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A tale of two nursers

April 25, 2011

Up until last weekend, I’d been lactating for 6 1/2 years. And I must say, of all the substances the body produces, it’s pretty cool to make and dispense food for your offspring. I’ve never excelled at anything so easily; it sure takes the pressure off the whole career thing for awhile.

When I was 24-weeks pregnant with Col, I had just completed a 3-day Buddhist meditation retreat in the Colorado desert. Driving home with my friend Marlena, we talked about how motherhood would change my meditation practice. Nursing will be my meditation, I announced. Whether nursing sitting, standing or lying down, I vowed to stay present; lifting my shirt would be my mindfulness bell.

I imagined this baby—whom I was already deeply in love with—nursing in a perfect latch, drunk with milk, and me, nuzzling its fuzzy, melon head, drunk with love. The dishes would pile up, the laundry would overflow, and baby and I would simply nurse.  When the house went up in flames I’d rush out, cradling the baby in the football hold while he slurped down sweet milk.


The day after that meditation retreat, my water broke—16 weeks early—and I was airlifted to Denver through a raging snowstorm. I forgot about nursing and my carefully constructed birth plan, which suddenly seemed as flimsy as my own leaky uterus.

Six days later, at 25 weeks, Col was born. A parade of specialists marched through my post-partum hospital room. There was the social worker, who told me Col was eligible—due to low birth weight—for disability funds ($30/month). While I gnawed on the word disability, she chirped “every little bit helps!” Two pinstriped researchers who wanted to sign Col up for an experimental respiratory study thrust a mountain of paperwork at me, urging me to sign now.

Finally, the lactation consultant arrived. She wheeled—wheeled!—a hospital grade breast pump into my room and asked me if I had planned to breastfeed. She told me I actually had breast milk; special preemie milk, higher in protein and certain minerals, containing more antibodies and with fat that was easier to digest than full term milk. I smiled for the first time in a week.

For the next three months Col was tube-fed my breastmilk in tiny increments, starting with 2 tablespoons/day. When he was finally cleared to start trying to nurse, I showed up at the hospital every day with my nursing pillow, the Chariots of Fire soundtrack playing in my head. The seen-it-all nurses warned me that 25-weekers rarely learn to exclusively breastfeed. Two weeks after Col was sprung from the hospital, we were nursing all over town. It was so triumphant, for awhile I kept track of where Col slurped down a meal of mama’s milk: at the library, the Cyprus Cafe patio, at 10,200 feet in the back of the Subaru.

Two years later Rose was born. Trying to keep track of where she nursed would be like tracking a single dandelion seed as it floated around town. I could have read entire books while flipping Rose from one side to the next. I remember her infant body affixed to mine like surgery stitches. She’d unfurl her tiny fingers—as delicate as sweet pea tendrils—and grasp at currents of air, drinking my milk like she’d been thirsty for years.

And now it’s over. We had a good run kids. Now go to the fridge and pour your own milk.

My very favorite breastfeeding tidbit is this: the precise distance newborns can see is the distance between mama’s breast and her eyes. I could have stared into Rose’s brand new baby blues all day long, if there hadn’t been a 2 year old jumping on my head.

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36 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2011 10:29 am

    oh my god how i love this wonderful life and love affirming post. good job, momma.

  2. April 25, 2011 10:29 am

    Love this post…made me smile. Hurrah for mama milk!

  3. April 25, 2011 10:35 am

    Ah yes…such a beautiful recount of the amazing bond that nursing mamas have with their children.

    Isaac, at 4 1/2 – just stoppe nursing. It’s so bittersweet. xoxo

    • April 25, 2011 1:16 pm

      wow debbie!!!! i did not catch this if you posted it on your blog- congrats and oh my and a big hug!

  4. April 25, 2011 10:41 am

    sniff. sniff. sniff.

    damn. this one really got me.

  5. Tiffany permalink
    April 25, 2011 10:43 am

    oh love this!!!

  6. April 25, 2011 10:51 am

    great story! : )

  7. April 25, 2011 10:57 am

    I was reluctant to nurse. Not friends with my body, afraid of intimacy, I entered into that relationship with more than a little trepidation.

    Nursing is as healing for mamas as it is nourishing for babes.

    I did not nurse as long as you did. About 18 months with each of my kiddos. But plenty of time to bond and get them to that place where the wider world could fill in the gaps and their bellies.

    My favorite thing about nursing: the quiet at night, a beam of moonlight our illumination and that little tiny one smeared in what my body knows how to make even without a written recipe. I learned about intimacy in that moonlight, looking into those eyes, not worrying about wiping away what my body had made.

    Rachel, you feed your family well. You feed the world by talking about it.

  8. April 25, 2011 11:01 am

    Love the chubby baby picture! And congrats and a good bfing run :-)

  9. Audrey permalink
    April 25, 2011 11:07 am

    Lovely. Congratulations… I hope the final hurrah / goodbye to that part of your life was good for you and Rose. Isn’t it nice to look back and say with pride that we did it for that long??? (Well, for me, only 5 1/2 years.) And that we loved it.

    )hugs(

  10. April 25, 2011 11:24 am

    I too know a bit about the challenges of nursing a little one with special health issues. It takes real persistence to deal with all that ‘stuff’ and try to do the natural mama thing. Yet was absolutely in my experience the best thing for such an extraordinary little one. It makes the second go round seem like a cake walk…

    Congratulations to you mama…you’ve earned a well deserved break! enjoy ;)

  11. Kathy permalink
    April 25, 2011 11:55 am

    It’s so important to nurse a newborn, if it is possible, aside from the nutrition. I believe Sarah’s ability to speak so well has more to do with nursing for so long than the special exercises we did with her cheeks and mouth to strengthen her muscles. Nursing is one of the first muscular skills a newborn must learn to survive.
    So glad Col and you were so able!
    PS I wonder what kind of therapy is offered to infants with Down syndrome now? I hope breast feeding is still encouraged.

    May I repeat Rebecca’s affirmation? “Rachel, you feed your family well. You feed the world by talking about it.”

  12. April 25, 2011 12:13 pm

    Oh my goodness….. beautiful! I remember as my last one weaned at age 3… honestly at my {gentle} coercion I felt sad & free and humbled to have grown healthy babes… all those feelings at once. I can still look at my kids, the big ones to the little ones, and think “I helped that grow, I made that.”
    Pretty freakin’ awesome, right?

  13. April 25, 2011 12:15 pm

    Best. Pictures. Ever.

  14. April 25, 2011 12:47 pm

    See? This just proves my point that you define the word mother.

    When I was in the NICU with my girls, the lactation nurses called the colostrum “liquid gold”, and treated it as such, carefully preserving every. last. drop.

    There is no doubt in my mind that you and your milk are the reason that Col and Rose are such vibrant children.

    P.S. Its quite possible that Rose was the cutest baby ever.

  15. April 25, 2011 1:14 pm

    wonderful post!! I loved it!! thanks so much for sharing!!! Look at those beautiful, healthy kids you have – congrats!!

  16. April 25, 2011 1:26 pm

    chills and standing ovations. rachel, i love every single thing you wrote here. including everything from “now go pour your own” to the sweet distance a newborn can see. (i didn’t know that! but of course… nature is so entirely perfect.) i also didn’t know about preemie milk! that’s incredible. again with a nod to mama nature…. my (full term) baby was in nicu for 6 days, so nothing near what you went through, but i can relate to the “i smiled for the first time in a week” feeling after all the bs we endured there, finally letting my 5 day old baby latch on. wow. ok before i start reliving things i’m clicking outta here.

  17. kathleen permalink
    April 25, 2011 2:59 pm

    my milk just came in while reading this. love you.
    ps how are your boobies doing? when i weaned neko as a toddler i thought it would be smooth sailing–but i ended up with a couple of very painful bowling balls attached to my chest. hope yours are carefree & happy.

  18. Emily permalink
    April 25, 2011 5:01 pm

    Breasts Glorious Breasts! I was surprised at the time warp between first sips and now. Guess that’s the point! And it never occured to me that you have been nursing non-stop for so many years. It makes sense. It’s just another reminder of what a power house you are!!
    Love you!

  19. April 25, 2011 7:06 pm

    Oh, the bittersweetness. And what beautiful, beautiful little ones!

  20. April 25, 2011 7:32 pm

    Aww…what a bitter-sweet time weaning is…it’s been awhile since I’ve nursed anyone, but I walked past the baby section in Sears today and when I saw the exact glass bottles I used to store and send the boys’ milk to daycare, I swear I almost felt my milk letdown.

  21. Kim permalink
    April 25, 2011 8:31 pm

    That’s my favorite”ist” nursing fact, as well. It became more poignant when I found out that it was also the distance that my near sighted daughter could clearly see forever more.

    Your posts are as beautiful as your family, Rachel.

  22. April 25, 2011 8:32 pm

    <3

  23. Jen permalink
    April 25, 2011 10:26 pm

    I love Rose’s tiny little clasped hands in that first pic. And is Dan, um, sitting on a loaf of bread?
    I was just thinking about nursing and the peace around it this evening, as our nearly-2 adopted daughter slipped into sleep curled against me in that same position. I didn’t get to breastfeed her (kind of hoped the old boobs would somehow hear the call when she showed up out of the blue, but no…) but I was able to recapture at least some of that magic.

  24. April 25, 2011 11:42 pm

    Oh, you managed to capture the emotions so well. Your words bring me back to nursing my own babies, though we didn’t go through nearly as much as you did. I had a brief hiatus between my two, but they both nursed long and well. Sigh. I do miss that part of new motherhood. (But not the midnight feedings!) Good for you for writing and memorializing and processing this time.

  25. April 26, 2011 11:23 am

    This is so beautiful. Those smiling babes kill me. I’m so amazed and happy for you that you were able to nurse Cole so successfully despite his prematurity! Way to go, sister!

    I really understand that bittersweetness of letting it go. Stella didn’t nurse well at all because of her prematurity (and getting bottles in the hospital), but Zoe was a rock-star at it, and I remember those days near the end, when I wanted to keep going at the same time I didn’t.

    Lovely writing, as always! Thanks for this beautiful post. (And thank you for your comments over at Mother Words! They made my day!)

  26. April 26, 2011 4:36 pm

    My kids are becoming Senior Citizens :o), but I still remember that scene! Although a long time ago, I’m glad I did it..it gave the kids a good start and I had the first two 13 months apart…

  27. April 26, 2011 5:18 pm

    well i guess congratulations (?) on no more lactating? good for you for sticking with it for so long, and enjoying it. as you know, my own nursing experience was not so great, so i am envious of ladies like you!

  28. April 26, 2011 10:53 pm

    nursing as meditation. i think that is so very true. it seemed as soon as i was no longer a nursing mom the search for a meditation space and time became all important.

  29. April 27, 2011 12:41 am

    i am also interested in the fact that dan is sitting on a loaf of bread. life with babies!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 27, 2011 6:54 am

      Ha! I too am interested in why Dan is sitting on a loaf of bread! Strange times.

  30. April 27, 2011 8:06 am

    In five weeks, I’ll be nursing again, and I can’t wait. It’s one of the most wonderful moments that we share with our babies. With my first, I think I would’ve nursed longer than 13 months if I wasn’t working full time. After my maternity leave, I pumped more than I nursed, but hey, at least my little girl was nourished in the best way possible, regardless of how she got the goods. :)

  31. Molly permalink
    April 27, 2011 10:47 am

    Very nice work, in the starting and the doing and the stopping.

    Yesterday I broached “end of nursing days” with my 3 1/4 year old, talking about how elephants and cow calves eventually stop nursing altogether, and she might consider doing the same. She laughed a cocktail party laugh, as at a joke which is in terribly poor taste, and told me I was very silly…

  32. April 29, 2011 7:25 am

    I enjoyed hearing about all the happenings on your homestead and really like that new cold frame…and will definitely try covering my carrots/beets next year to help speed up germination, what a great idea.

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