Warning: Some amount of boob flesh present in this post. More than you'd see on an episode of "19 Kids and Counting" but less than you'd see on an episode of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians." So plan accordingly.
I can see it now: "UGH, mom. Gross. Why did you write this??" as she slams the computer shut or throws the tablet or swishes her hands through the virtual display in front of her. So I apologize in advance to 16-year-old Carys and say to her: I have no excuse other than everyone is doing it. Ok, maybe not everyone is blogging about breastfeeding, but everyone is blogging embarrassing things about their kids. Trust me, future Carys, Google the name of that popular girl, and her mom probably posted a picture of her first poop in the potty on Facebook. I promise you I will never post a picture of you pooping. Unless it's REALLY funny.
So for the rest of you in present time...
She's weaned. We had our last nursing session on Monday, February 18, 2013, in the morning. Nineteen months and eleven days. She's nursed every single day since the day she was born until yesterday morning at least once a day. And oh, my gosh, it's so bittersweet to be done. Honestly, mostly bitter. I'm sure the sweet will come.
Within the first two weeks, though, it had become excruciating. She was a sleepy eater, who would nurse for a couple minutes and then fall asleep. Because of that, she seemed to nurse around the clock, which meant pain around the clock. What came first: the nursing around the clock or the pain? Did the nursing constantly cause the pain or was she nursing constantly because of the pain and she hated me a little bit for kicking her out of the womb?
I remember a friend visiting when Carys was eleven days old and she watched me get her latched on, and I was stomping the floor and clenching my fists and grimacing while doing it, and I'm pretty sure I scared the shit out of her. I remember putting off nursing her as long as I could just to delay the pain a little bit more. I literally had to psych myself up to do it. I remember the awful, godforsaken nights. The nights were the worst, when she just wanted to eat and I just wanted to feed her and I was too tired to help her with a good latch and the pain seemed a million times worse. I cried. A lot. I tried ice and heat and Soothies and lanolin and anything I could think of to help with the pain. I'm fairly sure that I took the pain meds that they'd given me for my c-section in order to help with the pain - and I hadn't needed them for c-section pain since day two.
I had mastitis. Twice. (Surprising remedy? Potato slices. Google it.) I made the mistake of all mistakes and avoided having her nurse from the painful side, because it hurt SO bad. The second time, I learned my lesson and sucked it up, which helped it clear up more quickly.
I had thrush. And endless case of thrush. At least twice officially, corresponding to the antibiotics I was on for the mastitis, but it might have just been one really long bout or a hundred short bouts but whatever it was, thrush fucking blows. It's like a hundred pins being stuck into your nipples at once.
I had vasospasms. If you don't know them, just...I don't even know. Imagine thrush. And the Soothies and cold packs that I'd been trying to use to help the pain that everyone swore by? Made the vasospasms even worse.
I even had a serratia infection, which tinted leftover milk and her diapers hot pink and was diagnosed via an episode of "Mystery Diagnosis." That led me to see an infectious disease doctor (diagnoses: yes, a minor case, but my body was fighting it efficiently and the drugs are very strong and you can't nurse on them, and me nursing her was probably what was keeping her healthy, so just keep on nursing and it should clear up on its own, and it did).
I went virtually topless for weeks on end, as wearing any clothing was excruciating. It became such the norm that I may have (did) answered the door for the UPS guy without a top on. And it was not a positive experience for him, I'm sure - I was just a few weeks postpartum. Not pretty.
I went to support groups and La Leche League meetings. I got advice, but nothing ever helped. She would latch on with a wide mouth, but then she'd pull back her upper lip. And I would cry.
At seven or so weeks, I saw a doctor in a city an hour away who specialized in breastfeeding. She diagnosed Carys with a slight posterior tongue tie. She said they could clip it, and it'd be 50/50 whether her latch would improve. I was desperate. She clipped it. It did not help. We discovered at that visit that Carys had lost weight since her last doctor appointment, and that my output had dropped considerably thanks to the mastitis. I went home with instructions to follow a strict nurse/pump/bottle schedule, where I would nurse Carys and then pump while Chris gave her a bottle. It took a good two hours to complete that routine, and she wanted to nurse every two hours, so I was tied to either a baby or a pump 24 hours a day for two weeks. Or so it seemed at the time. I probably got minutes away here and there. After the first couple of days, I wasn't pumping enough to keep up with the bottle demand and we'd used my frozen stash, so we had to mix powedered formula in with the breastmilk - usually an ounce of each (insert story here about how our dog ate all my frozen breastmilk and contributed to the lack of a frozen stash) (insert story here about death of said dog) (insert 'just kidding' here but seriously I contemplated it). Eventually, she weaned herself off of the bottles by taking less and less after each nursing session and nursing more, and she gained the weight back. This goes back to the sleepy eater: she wasn't getting enough food to stay awake and eat as much as she needed. Once she started getting more milk delivered via bottle, she was able to stay awake longer and exert the energy needed to complete a full nursing session.
But none of that really helped with the pain.
Everyone says that breastfeeding should not hurt like that, but no one had a solution that helped.
They kept telling me that if I could just survive the fist six weeks it would get better.
It did not get better.
Until it did.
For us, that magic point was around nine weeks. I don't know if she just got bigger (and therefore her mouth got bigger and fixed her latch) or if I did something or if she did something or if all the nerve endings in my nipples just decided to say "fuck you, we're outta here" and packed up and left, but whatever happened....it stopped hurting.
From that point on, it was amazing. And truly, it was amazing even in the midst of the struggles. If it hadn't been, I wouldn't have pushed so hard to continue. Minus the pain, I loved nursing her. For whatever reason, it was important to me to be able to nurse her, and I persevered Almost anything else in my life, I would have easily given up by then, but this I stuck out, and I am so fricking proud of myself that I did. I know at one point in the story, you probably asked yourself, "Why the EFF did you keep going?? Formula is not poison!" and thought I was being a martyr (At what point did you hit that thought? The crying? The mastitis? The serratia? All valid choices - for me it was the first time I cried!). And I know formula is perfectly fine. She had some, after all. Granted, it was only maybe 2oz a day for two weeks, but I know she'd be the same amazing kid whether I nursed her or not. But for some reason, I wanted to keep going, desperately.
It was not easy for those first two months, but I did it. I did it. Okay, WE did it.
"Milk" was the first sign she learned, and one of her first words (sounded more like "mauck", except cuter). The last few months, she'd try to dive into my shirt to get at her "mauck."
Each morning I'd bring her into bed with us and we'd all have a short reprieve from waking up while she nursed for an hour or so. We joked it was her morning coffee. When she was done, she'd pop up with a big grin and say, "Hi!"
Each night, we'd read books and get PJs on and then nurse to wind down for the day. She nursed to sleep until she was maybe 15 or 16 months old, and then as she got older she'd nurse til she was drowsy and I'd lay her down awake.
We nursed in public and in private, with covers and without, alone and in groups, while sitting, standing, laying down, walking, driving (well, I wasn't driving). I pumped at a Ke$ha concert and at a comedy show and in cars and at work for over a year. Nursing and pumping where huge parts of my life and of her life.
I knew no matter what, it would be hard to give up.
In the end, she weaned with a combination of my nudging and her readiness.
As I've said before, we're starting to try to conceive number two, and I think nursing is what has kept it from happening. I know many women are able to get pregnant and nurse at the same time, but it doesn't appear that I'm one of them. I'd been doing "don't offer, don't refuse" for a few months when I decided to step it up a notch. I started to limit her nursing time by singing the ABC song and limiting the daytime sessions to the duration of the song. She didn't fight the time limits at all. Then we went on a trip to Des Moines, two hours away. My dad and sister drove her out, right when naptime was starting, so she didn't nurse to go down for a nap. I didn't get out there until after bedtime, so she missed nursing to bed that time too (she'd been able to go to bed without nursing or a bottle if I wasn't the one doing it for a long time). When I did get there, we kept so busy that she didn't nurse to nap or to bed for the next two days, with no protest. That was a huge step. When we got home, I decided to keep up the momentum and had Chris put her to bed that night. And just like that, she was night and nap weaned, at the same time. She asked for it once, and I said, "How about hugs?" and she hugged me and laid her head down on my shoulder, and didn't ask again.
Monday the 18th of February was President's Day, and no one had to work or be anywhere, so I knew we could lounge in bed as long as we wanted. I told myself that it would be the last day of our morning sessions - and therefore the last day to nurse. The next day, I woke up with her, and instead of laying in bed and nursing, we immediately started our day. She didn't even notice that we didn't nurse.
The good thing about knowing it was the last time is that I could plan and prepare and cherish and soak it up and yes, have Chris take a million pictures of it.
I miss it most of all because this girl is not a cuddly child. She's a mover - a runner and a dancer and a climber and a rider and a player. She's not one to lay still with you or let you hold her. Nursing let me wrap my arms around her, feel her warmth, smell her skin, nuzzle her neck, stroke her soft mullet-y hair. Since we've stopped, I've gotten maybe one cuddle out of her. I don't think she's trying to break my heart, but.....
She's asked for it once since then, and I said, "I'm so sorry, the milk is all gone," and she drank water instead and she was okay with that.
She was ready (but was I?).
I'm not going to lie, if we gave this up before I was entirely ready and I don't get pregnant, I am going to be pissssssssssssed.