A tale of two nursers
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.