Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Confessions of a Nursing Mother

Wanna know what clears a roomful of male church staffers faster than anything?

Saying, “I think I’m gonna pull out the breast pump now.”

It’s a great repellent power I wield when I want to be repellant. If I want a church classroom all to myself on a Tuesday morning (though I hardly ever do). Still, mentioning the breast pump to these guys is on par with tossing a loaf of bread into a flock of ducks, except instead of scurrying toward, the male staffers scurry away. Entertainment value. Yes.

But other than that—nursing? Entertainment value? Nil. Which is hardly surprising, since consumption of breast milk can hardly even be as stimulating as a viewing of The Wiggles. Except when my babies did what I called "nursing for sport"—a nipple wrangling, on-off-on-off, back-arching affair in their early months, most likely caused by gas and indigestion rather than recreational drive.

I made a contract with Tiny when she was born: I’d nurse her a year, at least. The first few months were awful. I hurt just like I did when I nursed Oldest, when I was a novice with virgin nipples and couldn’t go anywhere without the assistance of a nursing pillow in the shape of a half-eaten donut . But I made it through Tiny’s first many months. I nursed her around the clock. Every two hours. Every hour and a half. She was distracted, would eat five minutes at a time and therefore seemed hungry every fifteen minutes. At times, when it seemed I didn’t have enough milk for Tiny, I took supplements and herbs. They made my armpits smell like licorice. A small price for Tiny.

Eventually I could leave her long enough in someone else’s care, leave bottles of breastmilk for her to consume, which meant I would have to pump an equivalent amount in order to maintain my supply. First law of breastfeeding: demand = supply. Lower the demand, and you lower the supply. I had to keep pace with her hunger, and I found myself ending every social engagement prematurely, with the words, “I have to go pump.”

I pumped in a parked car. I pumped in bathrooms. I pumped in the church nursery. I pumped hungry, thirsty, reading, and typing emails. Once, I pumped while driving. I won’t do that again.

I’ve been satisfied that I could keep it up for Tiny. I’ve patted myself on the back. But guess what? Tomorrow she is ten months old, meaning I’ve fulfilled 5/6 of my contract. And Tiny eats Chex cereal now. And pureed blueberries and apples. And miniature bricks of colby cheese. The last two times I’ve pumped, there’s been less milk. And less milk. Because she’s not demanding as much? Because she’s older?

I’m bothered by this development. I think I would like to keep Tiny tiny for at least six more months. Would like her to nurse like she needs a meal and not like she’s stopping by the drinking fountain on her way out to recess. And while she’s regressing in the eating department, I think I’d like her to shrink three inches in length, and not flip over while lying on her changing table, and not scoot-roll from one end of the house to the other. I’d like to be able to snuggle her one last time and not have her screech for the TV remote that is almost within her grasp.

At the same time, I love that Tiny waves goodbye to me when I tuck her in for a nap. I love that she squeals “hi!” and wiggles her fingers in the air when someone new walks in the room. And after days and days of pat-a-cake, Tiny can now clap her hands. This is no small feat. This I could not rewind. And Tiny, at ten months old, stands at the window, banging with flat palms, at her sisters who giggle outside in the sunshine or wind or mist. Her lower front teeth jut out in smile, in delirious desire for everything beyond the triple-pane glass—the fall’s leftover leaves skittering across the lawn, the plastic soda bottle that escaped from the neighbor’s recycling, the silver maple’s long, horizontal branch that stretches across our yard. None of this I could undo.

So happy tenth-month, Tiny. I'll make my peace with it.

But now I really do have to go pump.

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