By Guest Blogger Kelly Hines
I’m an unlikely lactivist. No one in my family breastfed. At the time Katie was born, I had no close friends, or even acquaintances, that had breastfed. I don’t even own a pair of Birkenstocks. And yet, when I finally got the hang of it with Katie, something really kind of amazing happened. In the midst of all the hormones and emotions and doubts and concerns and obsessive worry about what kind of mother I might turn out to be – I found a quiet moment where nothing existed but me and my baby.
Nursing Katie was rough in the beginning. I thought we were doing okay in the hospital, under the guidance of the Tit Nazi (the one who grabbed my boob and shoved it in that tiny mouth). But when we got home, I freaked. Katie cried and cried and my milk didn’t come in. My support system, trying to be supportive, suggested I give her a bottle. I didn’t want to, and I don’t even know why. I don’t know why, suddenly, it was so important to me to breastfeed. Before having her, I’d had a pretty take it or leave it attitude, but now it was a matter of pride. Of failing, without feeling like I’d even really tried.
I will always be grateful to a stranger at La Leche League, who talked me through those first five days until my milk came in. For my husband and mother, who indulged me and helped my syringe feed Katie. Who kept encouraging me through those first weeks of sore nipples and toe-curling latch. Within a month I had forgotten how awful those first few days were.
I fell in love with my daughter in those still moments of middle of the night feedings. I felt all the stress and anxiety leave my body as my milk let down. I watched as she grew and got fat on nothing more than what I provided her, and that is something that still amazes me.
When I went back to work, I continued to nurse. I pumped while at work (which takes every bit of sweetness out of breastfeeding. There is nothing relaxing about being hooked up to a milking machine. Moo!) and she got bottles at daycare. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t horrible. She weaned at a year, my milk supply and her interest both dwindling.
And then came Julia. The Barracuda. Who sprang forth from the womb with her mouth wide open, a natural nurser. I remember her at 1, a mouth full of teeth. Friends would watch her cuddle up to nurse and gasp “You’re still breastfeeding?” I never considered myself an ‘extended nurser’, but I happily nursed her until she was 2 1/2.
As Henry approaches his first birthday, he still nurses frequently. His daytime feedings are efficient and all business, because he has better things to do. But when he’s ready for sleep, or just waking up, he’ll cuddle contentedly for the longest time. Sometimes, he’ll pop off and give me a milk drunk smile. It’s those moments that take my breath.
I know that breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone, for many reasons. I’ve had friends who have had issues and gotten frustrated and stopped, and I don’t blame them. I’ve had friends who’ve had a horribly tough time and kept at it, when I am sure I would have given up. Every mom has to make the choice that is right for her and her baby. I’m lazy and cheap, so breastfeeding was the obvious way to go.
I read stories and hear from friends who’ve had a bad experience nursing in public. I’ve nursed babies in restaurants and stores, in the elementary school and during church, in the middle of meetings and movies. I have left a place to nurse in the car, but only when it would be more comfortable and less distracting for my baby. I have never been asked to stop nursing, or leave an establishment. In fact, with the exception of one elderly woman (who said “It is so nice to see a young mother nursing.”) I have never had a stranger comment on me breastfeeding.
It has been so deeply satisfying and rewarding to me, in a way I never could have imagined in those first, stressful days. Henry is almost certainly my last baby. I am storing up the memories of him nursing – the funny half laugh, half cry before he latches on, his warm smallness curled up against me, a little hand rubbing my chest, dark eyelashes on a fat cheek as he drifts off to sleep. He is beautiful, and right then, it is only us.