Saturday, 17 November 2012

On the end of breastfeeding

After just over a year, we're done.  Just like that, over the course of two days, she's passed me over in favour of a brightly coloured cup filled with cow juice.  I blame her brother; he's the eldest, a bad influence.  He's been weaned for more than eighteen months.

I've been so blessed; I found breast-feeding incredibly easy.  I meet women every week for whom that isn't the case and my heart goes out to them.  And to you, if breast-feeding was your desire and it didn't work out how you had hoped.  I know there are a myriad reasons why you might not breast-feed, including the reasoned and informed choice not to.  I'm privileged that I have so much contact with new mums and babies, that I've been trained in the teaching and supporting of breast-feeding, that the idea of getting your baps out in front of strangers wasn't that big a step for me, that I knew what to expect and what to do if it went wrong.  As it happened, both my children fed easily shortly after they were born.  I even called someone in to watch me feed Isaac that second day, convinced it couldn't be as easy as all that.

The best advice I've ever been given about breast-feeding (and one I pass on regularly) is that it will hurt, even if you're doing everything right.  The first ten day are the worst, if you can grit your teeth at each latch and hold on until the feed is established and the pain recedes, and you can do that eight to ten times a day for a week and a half, you'll be ok.

I had mastitis when Anna was a couple of months old.  I thought I was hungover but as the paracetamol wore off, I realised I had a fever.  I've never been so grateful to the NHS and modern antibiotics.  A day later, I was back to normal.  Though I completed the full course, naturally.
I've felt my way through this breast-feeding journey.  Letting the babies tell me when they were hungry, ignoring the clock completely after the first weeks with Isaac.  Both children grew well, quickly, losing little or no weight in their first days.  So I've never faced the challenge of being the sole source of nutrition for a baby who's failing to grow.  I can't imagine the guilt or the pain.

Each of them dropped their feeds as they wanted.  But I stopped Isaac, at the end.  I was in my first trimester with Anna, working 48 hour weeks in a busy neonatal unit.  So when evening came, I was so tired, I couldn't sit up to nurse him.  His warm little body combined with my hormone-fueled hot flushes left me overheated and woozy.  So at around ten months of age, we moved him onto a sippy cup of cow's milk before bed.  I expected to have to leave the room, to escape his fits of screaming.  I expected him to refuse, desperate for his mummy.  I expected him to hold out for the good stuff.  I should have known him better.  He tasted his beaker, did a double-take then sat happily on his daddy's lap to down the lot.  Ungrateful little sod.  Daddy always was his favourite.  (We ended our morning feeds two weeks later when a run of nights meant I wouldn't be home until 10am for three days in a row.  He didn't look back.)

But I was pregnant again so it wasn't so much stopping as an extended hiatus.  And then lady Anna arrived - and she's mine, all mine.  Only mummy will do.  Which is occasionally annoying, but mostly very very gratifying.  She loves her daddy, she'll settle with people she knows, she'll even stay somewhere unfamiliar but when it all comes down to it, she wants her mummy.

The first time she latched on, the pain was short but sharp.  I swore.  This after 5 hours of intense labour, nearly 3 of them pushing, without a single impolite word.  (Andy will tell you I bit him, it's a dreadful lie.  Sort of.)  And then we were off.  With a toddler underfoot, it's easier to go with the flow and I had a tendency to forget about Anna's feeds, only realising when she wouldn't stop crying that I'd last fed her nearly five hours before.  She took to eating quickly and easily and shortly after, dropped her daytime milk.

Unlike Isaac, she continued to feed in the night from time to time, even after she started solids.  As recently as last month, we were up a couple of times in the early hours for a feed and a snuggle before she returned to bed without complaint.

I started back to work and she took a sippy cup of milk without complaint each time I was working late or overnight.  She likes to drink from Isaac's cups; water, squash, juice, milk, whatever she finds.

The night of her first birthday, she went to sleep without any milk, having refused to settle down and feed.  To be honest, I expected her to wake up complaining but when she didn't, I gave her a dream-feed before I went to bed around 10.  She fed well in the morning, as usual, and I went off to work a long day.  Daddy gave her a beaker as usual that evening.  She settled well.  Then last night, she refused me.  Point-blank.  Giggling, smiling, playing games with me.  And I'm no fool, I know when I'm being passed over.  She drank a full beaker of cow's milk last night.  And I cried a little.

Dropping the evening feed is slightly inconvenient to be perfectly honest.  Our mornings are rushed and busy, it would be easier not to have to feed her then.  But that's the way parenting goes, very often the convenient is not the reality.

So her refusal to feed this morning knocked me off my feet.  She stole Isaac's cup actually, before I got her one of her own.  So you can see why I blame his influence, he's shown her the way the big kids do it.  And she very much wants to be like her big brother.

I wasn't ready for this period of dependence to end.  It's a recurring theme in my parenting journey; for me to be happy with the status quo and my child to be moving on, as children should.  I encourage their growing independence.  That is, after all, my job; to love them and guide them and help them to be all God made them to be.  To be apart from me, dependent on Him.  It starts when they cut the cord, as you lie in your hospital bed, looking at your sleeping baby, not feeling those breaths inside you as you were just hours before.  And now, uncertain if this is to be my last baby, I struggle with the loss of something intangible.  I define myself by my relationships and now one of the most important things in my life involves constant change, in the direction of away, of separate.  (I'm going to be a really annoying mother-in-law, I can tell already.)
And I've lost a part of myself.  The part that proclaims proudly, I'm still breast-feeding my daughter.  Even though I work full-time, and have a toddler, and keep a house.  (It's an annoyingly superior part - I think she needs a bit of losing, to be honest).  That period of my life is over, perhaps forever, before I was ready for it.  So I weep a little.  I remind myself that I am still needed, still loved.  I consider the positives (goodbye nursing bras, sore boobs and leakage!).  I sit in my sadness for a bit, grieving my loss, and then I get up and get on again.  I'm a busy mum, don't you know!

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