parenthood

A GENTLE END TO BREASTFEEDING MY FIRST CHILD

 
fresh lilac in a lilac colored ceramic vase by samantha spigos

Seven months pregnant and growing bigger and tighter and sorer every week, I felt more ready than not to start weaning my daughter off breastmilk. That’s also to say I was hardly sure if I could handle it, or if she could, but I suspected my intuition was correctly guiding me. In motherhood, there is innate wisdom borne in each of us — a most helpful truth when it comes time to make deep decisions. When I found out I was expecting another child, I wept at the thought of not being able to nurse Rosemary as long as I had originally hoped. Sure, I could co-feed both, but my personal inclination was to direct all breastmilk to the new babe and allow the older sibling to flourish independently. But my heart ached. I understand now that part of my journey in accepting my new mothering role to two was to lay bare my unsure, aching heart, and allow it to become fortified in courage. Thankfully it was fleeting (innate wisdom, etc.), and as with so many things, the transition, though not without challenge, proved quite natural. Women around me said it would be, but it’s hard to know until you know.

Being a woman particularly interested in how other women raise babies, I’ve learned that the nuances of breastfeeding are myriad and personal. A woman’s ability to breastfeed, or not, and for how long, and using what method, is humbling to hear. There is much to be gleaned from every single mother’s journey. I am blessed with a great milk supply and I genuinely love breastfeeding. It did not come easily, and after many tears, a lactation consultant, and the support of those around me, Rosemary and I established a breastfeeding bond that I remain incredibly grateful for. She and I are five weeks weaned now, something I can hardly believe!

At my midwife appointments, my body kept indicating that I was under stress and fighting off sickness. I felt so tired, regardless what I did to improve my energy. Around the same time, Rosie was thriving and seeming to use my body more for comfort than for fuel. Maybe it’s time to close this chapter, I thought. I was nervous to air those thoughts to my midwife and doulas, but as soon as I did, her response was, “You don’t have to convince us! If your body and mind are telling you it’s time, it’s time.” By my next appointment, my body was healthy and hydrated. Our intuition knows!

fresh lilacs in a lilac ceramic vase by samantha spigos

I think it took us three weeks from the day I started weaning her to the day we ended. And another two weeks for her to seem unaware that breastfeeding was an option. Now when she looks at my body or touches my breasts (which she usually does inquisitively while laughing), I tell her that the milk is all gone (using the sign for “all gone” which she knows well) and that it’s for the new baby. She seems to recognize that there is a baby inside my belly, or at the least she gives kisses and says “baby” every time she seems my bare belly. In the first few weeks, however, she would just cry with her head on my shoulder when I did not submit to her desire to nurse. Heartbreaking, but healthy — that’s how it felt. I would rub her back and offer words of comfort like, “I know this is really hard for you. This is hard for mama too. We are going through a transition together.” I would follow up with words like, “I love you, and will always hold you. It’s OK for you to cry.” By not talking about another baby, but instead allowing her to be the focus of my words and attention, I think / hope / could sense that she felt comfortable, even if she was confused. I marvel at how she adapted so quickly. Kids are amazing. Another sweet outcome of the transition was witnessing her relationship with Mark. Rest time had always been a Mom game. Now Mark could rock her for bedtime and sink into that truly unparalleled snuggle time.

Another something to note is that Rosemary uses a pacifier. We have always tried to use it sparingly, but are of the philosophy that comforting aids are not harmful as long as the parents are attentive to the emotions and signals of their little ones. During the breastfeeding transition we definitely saw Rosie become more attached to her pacifier at times of rest. She’s still using it, and each time I feel riddled with guilt or concern over it, Mark and the rest of my family lovingly respond with, “One thing at a time.” And it’s true — our family is soon to go through the biggest transition yet, and I want my daughter to feel comfortable and safe as it happens. If that includes a pacifier, great.

Where our days were punctuated with restful breaks to breastfeed, now they are filled with restful snuggling in the rocking chair. Some days I miss sitting and nursing, but most days I am content with my playful little girl. She plays for longer durations now, literally smells the flowers — ah, to smell a lilac for the first time!, and especially loves snuggling up with books. To be a mother so blessed. She is the gift of my life.

I hope to illuminate something that I was unsure about before going through it. Each woman’s path is unique, and raising humans is about as intimate as it gets. I hope my words offer you something, whether it’s a look into one woman’s approach, or the confidence to know that you too can blossom through an uncharted experience. As I have, so can you.

a child with a flower by samantha spigos

—S

IN WHICH SHE DISCOVERED

I wrote this a few weeks ago, shortly before things turned a corner and became much smoother. Mark and I were genuinely sleep deprived and had been for weeks. For now both of us are on the other side of that darkness (it's downright divine what a few solid hours of sleep will do for your psyche), but this piece of writing still holds true for me. This pinnacle evening changed my outlook and continues to do so. 

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In a dimly lit bedroom, wet cloth diapers and coffee mugs strewn about, deep nighttime filled the sky outside the window and I, replete of energy and grace, sat crumpled in bed with my face in my hands. Our daughter was in need of sleep but inconsolably crying, and in that moment it seemed the crying would never end. I had just handed her to Mark, with whom I'd been bickering over I Can't Even Remember and It Didn't Matter. Wishing for a romantic chimera instead of a greasy-haired day at home, I s'pose. In my despondency I prodded God: Where is the gift in this? Mired in self-pity of my own creation; aligning myself with the sorry sort I knew in books. And then, as though a shroud of self-asborption evaporated, I looked up to see my husband on his knees beside the changing table, eye-level with his quieted baby, whispering sweetly to her through his own exhaustion. Right then and not a moment sooner I knew: This is the gift. It's not hidden or late to arrive; this very nowness is the gift. And suddenly my perspective went from pleading to praising. The two people I love most in this life, with whom I get to share my bedroom, a warm room in a house I cherish, which is situated in a town that is also home to my family and all of my childhood memories . . . that's all gift? Oh right, so it is. The exhaustive bouncing and ceaseless crying and nights that turn morning too soon are not chapters to be omitted from our story. Nor are the toothless smiles, or the suppers eaten with a babe on the breast, or the sweetness of family bath time. Turns out there is grace—freely given and abundantly available—even in the sorriest moments and sourest attitudes (of which I have had many). In fact, it turns out life really and truly and sincerely is All Gift. 


—S

MOTHERHOOD RISING

 
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Happy 2018! If by chance you, like us, have ushered in the new year under the deep freeze of Winter, I hope it has been coupled with warming beverages and hearty food. More than that, I hope you and yours have stayed safe and well shielded from the elements. My heart feels very drawn to the poor and homeless among us seeking shelter and sustenance. In my rural locale you don't see homeless men and women on the streets, but if I did, I wonder how I might respond. I hope with a charitable, trusting heart. If nothing else, now is a time of year to work on being genuinely grateful for a warm home and ample clothing, not begrudging of the inconveniences the cold brings. Following along with our farmer friends in the Northeast is no joke — it's cold, and while animals and farmers alike are hardy, they are all pushing the limits of their working bodies. If you are one of the many working with and through the elements, bless you! And thank you. 

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Mark and Sam 3 2017.jpg

I am acutely aware of how different life would be if we hadn't moved home. For one thing, we'd be in this cold every day, caring for goats. At least, Mark would be. I might be wiling away the time knitting by our woodstove. Ah, how we long for you, woodstove! I miss putting my body outdoors and feeling the harsh air on my cheeks. I miss throwing hay and crunching snow under my work boots. This year, instead of all that manual labor, I am hugely pregnant, preparing for the biggest labor of my life, and walking up and down stairs is enough. All of my body's resources are inwardly focused—baby gets (and deserves) it all. 

We are mere days away from being cataclysmically blindsided with love when our baby finally comes earth-side. Every day is a lesson in patience as I slowly waddle around my house and wonder when shim will feel ready to be born. Every day is a lesson in cherishing this fleeting time when it's still just Mark and I. Every day is a lesson in forfeiting the desires of self for the needs of the baby. Here we are, nine months into a whirlwind pregnancy that started with us feeling scared and excited, and wraps up with us feeling eager and oh-so-ready. I want to be a mother. Mark wants to be a father. Every night before bed, and every morning when we wake, we talk about cuddling our child. Our very own! An actual breathing, thinking, sentient human being. Is there anything so equally magical and practical as new life? Advancing the race is the purpose of being alive, and yet it is the most miraculous act I can possibly conceive of. Motherhood, I'm coming for you.

Mark and Sam 6 2017.jpg

Photos were taken at 36 weeks by our dearly beloved best friend, Andrew Enslen.


—S