Thursday, August 8, 2013

All Done Milkos

I have been holding off on writing this post because I wasn't sure if it was real or not. But after last night, I think I finally believe it has happened. My baby is weaned.

David and I had a rough start to nursing (I should say David, Michael, and I had a rough start because on those sleepless nights and tear-filled feedings Michael was right there adjusting pillows and wishing he could help as badly as I wanted there to be something I knew how to do to make things go better). David was born with a tongue tie, a sneaky posterior tie, that while my lactation consultant found it after two sessions together, I ignored her and was in denial about until he was about 5 weeks old. I feel lucky that I had a huge milk supply so unlike a lot of TT babies David grew like a weed despite our nursing woes. However, he tore me apart. I had a fissure across my entire left nipple that was so painful I ended up needing to stop nursing on it for four days to let it heal. During that time I nursed only on the right, which, doing as bodies do best, kicked into high gear and made all the milk David needed all by its self. To this day my right side is "my big gun." I had two thrush (yeast) infections, a bought of mastitis, numerous plugged ducts, nipples that were oddly shaped like lipstick with a beveled edge after each excruciating feeding.

David was 5 weeks old and Nina, my super hero lactation consultant I had just resent me information on posterior tongue ties. I was finally convinced that was what was going on but the local ENT who could perform the simple surgery he needed couldn't see me for two weeks, an eternity in the world of infant feeding. I sat on the couch at 5pm and David latched onto my newly healed left side. It was painful, as usual, and when he finished I looked down and saw to my horror he had resplit the fissure. I picked up the phone and called Nina who gave me the number to a doctor she knew in phoenix. Because I apparently had a small cache of good Karma, the office picked up at 5:11pm and because there apparently is a G-d got me an appointment THE NEXT DAY. Off I went to Phoenix with my tiny 5 week old in the back of the car (one of his least favorite places on earth at the time) and Nina in the front seat with me.

We arrived at the Dr. Agerwal's in time and I then experienced one of the most compassionate physician's visits I have ever had. He listened to my 5 week long saga with empathy, looked at my son's tongue and confirmed Nina's diagnosis. I was sent briefly out of the room while he strapped my precious baby to a board for the second time in his life (circumcision is a whole other blog post, I'll save it for another day, or maybe after our second bris). A quick cry and about 3 minutes later I was called back in and David was handed back to me to nurse. It was better instantly. Not perfect. But better enough that I believed that I wasn't going to have to pump and bottle feed for the rest of the year.

The next three weeks were full of somewhat improved but not perfect feedings that landed me eventually in the office of Amy Wheeler, a magical Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and cranio-sacral therapist who finally pushed us over the edge to the blissful nursing I had imagined when I was pregnant.

From there the story is less dramatic, and as it rightly should, takes up less space in my memory. When David was hungry I fed him. We got good enough at it together, and I got confident enough in what I was doing, that I was able to shed the nursing shield and nurse in public without my boobs flapping in the wind (too much at least). He got bigger and started eating foods too. We went on a backpacking trip when he was six month old and I felt the freedom that breast feeding allows, as long as I was with him, he had everything he needed.

His first birthday came and went. Some of my friends kids started slowing down, some with more encouragement than others but all in their own unique and gentle ways. By their 14 or 18 month marks some only nursed at night. Not David. He didn't seem anywhere near being done with Milkos, a coin he termed himself sometime after his first birthday. Sometimes, like first thing in the morning we nursed because he was hungry. Sometimes, like when I got home from work we nursed to reconnect. Sometimes we nursed to help him calm down, and at night we nursed to help him relax and drift off to sleep.

As his first birthday drifted away I felt the social approval for nursing fading too. It is hard to put my finger on what this is like, questions like "he is still nursing?" take on new meaning. The best metaphor I have come up with is when someone says something like, "you look great, and I know you will feel awesome when you finally loose those last ten pounds, but don't worry! You look great now too!" That sort of bestowal of temporary approval for something that everyone knows you should have gotten done already and as long as you plan on getting it done soon, you are still okay. But you are on notice.

As he approached two I started gently stopping nursing in public and he understood more about waiting and he needs weren't so pressing so it wasn't so hard. The exception of course being when it was convenient for me, such as while waiting for the food at a restaurant during a dinner planned at an inadvisable late hour for a toddler. I got to stay at the table and talk to friends or family rather than run around a restaurant entertaining an over tired toddler while avoiding crashes with tray laden waitresses.

Then I got pregnant. Faster than I imagined I would. At first things went on as normal. I didn't have any of the pain that some women experience when nursing while pregnant. Then about three months in Thursh reared its ugly little fungal head again and I had a hard time knocking it. Nursing got more uncomfortable. But I wanted so much for weaning to be a partnership and for him to be ready as well, so I persisted but knew I needed at least the number of nursings to decrease. So I just started pushing slowly, saying no, or telling him we needed to wait until before nap. I feel grateful he was ready and said ok. There were a number of feedings he stopped on his own, as my milk supply dwindled he popped out of bed each morning and demanded breakfast, milkos no longer enough to break his fast. Every once in a while he would let me know that he really still needed it and I would say okay to him in return. It felt flexible. No one felt stressed. But before long we were down to the elusive just before bed nursing that when pressed most people will condone when thinking about older nurslings.

There we were when we headed off on our family vacation to California. I think the change in scenery and routine let us both let go. Without the familiar routine cues to nurse he stopped asking before nap and bed time. Instead my husband and I sang him the Shema every night before we kissed him and left the room. I nursed him a few times on the trip. Once in the middle of the night on our first night away when he woke up disoriented. The last real nursing we had was sitting on the side of a windy mountain road in Sequoia National Park. He had gotten car sick and was miserable so we pulled over and I offered my fix-it-all solution, and, as the trusty parenting tool it had been for the last 27 months, it worked like a charm. After that he asked once or twice but would get distracted before I could say yes or no. Once he asked and I told him he could but that there might not be a lot of milkos left. "yes there are! they are BIG, I drink them up!" he insisted, in that way that two year olds have of being direct and honest about their observations and desires. I conceded, not really knowing how to explain the breast enlargement due to pregnancy to a two year old. He put his mouth briefly to me, without even a suckle, pulled away, and stated emphatically "no more milkos! I don't like that," off he went to play.

And that was it. We returned home and my mom had removed the rocking chair from his room at my request, although I don't think we needed to do that. Last night he asked again, and we had a similar discussion. He ended up curling up on the couch with me and as he was insistent, I offered. He took one look at the nipple and said, "I don't want that." so I asked, did you need to just cuddle? "Yes" he stated, popped his thumb in his mouth and began twirling his hair curled up next to me on the couch. He still needs the closeness that nursing provided and is now learning new words and new ways to get it. I am learning too. A few nights ago he woke up in the night and I comforted him, sleepy and in the dark, for the first time without my go to never fail trick-nursing. A skill my husband excels at by now, but was new for me, and I was proud. Of both of us.

The feeling is a bitter sweet. I was ready to be done, my body is giving itself over to his baby brother, and he has so many skills now, he doesn't need it. Not me, he still needs me, lots, but doesn't need my milk any more, the world sustains him in new ways. I am apprehensive and curious and excited to find out what my next nursing adventure will bring. I hope that what ever our start, our ending feels this good.


  1. I love reading your stories. Nova nursed till she was 3 although from about 2 onwards it was bedtime only. We stopped when I got pregnant with Milo - for me, nursing while pregnant became excruciatingly painful. So that was that. I think we could have stopped earlier if I'd pushed it a bit, but I felt no need before then. It does kind of blow my mind, though, that I've been either pregnant or nursing for over 5 years now.

    1. It seems like a long time! But I imagine that when they are both high schoolers you will think about how short this time actually is when compared to their whole lives. And yay for the research that says your risk of breast cancer decreases for every year you nurse! I can't wait to meet your little man next time we go out and see Nova be the big sister.