So many years have passed since he was just a dream, waiting patiently to come true. After being diagnosed with infertility, I wondered if that dream would be possible. My husband, Wes, and I fought so hard for Dutch, enduring physical and emotional pain to conceive him through IVF. It was among the most challenging times of my life. When that pregnancy stick showed positive, I smiled for days. I remember my cheeks actually hurting from so much smiling. In an instant, I realized every challenge had been worth it.
Carrying him inside of me for nine months was an incredible experience. I loved every moment and at the time it felt like an eternity, waiting to meet him. Labor was intense. It was terrifying and breathtaking all at the same time. Holding him for the first time was the proudest and most powerful moment of my life. I couldn’t believe it. In an instant, fertility, pregnancy, and labor became a thing of past. I welcomed motherhood.
I planned on breastfeeding and did my best to prepare all throughout my pregnancy. I took classes, asked questions and read books. But let me tell you, nothing prepared me for the challenges of nursing those first few months. We breastfed right after birth. My nipples took quite the beating as he perfected his latch over the next few weeks. They were bruised and constantly sore. The skin broke from time to time creating painful sores and scabs. I cringed from the pain each time he nursed. We sought counsel from a lactation specialist who suggested a custom nipple cover. I began wearing it every time he fed to allow the skin a chance to heal. The pain was intense enough to quit entirely at that point, but I was determined to keep trying.
Here’s a funny story about when my milk came in. I took Dutch to see his pediatrician just a few days after he was born for a checkup. His doctor, also a young breastfeeding mom, inquired how nursing was coming along. I shared with her the challenges we were having with latching and the pain it was causing. She then asked if my milk had come in. I replied that I had no idea. She offered to show me how to check. I agreed. I handed Wes the baby and unsnapped one side of my nursing tank. She took one finger to apply pressure to the outside of my nipple, and that’s all it took. Milk shot right out of my nipple into her eye and all over her forehead! True story! I was mortified. Of course my first reaction was to apologize and search for anything I could find to clean her up. Then we all had a good laugh. It appeared that my milk was in…and in strong supply!
After those first few days, the challenges and triumphs persisted. It felt like Dutch was never satisfied. He seemed unhappy when he wasn’t nursing and it quickly became all-consuming. We would later find out that colic had a lot to do with his irritability during that time. I began pumping and allowing my husband and relatives to help with feeding. He seemed to enjoy his bottle and I was grateful for the break. We continued to nurse in between. At one point my supply went through the roof! I had over seventy-five ounces of breast milk stored in our freezer and could pump up to eight ounces in one sitting! Dutch wasn’t complaining!
Somewhere around five weeks we discovered side lying, or nursing while lying on your side. It became the perfect resting stop for both of us. We nursed and napped together every day like that for months. That quickly evolved into co-sleeping. Now I know co sleeping is a bit of a controversial topic, and I don’t plan to discuss it in much detail here. But I will say that it was the right decision for our family at the time. All of a sudden we were getting more sleep and we all felt relief.
After surviving the challenges of nursing those first few months, I decided that I would be proud if we could keep breastfeeding until his first birthday. It wouldn’t be long before I threw out the pump entirely and began exclusively nursing from months three to six, until we began introducing solids. The process was slow. Dutch didn’t seem the least bit interested in anything other than the breast. We kept at it, trying new foods as often as allowed. With my frozen milk supply dwindling and Dutch’s desire for milk alternatives nonexistent, I was forced to let go a little and supplement with one bottle of formula a day. This felt like failure to me. I worked all this time to exclusively breastfeed him, and here I am giving him formula? I reminded myself that I was brought up on formula and I turned out fine. But somehow, it was a hard pill to swallow.
The decision to co-sleep began to bite us in the butt, as Dutch quickly learned that he could nurse on me all night long. He developed the habit of falling asleep at the breast, and due to our own levels of fatigue we allowed it to continue far too long. It was a Catch-22. If we took the nipple away, he cried and cried and no one slept. But if we continued to support the habit, he would never learn to sleep on his own. We struggled with the “Cry It Out” method, neither Wes or I could bear the discomfort of his tears. I remember hoping he would self-wean so that we wouldn’t have to make that painful decision.
Somewhere around fifteen months, Wes and I hit our limit. I chose to set some boundaries, and it was a hard choice. Saying no to our kids is the hardest thing, but sometimes it’s necessary. That’s what makes this parenting thing so hard! We began our version of crying it out. He continued to sleep in bed with us, but I no longer allowed him to nurse throughout the night. For two nights we endured his tears and tantrums. We sat next to him and patted him, doing our best to soothe him. It took everything inside of me to not hop in the car and drive to Mexico and never come back. The pain I felt inside watching my precious child hurting was more than I could bear. Then, all of a sudden, on that third night, Dutch slept through the night for the first time in his life. I remember waking up and looking over at Wes. His expression needed no explanation. We were overjoyed, elated, and finally on a path toward better sleep.
With him sleeping through the night, nursing became enjoyable again. He took feedings in the morning, periodically throughout the day, and in the evenings before bed. His appetite for solid foods slowly increased as we found foods that he enjoyed. But his preference always lied with Mama’s milk. It was around this time that the realization hit me…Dutch had made it over a year without any major colds, flus, or other medical issues that would have required emergency room visits or antibiotics! I felt pride in my belief that the antibodies he received from my breast milk might have contributed to that!
Dutch has always struggled with teething. With each new tooth he experiences the same symptoms: fussiness, irritability, loss of appetite, restless sleep, and the desire to nurse constantly. After his first dental checkup, around eighteen months, we learned that his teeth are fit tightly without much space in between, causing him more teething pain than most. We began this dance of picking up extra feedings during teething episodes, then dropping those feedings once he felt relief, only to pick them back up again during the next episode. Two steps forward, one step back. That’s what it felt like nursing during that time. This forward and backward motion continued for months.
At twenty-one months, I decided the time had come to wean. While I knew it would be a difficult transition, I also knew that many wonderful benefits would come about from weaning. The first few days we were both devastated. For him, it felt like he’d lost his best friend. For me, it felt like I was losing my baby. We were learning a new skill and coping without the comforts of the breast. I quickly became uncomfortably engorged. The realization that I would never nurse Dutch again hit me around day four when I attempted to pump for relief and nothing came out. Thanks to that hilarious incident with Dutch’s pediatrician, I knew how to self-express and had some luck releasing about one ounce of milk. Feeling so proud, I carefully poured it into a sippy cup and handed it to him, fully expecting him to chug it, then ask for more. He took one sip, made a sour face, and threw it on the floor! It appeared that after twenty-one months, Dutch was finally weaned.
Over the next few weeks, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions as the three of us—along with my raging hormones—adjusted. Dutch began eating like a champ and sleeping in his own bed through the night. At times, I’d wake up and panic because he wasn’t right there next to me, but Wes and I were able to enjoy some extra snuggles throughout the night as a result. When I finally packed away our nursing cover, it hit me. In the almost two years that Dutch and I nursed, we had never been shamed for nursing in public! While I’m thankful for that, I realize it’s not the case for everyone.
Why breastfeeding in public is such a controversial issue, I will never know. Nursing moms have enough headaches to deal with! Like the bottle of spilled breast milk you just spent twenty minutes pumping from your breast, or the recent case of mastitis you’ve developed, or the fact that you never feel clean. Really…you’re covered in sticky breast milk all day long, all your clothes are stained, and today’s outfit is determined by how quickly and easily you can take your top off when it’s time to feed. Fashion flies out the window, along with your idealistic views of breastfeeding. Yes, the struggle is real. But it’s so worth it, isn’t it?! To look down at that precious face nuzzled against you. To watch their eyes roll back in pleasure from the taste of Mama’s milk. To touch their chunky rolls and know you had a hand in creating them. There’s nothing quite like nursing your baby!
As challenging as it was, I am so grateful I got to experience the joys of nursing, and I’m extremely proud we made it twenty-one months. I’m especially thankful for Wes’s support. He waited on me hand and foot as I nursed Dutch these last two years. He was a critical part of this journey, and we couldn’t have done it without him. Wes and I are looking forward to continued rest, weekend getaways, and beginning the journey of welcoming a sibling for Dutch in the near future. As I type these last few words and wipe away these last few tears, I can’t help but smile. Because I know that the story continues; it’s only this chapter that comes to a close. I’m anxious to turn the page and see what’s to come.
[Photo credits to Lindsay]
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