I nursed my sweet Huckle for the last time seven months ago.
At the time, I was pregnant. I was sick with hyperemesis, struggling to stay hydrated and nourished, and nursing had become painful. After almost two and a half years, it was clear that our nursing relationship had grown to be more about comfort than it was about nutrients. I had been keen to let him take the lead as to when we would wean, just as I had let my other two children dictate their readiness to part with the breast, but given how ill I was feeling, I strongly encouraged the end.
Which is to say, the next day, I didn’t offer. And when he asked, I denied him. I suppose in his own way, he was ready, because he never really fussed about not getting to nurse. So long as he could nestle between my breasts, one had on each, he was able to soothe himself to sleep. After all, he’d nursed longer than the other two combined!
With the knowledge that I would have a new baby to nurse, I was definitely not as heartbroken as I would have been otherwise. And of course, once I lost that baby, the loss of my nursing relationship with Roux became absolutely agonizing in retrospect. I felt as though I had betrayed him, even as I myself had been betrayed by my own body.
Of all my babies, Roux is the only one who ever had a deeply affectionate attitude toward breastfeeding and my breasts in general. Even now, seven months later, he falls asleep with one hand holding his “boobie”. When he’s upset or nervous, he’ll reach inside my shirt, placing his tiny hand softly upon my chest. It’s sweet, and it’s sad, all at the same time.
I am proud of how well we did, he and I. Against all odds, even. We were told from the beginning that due to his prematurity, he might never actually nurse, that he would have more success with pumped breast milk from a bottle. And for the first five weeks of his life, every three hours, that is exactly what I did. After he came home from the NICU, I obsessively researched how to encourage cognitive development in premature babies, and nearly every single resource mentioned breastfeeding – not breastmilk, but actually feeding from the breast – as one of the most effective ways to support brain function. I was hesitant at first given his low birth weight and the need to keep him on the side of gaining. Any weight loss would have found us right back in the hospital. But once it became clear that he was doing better than any doctor had suspected, I took it upon myself to ditch the bottle and feed him the old fashioned way. He took to the breast immediately, and continued to gain weight at an impressive rate. At our next visit with our pediatrician, herself an expert in premature nutrition, she couldn’t believe that he was feeding so well directly from the breast. She told me it was risky, but she was supportive. At his six month visit, we were told that she could count on one hand the number of babies born in their 35th week that had been able to exclusively breastfeed with such success.
Breastfeeding was the first of his many developmental achievements; he has continued to chalk up such accolades, defying all the odds he was given at birth.
Nursing has been the highlight of my life as a mother of young babies. Each of my children and I have shared a unique bond, no nursing relationship has been alike. All three have had their own individual words, rituals, habits, patterns, and each one of them has been precious. To think I might never nurse another baby is a special kind of sorrow, yet I can’t help but be grateful to my body for allowing me one of the greatest physiological experiences of them all. Altogether, I have spent four years and four months nursing my kids, and I’m damn proud to have done so.