Five Cumulative Years of Breastfeeding

Today, December 10, 2020, marks five cumulative years of breastfeeding. For five years, I have been feeding another person outside of myself all or part of the nutrients they needed to grow and learn and develop. I’ve spent only two nights away from my children since having them, and the two nights I did spend, over a year ago, I pumped enough so that my milk didn’t stop, and well… it’s continued not stopping for another 13 months.

Roar reading her sisters birth story

I’ve breastfed longer than I went to college. Longer than I’ve lived in any place save Columbus, Georgia. Longer than my current pair of jeans lasted with out getting a hole. 

Longer than any appointment I’ve served. Actually, it’s exactly the amount of time I have served in appointive ministry, so far. So, tomorrow, it will be. 

It’s over half the time I’ve been married. 

The first and second born sharing a story

I’ve come to know my body more deeply and more intimately than I really had imagined. It’s been a little while since I’ve felt the true harsh tug of letdown, but I still can remember the way sometimes it feels like my child is pulling through me all the way down to my toes. If she goes a morning without nursing but on one side, one breast can be two inches larger than the other until evening.

I’ve learned to be more gentle with myself and with my body, watching my body change and shift and adapt to the needs of my two partners in this process. At the same time I’ve learned what lines, boundaries, and parts of agency I chose to put into place. Yes, I will nurse while peeing. No, you cannot rub your fingers across my neck that way.

Grins

It has been a joy to develop this relationship with my second born who can now pause her nursing session, put my nipple on hold, and say, “I’m not done, but I want to tell you something.” Sometimes that’s frustrating, but it helps that I can now have full conversations with the person who is in this partnership with me. At least when she pauses these days I don’t drench her face with overabundant spray. 

I keep wondering, when it will end. Will we drop from three feedings to two, or just to one? Will naps stop? Or will those feedings be the last to go? Will we notice it both at the same time? What will that conversation be like? 

She knows how to say, “no, not this side, this one is empty.” But right now, we switch, and by the time we switch back, the milk has begun to flow again. Sometimes she taps my breast like a mechanic seeing if the right jolt in the right place will get the gears rolling again.

Very early on with rebel

I started this process with five days of stress and gaslighting and then massive engorgement and then my child having a tongue- and lip-tie revision at three and a half weeks. I was in tears curling my toes in pain every time she latched. For a couple weeks there, the entirety of the time she was awake, I was nursing her. 

In her first year I pumped for ten months, five days a week, producing an overabundance of milk and getting steadily more sleep deprived while I devoted sixty hours a week to work. 

When we night weaned and changed that first relationship, and at four and a half months pregnant, my first born weaned and I didn’t know what to expect with the second to come.

Playful sisters

I had a community group that supported me then, and even though I moved away from that town, I know it was partly because of Stacey and Jean that I kept going even when the going was incredibly tough. 

But while the second one was so much easier to latch, it was my body that didn’t recover as well from carrying her. The second born’s journey has been more about my own body, with physical therapy, shingles on my left breast for over a month while she was six months old (before she could get her chicken pox vaccine), and now varying degrees of energy from incredibly heavy periods.

Roar at six months with my shingles bandage still protecting us.

Now, breastfeeding is one of the few things I’m doing right now that makes the most sense, that is the most familiar to me, that provides me the most comfort. I don’t know or have a lot of answers right now about what is going on in the world, with excess grief and excess deaths and excess anger. But I do know that I’ve used my body to create a home when home has changed. And sometimes home is all we’ve had.

Breastfeeding on a beach walk

I’ve breastfeed at all hours of night and day, on packed subway trains, in meetings, at the dinner table, in the bathroom, in my bed, her bed, numerous rooms in multiple houses, the front porch, the mountains, the beach, on hikes, on the side of the road, in hotel lobbies, on boats, in worship, and as worship.

Breastfeeding on the subway in DC wearing my clergy collar

I don’t know how much longer this will last, but I’ve been grateful to have practiced this so far. R&E, thank you.

And Hubs, partner, confidant, supporter, and advocate, thanks for helping make this a priority for the family, for staying up and getting up as nights during night weaning so the milk doesn’t try to put the baby to sleep. Thanks for meals prepped when I didn’t have free hands, and working with flexible sleeping arrangements. Love you.

Sometimes my body is a hiding place.
Latched yoga
Three thumbs up.

Keep Me In Your Heart

Rebel has started saying this to my husband and I whenever we take our leave of her. It doesn’t matter if we are going to the grocery store, a quick run to the church to pick up more supplies for work, taking a walk, or even just upstairs for a nap or getting some non-interrupted work done. 

“Keep me in your heart! You’ll be in mine!” then kisses and ASL “I love you” hands until we are out of sight. 

It’s one of her ways of coping with this season of uncertainty. She is quite old enough to understand that something important is going on. She knows the world is different. Her world is different. She hasn’t been able to give a friend a hug in over a month. She’s only seen one, for that matter, and that was from her carseat for a five minute chat while the other friend was on her porch. We had to cancel visits from and to grandparents. (And the beach, which I’m super torn up about.) She can’t go to the grocery store. Or church. Or school. Or the playground. 

I don’t even want to let her see the playground, because I don’t want either kid to see it surrounded by police caution tape. That’s not an image I want to help her process. 

So. She knows something is going on. But how well can she understand that half the world is at home. Half the world has basically ground to a halt. I can’t process it. But it is happening. And so I’m trying to help her understand what she can and being with her when it overwhelms her. 

It is rightfully overwhelming. 

Hank Green shared the realization that this is the single largest collective intentional action in the history of humanity. That’s a big deal. It’s not a war. We are unified for one goal. It’s an action that we are taking to protect those most at risk among us. We aren’t all doing it the same way, but we also don’t understand it. We are still learning and realizing new trends and figuring out the best way for the most people to be healthy and share the best way to communicate what we need to do to be a responsible society. 

We want answers, but sometimes they simply don’t exist. We are learning how to live with ourselves in this current reality that is nothing like normal even on days when it could be. 

And so, because of the uncertainty, my daughter asks me to remember her when we are apart, even if it is with a door between us. And I do. I keep her in my heart. 

And I keep you in my heart. Because I cannot keep you in my hands, or offer you a gracious touch or comforting hug, you are in my heart. I remember you. 

Keep me in your heart. 

Wandering

When I was a child, I liked going my own way around things. I moved differently than the way my family moved, either faster or with a different cadence, and so I went ahead of them many times if I knew the general direction we were going in—if I thought I knew where we were headed. I kept track of where they were by looking back every so often to make sure they were still going my way. 

It almost never failed. 

Almost. 

I always assumed that they were keeping an eye on me. Following me. But occasionally, they turned when I had kept on going straight. And I looked back, and… They weren’t there anymore. No longer following me. I was no longer ahead of them. They were nowhere to be found. 

Well, at least for a time. Shortly after I figured out they were not behind me, I would find them, and it seemed that it had been my fault that I had gotten separated. To them, at least. I always felt that it was at least a joint effort, our disconnectedness. 

Perhaps so. Perhaps not. 

I remember feeling deeply wronged in being blamed for being separated. It was as if I had willfully separated myself from them. I remember being told not to wander. 

And what is so strange in revisiting these memories is that I still have that visceral urge to defend myself, to defend my own walking pattern, that I had not changed what I was doing, that they were at fault for leaving me, rather than me for leaving them. 

I imagine that my memories from twenty-five and thirty years ago have colored with age. 

I know that we were both mistaken. 

I thought I was leading. I was not. I was walking ahead… but still following, still under the guidance of my family. And at some point… I was no longer aware of the guidance, and our paths diverged. For a time, we went our separate ways.

For a time, I was lost. 

Or at least… not where I was expected.

My family was not where I expected them to be, either. 

And for however long it lasted, we were lost from each other. 

The two times I explicitly remember, it wasn’t for more than a few minutes, maybe a turn around a corner or two in a grocery store or on a foreign street corner. 

And then we were back together, and I had to shift my cadence and walk with them more carefully. I was the one who had diverged, and I had to change what I was doing so that I didn’t leave them again. 

That still feels harsh. Or rather, both my need to change and my judgement are harsh. As I look back, I have a recollection of my feeling of betrayal, of feeling as though I was blamed for getting myself lost when I felt that at least the fault should have been equally laid on each of us, me for being alone and them for having gone in a different direction than I thought. 

Even now, I don’t know exactly how it happened, how we got separated. I don’t know how I ended up in a different place when I thought we were all going in the same direction. I thought we were all following all the same rules, or at least the same guidelines, even if we travelled with different patterns. 

Eventually, we managed to reunite, to come together, to end up in the same place. We arrived at our destination, as one group, as a family, together. No longer lost. Perhaps a little wiser from the experience. Maybe a bit jaded, learning my own independence in the midst of discovering the limits of my agency as a child. 

I still have to balance my agency, my independence, my need to stay with my family, my cadence, and my exchanging leading with following. It’s funny when each of these revolving influences cycle in importance, some balancing their crucial necessity with the next in line. 

I still travel, but these days, I’m the one keeping up with the little ones, rather than being little, myself. Dear ones, if you wander, let me know where you are headed, so we can find the new places, together. 

Catching Moments

A year and a day ago I took a photograph of the tiny face of my sleeping twelve hour old Roar. It is currently the best photograph I have yet to take. The light is streaming in behind her, but diffused in the gentleness of the sheets and covers surrounding our nest of warmth. We are gently resting from the ordeal of birth the night before, but resting in our bed together, beginning the journey of learning from each other how to nurse and feed, how to ask for what we need and how to get what we want. 

Both girls when they were very young made this delicate huh-huh-huh sound to say please can you feed me now. It faded over time, and now all I’m left with is a fading memory of the sound. She was so small, and for such a small amount of time, quickly growing through sizes as she smiled for the first time, discovered her hands, and found her ears. 

I took a replication of that photo this morning after laying her down for her nap, her hands curled around her face again, the light, now, different, the covers patchworked under us as their color brings a vibrancy that mimics the way Roar plays now with us, her family. 

Photographs of Rebel, her sister, have worked to capture the innocence of that shot, but this one photograph is simply perfect. One of the reasons I like it is because there is actually no way to do it again. We are in a different bed in a different house facing a different direction. I’m not having another baby. There will never be another twelve hour old Roar. It is incredibly precious for that. She is precious, for certain, but while I have this photograph, I remember the way she taught me what she needed when she was so tiny and delicate. 

Roar is certainly not delicate, even though she continues to be precious. She’s substantial, and surprises us with her joy and emerging personality. As sisters, Rebel and Roar laugh and play, together and alongside each other. She’s watching us, keeping us in check, and making sure that we never leave her out of the fun.  

Parenting Together

Cuddled together in our partnered embrace, all I see is the echo of a semblance of a face. Too close to see and the whole of my vision, we twine ourselves together in comfort and comforting presence. 

Reminding me that we are together, we are one, we are on even ground even though we see things differently. We learn as we go. We make our own way. We grow together. 

We’re tired today. The baby will cry again soon, the toddler will ask for another wet kiss. Another day is coming of constant requests and continuous conversation. The “why”s have begun. Patience is a never ending attended skill. Parental responses must be immediate, while the preschooler can take ten questions to find a single answer. 

Even so. Even still. I’m glad I’m doing this with you. We partner and parent together, learning from our two girls and from each other as we go along. 

The challenge is to not lose our temper. The challenge is to offer grace to our daughters, each other, ourselves. 

It is not impossible, but it is very, very hard. 

And so we steal fifteen minutes between bedtime and the first time Roar roars to rest in each other’s arms. It’s doesn’t seem like much. But the touch is different than the constant contact with out children. We offer each other a resting space, a time to be off as much as possible, providing touch that doesn’t ask for anything but what we exchange. 

The presence is healing. Your presence is healing. Comforting. Restful. Good. 

Eventually fifteen minutes will be only the beginning. For now, it is enough. What we have to give each other is enough. More than survival, we have enough. Thank you for enough.