As I rock and nurse Hazel for her first nap of the day, I feel a surge of elation about our breastfeeding journey so far. We had lots of trouble at the beginning: lip and tongue ties, inverted nipples, a man handling nurse with bad advice about my supposedly non-existent colostrum. So on days when it all seems to be going right I enjoy and acknowledge those feelings of triumph. But the whole truth, is that breastfeeding my daughter has been both a joy and a pain. Just as certainly in one moment I may feel like a Disney princess with little blue birds tweeting sweetly around my head as I sit in some meadow, nursing away, Hazel bites my nipple--HARD--in the next, and I remember that this shit is not for the faint of heart.
My goal is to nurse her for a year. We are only 3 months away from that goal. I know it will be one of those things I look back on and cry because I miss it. I will miss those moments when I can hear her breathing against my breast. When a sweaty heat forms in the crook of my arm where her head rests because we've been rocking for awhile, but I don't mind. I will miss her little hand stroking the skin on my stomach. This is something I've dreamed about doing since I was 12 years old watching my aunt nurse my baby cousin.
And yet there are times when I don't want to be touched. Where I want to be gone for several hours without having to hook my boobs up to a machine that squeezes milk out of them, in order to keep the fountain of "liquid gold" flowing. When night time finally comes my husband sits next to me on the bed and I know we only have another 30 minutes or less together before she wakes. Thirty minutes before I have to go into the dark cave of her room and nurse her into her next sleep cycle. Breast milk is the glue that binds each cycle to the next. She hasn't learned yet to connect them on her own.
I tell him about our afternoon, spent with a friend of mine who has a 13 month old boy. We visited Garfield Conservatory for the first time. Hazel loved crawling all over the floor--made of recycled something (tires, shoe soles?)-- in the children's garden. When they got hungry, we nursed them right there in the crawling infants only section. I love the accessibility of breastfeeding. I have no real fear anymore of nursing in public, uncovered. It genuinely surprises me that people get so annoyed or offended by it. But in the early days, I was self conscious and would often try to nurse with a cover. Hazel hated it. She would fuss to the point of hysteria--in her and in me! Several heart palpitations later I'd end up in the bathroom of wherever we were. I once nursed Hazel on the floor in a bathroom stall at Gino's East amidst the stale smell of mildew, poop, and urine. It was the last time.
After our 3 hour stint with her in the crib--when we're close to tucking in for the night--we bring her into our bed. She nurses a few times throughout the night, but mostly she just wants to be near me. It's not always easy--so much interrupted sleep. I try to forget about all the people I know who have followed the cry-it-out method for sleep training. We have chosen not to do it and that choice suits us. But like I said before: this shit is not for the faint of heart. And sometimes my heart feels like it might be. I try to follow the advice of women in the online breastfeeding and sleep support groups I am part of: "This time doesn't last forever," they say. "Enjoy the cuddles."
Her monkey night light is staring at me from the floor in our room. From where I'm sitting, on the couch in the living room, I can just make out her tiny shape on our mattress. I am writing and falling asleep as I watch my words appear on the screen. I catch myself doing that throughout the day: eyes drooping closed and then darting open again. But I won't always be this tired. She won't always be a tiny shape on a mattress, looking for me when she awakens and realizes my warm body is no longer next to hers.