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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.