a half months. Took her last real slurp three days ago. Done now.

    It's good. But it's hard.

  • At 1:01 AM, Blogger crazymumma said…

    Oh sweet mama, what a post. Please oh please let her read it when she is ready....Trust me, she will love the love you feel, the feelings you felt...give her 7 years..she will be all over this.

    Absolutely freakin' the most beautiful thing I have read in a long time....


  • At 2:34 AM, Blogger sunshine scribe said…

    This was one of the most beautiful posts I have ever read. I am sobbing. Thanks for sharing this.

  • At 11:31 PM, Blogger crabbykate said…

    Ditto to the above - this is truly a beautiful post. I breastfed until my daughter weaned herself at 13 months. I thought I would be happy about it (and in some ways, as you describe, I was too), but there was a part of me that felt so lost. The part I focused on was that I just couldn't remember the last time she fully nursed - only the first time she turned away. I thought it would be a big momentus occasion, but really it was gone in a second.

    But, as you point out, it's just the beginning of them moving away from us and developing their independence. And yes - how good that can be! It's just hard, sometimes, to know that as the days go by you become less and less of a necessity. (oh GAWD I am depressing myself! Stopping now.)

  • At 11:45 PM, Blogger Nancy said…

    Oh my gosh, that was so beautiful. My little Alien is soon to be 6 months old and I am dreading introducing solids. I love nursing her and hate to give any of it up. Silly, I know. Thanks for a wonderful post. It was my first time here and I will definitely be back.

  • At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Karen said…

    I know the feeling. IN all sense of the word. It sounds like you gave her a lot - and while she may not know it, she'll be grateful at some point.

    At least that's what I tell myself with my daughter!

    Visiting from CHBM!

  • At 2:50 PM, Blogger Rock the Cradle said…

    That was beautiful!

    The Impling and I weaned at 15 months, and I can definately say it was harder on me than on her.

    But I will remember that last feeding for the rest of my life. So bittersweet.

    This is my first time here (coming from Bub & Pie)...and a fabulous introduction to your site.

    Congratulations on your perfect post!

  • At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Antique Mommy said…

    Here via Perfect Post. Beautifully written! Your post reminded me how desperately I wanted to breastfeed and the disappointment that I couldn't because of a medication I'm on. I really feel like I missed out on something special.

  • At 9:53 PM, Blogger Haley-O said…

    What a beautiful post. I weaned the monkey just after her first birthday. It was painless. But, as you pointed out, for me it came with that vexed sensation of both mourning and celebration--a sensation, you're right, that will come with every big milestone.


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