I may not talk about it a whole lot these days, but breastfeeding is still a topic that is close to me, it’s important to me (and even more so to my babies), but having nursed and tandem nursed over 8 and a half years straight, breastfeeding has become like water to me.
“Uhhhh… okay. What’s that mean, Rach?”
I’ll explain. In the beginning of my breastfeeding journey, in 2012, breastfeeding was all encompassing as I tried to figure it out. I mean really just figure out the mechanics of how it worked. My mother nursed me for a matter of months, I was the baby of the family, so I didn’t have people to ask, and my sense of modesty meant that no one ever saw me nurse and couldn’t correct me if I was doing it wrong. I remember begging Milkman in the middle of the night to go to the store for formula as I howled in exasperation while nursing my first baby, and him saying we could talk about it in the morning. It went on like that for at least a week’s worth of nights, though it seemed like months at the time. I was constantly texting my friend who had 2 kids before me and asking her breastfeeding questions. I remember thinking she was this senior bastion of parenting wisdom because she had TWO kids (which now seems funny since I have had 12 from newborns to 19!) I sought out breastfeeding blogs. I read The Leaky Boob, Badass Breastfeeder, Nurshable, I Am Not the Babysitter, Baby Rabies… I was out to find out why all these people could nurse and not hate it.
One day, Milkman came home from work to me in my jammies, as I sat in our tiny 1960’s mobile home rental with my newborn at my breast and I had dried tear streaks running down my cheeks. I had been struggling with postpartum depression, so he came over to me with concern in his eyes and asked if I was okay. I looked up at him and said “I love this.” He looked quizzically at me and I said “I love nursing my baby. I love being a mother. I didn’t do anything today but nurse, and it’s okay.” He hugged and kissed us both, and that day was the turning point in my outlook on nursing. Nursing went from a drudgery every time, to a chance to sit and be still with my baby. To soak in his baby scents and smiles, to hold his body right next to mine and make him grow. I became– dare I say it?– obsessive about nursing and all things attachment parenting. I wore him, nursed him on demand, stopped worrying about sleep schedules (though not about lack of sleep, because let me tell you, that was a journey unto itself and a story for another day), and fell headfirst into the abyss of what we called “crunchy attachment parenting” (Maybe this is still a thing people care about?).
If nursing was a religion, I was a missionary. I was there to study, to be educated, to educate others. I was now the mom whose friends were texting pictures of their latches at 3am and I was there to help them, just as my friend had done for me. I was the nursing resource in my birth groups, the cheerleader, the one trying to put salve on their worries and encourage new moms to keep going and to trust their bodies and trust their babies. I couldn’t scroll past a single nursing question in any group I was in without dropping my two cents. I invested so much time and emotional energy into nursing, that I am SURE I was obnoxious to others, though I always had the purest of intentions. I look back and I really think I felt I had to be this fount of knowledge anytime nursing came up, because in my head, I could help save a nursing relationship that was going south, since I lived to tell the tale of my own frustrations and worries when I was a brand new mom.
And that’s the thing. If nursing had come easily to me, I probably wouldn’t have cared as much, living on my little cloud, a hippie goddess with milk flowing like rain and not understanding the struggle. But I DID struggle. I struggled with so many rounds of clogged ducts, mastitis, a medical emergency that separated me from my newborn baby, pumping to keep my supply up, nursing through pregnancies when my milk was dry and my breasts ached and screamed, 9 months of ductal thrush, and so VERY many sleepless nights with a baby at my breast and the glow of my phone from Facebook mom groups to keep me awake. I fought hard for my nursing journey, and so when I would read the struggles of another mother, I wanted them to rise above and conquer them like I had done.
But time helps mature us, and the longer I was a mother, and the more children I had, and learning to formula feed my foster babies gave me a new perspective. It wasn’t my job to educate everyone all the time. So many of the people I invested time into, calling lactation consultants for, dropping off pumps, and answering questions for all night chose not to nurse. I had felt like I had failed them and I had failed their babies, but I begun to realize that it wasn’t my “fault” nor was it their “fault”, there was no fault to be had. It was simply their choice, not mine– and that was okay!
This did not make my dedication to nursing my own biological children waiver. I have been nursing without a break since my first child was born almost nine years ago. I have nursed through pregnancies and have tandem nursed every subsequent baby with their older and then younger sibling during this time. What was once a novel and magical occurrence, became something I did. Not something I loved because it was always cozy and special, not something I hated because my breasts were on fire and the baby fussed. It just became… like water.
Water is essential to our survival as humans. You can go without human contact, shelter, and food, for extended periods of time, but you can’t go without water. When it’s hot outside or you have over-exerted yourself, you might like water a little more than when its temperate and you’ve been sedentary, but you need it at both times. We seldom get overly excited about water (First world privileges), but we cannot downplay its importance. We don’t toast special occasions with water, and we don’t celebrate water. We often take it for granted, because it’s just… there. Water is everything, we need water to survive, water keeps us alive and thriving, but water is also mundane, flavorless, ordinary, and unexciting.
And in this way, nursing has become like water to me. Just like when I am thirsty after being in the sun and sweating and water seems like the best thing in the world to drink, sometimes, nursing is all encompassing, beautiful, and lovely. Just like when I am comfortable in my cool home and I’ve been sitting in a chair and reading for hours and I don’t feel thirsty, but I take a sip from my water bottle because I know that I SHOULD drink, sometimes, nursing seems like something extra that I HAVE to do. And most of the time? Most of the time, I keep my purple water bottle filled and near me, not taking particular joy or dread at sipping my usual 80-100 ounces a day to keep up my hydration to nurse 2 children every day, and most of the time I just nurse to keep my babies alive. Comforted. Safe. Calm. Quiet. Full. Satisfied. It’s not anything to look forward to or run away from. Not something I celebrate or downplay. Nursing is just water.