Breastfeeding has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The intimacy and absolute preciousness of nursing a baby is . . . indescribable. It produces emotions like the ones I felt when I was first falling in love, which makes sense considering that the hormone oxytocin is released when you breastfeed (interestingly, it’s released during sex, birth, and breastfeeding).
This love of nursing Alice has come as a surprise. I planned on breastfeeding from the beginning and knew it was eventually something that some women enjoyed, but I was doing it for logical reasons–health benefits and what have you. Sentiment wasn’t really on my radar. And frankly, it just seemed a little bizarre. A baby–sucking on my you-know-what’s? Weird.
I didn’t anticipate and couldn’t have imagined what it’s become. First, totally natural from the get go, and not weird at all. It’s a time to snuggle, to gaze at my baby, to stroke her soft little head, to hold her baby hand. It’s become a time that I look forward to, even when it takes me away from my bed at 3am, padding down the hall in my blue robe towards the sound of my baby crying, a sound which I know will soon be replaced by a contented sigh and small hand resting on my chest or curled around my thumb.
There is nothing like seeing Alice’s sweet little face so eager to spend that time with me, to eat and snuggle and be comforted.
I came across a verse in Isaiah recently that says, “Can a woman forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” God has compassion on his children–even more than a woman nursing her infant. I think it’s so powerful that the nursing woman was the image that expressed the height of human compassion. And now . . . I get it.
Alice was able to latch on right after coming out into the bright lights of the delivery room, minutes before midnight on October 25th. Though the umbilical cord was still attached, Alice was already on my chest. Her little head was bobbing with astounding strength, and as I watched in fascination, she army-crawled her way over to my breast.
Our pediatrician put some fear in my heart by talking about supplementing right before we were discharged from the hospital. “If your milk doesn’t come in fast enough, you’ll have to supplement,” he warned. I immediately felt insecure and totally under the gun, feelings which were quickly joined by anger. I had just given birth and my baby was successfully feeding–how dare he present me with the worst case so quickly? That was one of my least favorite interactions at the hospital, even counting the nurse who said, “come on, you aren’t pushing hard enough!” when I was pushing to the point of almost passing out and had to get an oxygen mask.
I remember Alice slept a lot those first 24 hours of life, which was a relief to me since I needed rest in a bad way. But once she started waking up a little more her second day of life and making little snorting noises to indicate she was hungry, I started feeding her about 14 times a day (no joke–we were counting). She was a slow eater, so each session took 40 minutes to an hour, and at first it hurt like heck. I remember just crying as I nursed her. Her mouth wasn’t opened wide enough, so I would almost always have to correct her initial latch by pulling her bottom lip down, and steel myself for more pain as she latched again. Lots of lanolin and some time later, I only experienced pain during the first 10 seconds of each feeding. I think this transition was some time during the second week, and lasted surprisingly long, through about week 4. It was such an intense experience during those first few seconds of sucking that I would either cry or whisper (or shout) things that shan’t be repeated for my delicate readers. But after we got going, it would start to feel just fine–even nice. And since week 4, it’s pretty much been nothing but pleasure.
Besides that initial warning from Alice’s pediatrician and my 4-month scare about milk supply, I’ve never worried if Alice was getting enough or I was making enough or what have you. It’s a pretty amazing system of supply and demand, and it’s a wonderful feeling to just trust your baby and your body to make things happen in the right way.
At this point, 5 1/2 months in, I see myself breastfeeding Alice until she is over a year old. I’m not sure when we’ll wean, but anticipating that time already makes me so sad. I don’t want this precious part of our relationship to end. I treasure each of those quiet hours in the night when we are the only two people awake and I silently embrace her to my chest, stroking her head and hearing all her little sighs. I love each moment spent on the couch, Alice on my chest eating and snoozing, her cheeks getting rosy as we rest together under an afghan.
I won’t always be able to comfort her so thoroughly and so simply. Don’t we all long for that–the ability to make all things right for our loved ones? To completely “fix” their emotions when they are sad or feeling needy? To make things better when they’re crying, and turn tears into joy? For this brief period of Alice’s life, I can do that with nursing.
I have a vision of a time years ahead when she’s in grade school and will come home crying because some other little girl said something mean and hurt her feelings. And at that point, I can hug her and offer her words of comfort, but she will have to deal with those emotions inside herself and hash it out with God. I won’t be able to instantaneously erase her pain. But at this point, for this unique and wonderful time, I can comfort her at any time with nursing. It is so, so satisfying.
So this nursing thing has ended up being so much more than I expected–a gift instead of a sacrifice, joyful work instead of a burdensome task. It’s not just about the health benefits for both me and Alice (which are huge)–it’s also about an emotional connection that is so beautiful I want to cry just thinking about it. I praise God for this special part of our relationship all the time. I love my baby!
Oh Alice. You sweet thing! I enjoy every single day with you. I miss you when you go to sleep and can’t wait to see you the next morning. I’m so glad you’re my baby, and that the moving, stretching little body in my belly for 9 months was YOU all along!
Tomorrow, a practical look at the stuff I’ve found helpful to make this breastfeeding thing a little easier. Love you guys, and thanks for reading!