1 Year of Motherhood: Reflections from a Nursing Mom
Tomorrow my baby turns 1.
1 year old. On her first ever birthday.
Exactly 1 year ago on this day she broke my water while in utero. The trickling of the amniotic fluid was so slow, I didn’t even know anything had happened. Exactly 1 year ago I went to bed for a blissful 8 hours of sleep before being told at my OB/Gyn appointment the following morning that due to low amniotic fluid levels, baby Audrey was going to be delivered that afternoon.
And what a year it has been.
When I look at Audrey today, watching her busily moving from one exploration to the next, looking at me for signs of approval or disapproval as she gets into everything within her reach, showing her dismay with whining when I tell her “no Audrey, that’s for big hands only,” I know that this baby in front of me is quickly transforming into a child. She may not be able to express herself explicitly with clear words, but she understands much of what is coming out of my mouth. She sees and interprets my actions, facial expressions, interactions with others… it is hard to imagine this child was once a newborn who couldn’t see 3 inches beyond her face nor control her own limbs.
At the rate that babies reach new milestones in the first year (especially after the first 6 months), it certainly feels like the year has flown by. But some days, especially those early days, each minute of passing time was excruciatingly long.
Yesterday was the first day I stopped bringing my Medela cooler to the office. For the first work day in 10 months, I did not have to bring an extra bag on my bus commute to campus, take breaks to hook up my pump parts, put up the privacy screen, pump milk, clean up the pump parts, take down the privacy screen, refrigerate the milk, repeat twice more each day, and then transport that extra bag on my bus commute home. I feel liberated, I am no longer that woman competing with the homeless man for the most number of bags on the bus. Audrey is still nursing morning and night (and sometimes at 4:00pm when I pick her up from nannyshare), but we are well on our way on that road named Weaning. Watching Audrey eat her toddler-sized meals with such enthusiasm these days, those hours and hours I spent with a newborn latched on laying across her nursing pillow seem like a distant memory. It’s hard to believe up until 7 months ago, I was Audrey’s sole source of nutrition.
[Audrey falling asleep after her morning nursing session at 1 month old]
But the memories of our nursing journey are vivid, both good and bad. There were so many long nights before Audrey could go all night without nursing. The anxiety of a sleep-deprived new mom going to bed not knowing when baby girl would cry for me in the middle of the night. Crying for me, crying for milk, because in those early days, when baby girl cried in the middle of the night, it was my alarm and mine alone due to biology. Despite my husband being a wonderful dad and supportive partner, breastfeeding is a lonely journey for new moms. I remember nursing Audrey in those hours that blurred the line between extreme late night or early morning, holding her until she fell back asleep, surfing every social network available on my tablet to stay awake and not accidentally fall asleep with her on me (for her safety), knowing that the only other posts in real time were from friends traveling/living abroad or other new moms. More than once, in my exhaustion, I wished it was a task I could delegate to someone else. But once that little tiny helpless baby was across my chest, and I felt her tiny heart beating and her breathing becoming gradually more relaxed as she dozed off into the abyss of the night, I knew that it was a task I wouldn’t trade with anyone else.
For those first 5 months of her life, I felt the weight of that responsibility of being baby girl’s sole source of food. She, no, we, struggled with getting back to birthweight, a milestone we didn’t achieve until 3 weeks after birth (ideally babies should be back at birthweight by 2 weeks after birth). Those were the hardest days of motherhood, with everyone giving advice left and right on supplementing with formula, or taking herbal supplements or eating weird Chinese soups to increase supply, or nursing more often (even though I felt like Audrey was nursing constantly already), to correcting her latch, to operating on her “minor” tongue-tie. We nursed more (and slept even less), pumped after each nursing session, saw the pediatrician for extra appointments, visited with lactation consultants, saw a craniosacral therapist to relax baby girl’s jaw to better her latch, and finally, had her frenulum clipped with a pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist. Logically, I know that everyone just wanted to help, to make sure baby Audrey thrived. But deep down inside, as a first time nursing mother, I was so insecure, and those helping hands often felt like critical eyes. But we trucked on. I relied on the only thing my logical brain could, information. There isn’t a lot of evidence-based science out there for breastfeeding, so on top of the few peer-reviewed science and medical journals, I read anthropology books, La Leche League guidebooks, endless new mom internet forums, KellyMom.com (read this one so many times that the words were burned into my brain), and made decisions as we went along the best I could based on the knowledge I had.
By Audrey’s 2 months appointment, her weight gain had gotten back on track. I could breath a little easier and enjoy those bonding moments during our nursing sessions without worrying about whether she was getting enough milk. But the insecurity was still there. When Audrey started sleeping through the night at 4.5 months old, for several weeks afterwards, I still set an alarm for 2:00am to wake up and pump, because I never wanted to feel that sense of overwhelming guilt again.
During that same time, my confidence as a nursing mom had grown so much. When Audrey was 6 months old, I left her overnight for the first time to attend a 5 day conference in Washington DC. This was the first time I was pumping while traveling. I pumped at the airport, in the handicapped bathroom at the conference venue, in a shared hotel room, and in the end, lugged over 130 ounces of milk through TSA on the flight back. It’s something I never wish to do again in terms of magnitude of logistics planning, but surviving that experience was the confidence booster I needed. I felt “legitimate,” like I had passed some initiation into the circle of hardcore working nursing moms.
By tomorrow I will have met this too-broadly defined goal I had set for myself, breastfeeding for at least 12 months, because that’s the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation. Baby Audrey was solely on breast milk for the first 5 months of her life (when she had her first taste of sweet potato puree). When we supplemented, we were lucky to have breastmilk that I had pumped from the early days of engorgement. We will, of course, nurse longer than 12 months, as I am letting Audrey lead the way in weaning, and it looks like morning and night nursing sessions will be a part of our lives for sometime. I don’t think I’ve done things “completely right” as I don’t think anyone knows how to do breastfeeding “completely right”, because this was a journey that started with many twists and turns, but we survived, and eventually, thrived.
This road called Weaning will be bittersweet. I treasure being the first one in the morning to greet Audrey as she squeals excitedly in her crib for her morning milk, or the last one at night to put Audrey in her crib as after she nurses herself into a relaxed state before bed. Infancy is short, babyhood is short, childhood is short, and we move on. But for now, as I watch my busy almost-toddler move from one activity to the next, rarely tolerating too much time in mommy’s lap, I know that it has all been worth it: the sleepless nights, the hours tied to the pump, those deeply relaxed baby breaths, the smiles and giggles while switching sides during nursing, the weight of my baby on my shoulders…
What a year.
PS: Still 1 lb above pre-pregnancy weight. And definitely wearing one size bigger clothes for good.