Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The first goodbye

Nate is twenty-one months old today, and as of about a week ago, he's officially weaned. If you'd told me just after he was born that he would nurse until he was over twenty months old, the thing I'd find most surprising was that my body finally managed to do something right. With over three years of trying to conceive behind me; with a body that refused to go into labor even two weeks past Nate's due date; with a Caesarean section instead of the natural birth we'd prepared for; with milk that refused to come in until day five, Nate dropping over a pound before we'd left the hospital, and the lactation consultant stopping by to give me the dreaded talk on supplementing . . . with all of that, there was a time when I doubted my body would do any of the things I'd so hoped for with respect to having children.

We were discharged from the hospital on the Friday evening after Nate's birth, with a pediatrician's appointment already scheduled for the next morning to check his weight. The first night at home was awful, mind-numbingly awful, as I cried in pain and David tried to thread a cruelly pointy feeding syringe between my cracked nipples and Nate's hungry mouth. Nate threw up blood in his bassinet, and we had a moment of panic as we debated whether to call the doctor. (Turns out that blood in spit-up is nothing to worry about with a newly-breastfeeding baby. It's, you know, mom's blood from her shredded-to-bits boobs. In a formula-fed baby, the books told us, blood in the spit-up is a call-the-doctor-immediately situation.)

And then, miraculously, my flailing body started to do something right. At the doctor's office the next morning, they weighed Nate before and after I nursed him. His five-ounce weight gain in the span of 25 minutes confirmed what I'd already gathered from looking in the mirror that morning: My milk had come in. Supplementing was suspended (praise God and pass the Lansinoh), and we were off to the races.

For the first several months, nursing Nate was the hardest thing I'd ever done. I couldn't get more than a couple hours of sleep at a time, and I couldn't ever get any time to myself. I quickly figured out that the hand pump I'd chosen was not going to cut it, and I upgraded to an electric one. That pump saved my sanity after a few months, when I finally got the timing down and David could take a night feeding for me. I think next time (please, God, send us a next time), I'll start pumping early and often for the sake of my mental health.

Once the pain stopped, though, and--much later--once Nate stared sleeping, nursing him got, well, easy. And so we kept at it. I was determined, I needed, to make it to that magical one-year mark. And when a year came and went, even when certain family members wondered aloud how long I was going to "keep doing that," we just kept at it some more.

I think I'd have weaned him earlier if I'd been more confident that we'd ever have another child. Given my track record, though, I was reluctant to let go of this part of Nate's babyhood. And so we made it this far, farther than I ever thought we would. For a few days I kept offering just one more feeding, one more time, until I just didn't any more. Now he's stopped asking. It's over, this part of mothering my baby, who in so many ways isn't a baby anymore.

I know it's not the hardest goodbye I'll say to my firstborn, but it's the first one, and that's hard enough for now.