23 September 2011


Although no one in our household is going to school this fall, properly speaking, we’re going through a number of beginnings and changes. I’ve met with a professor at the university here and am invited to take part, informally at first, in a major project/grant they are starting that just happens to fit with my field of research. I’m madly finishing up revisions on my dissertation chapters, but I also hope to be able to do some writing for the folks here, and I have a few other projects on the horizon, which feels great.

Gabriel is going through some big changes, too. Last week I weaned him even from that last bedtime feeding, and it’s been hard, for me and for him. I’m surprised at how tough it is both physically and emotionally. We knew, for a number of reasons, that it was time, really time, but knowing this doesn’t make it any easier.

19 months of nursing was such a great experience with Gabriel. It was like a superpower I never knew I had, a multipurpose cure. Is my child hungry? Nursing fills his belly. Is my child tired? Nursing will soothe him to sleep. Is my child stressed or in pain? Nursing will comfort and calm him. Especially when he was little, sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between these needs, so it was wonderful to know that one action could fill them all. Of course I have other tools that can serve the same functions (um, except maybe for soothing him to sleep…still working on that one), but breastfeeding was a perfect and always-available response.

I knew he was better protected against sickness, and I knew he was getting the perfect balance of nutrients, a tailor-made recipe. Of course it wasn’t always easy: there were many (many!) times it was painful, times it was boring or frustrating or exhausting. Times I didn’t WANT to wake up at 3 am, times I didn’t WANT to stop the car or find a bench or possibly be a bother to fellow passengers or diners or friends. But it was always worth it. Always.

And did I mention the milk was always available, never left behind? We nursed in malls, in church, at rest stops and in parks and on city benches, in changing rooms and restaurants and conferences and airplanes. I nursed him in a moving vehicle (both of us strapped in, of course!), on the beach, in the midst of parties. And of course, we nursed nestled in our bed, rocking in that yard sale rocking chair (the hardest thing for me to leave when we left Bloomington), perched on a stool or the floor or the sofa, and sunk into the gigantic recliner my parents rented for me when we first brought Gabriel home. (Boy was it ugly, but boy was it comfortable. My parents were relieved I burst into laughter instead of bursting into tears when, just back from the hospital, I saw it smack dab in the middle of the living room.) We nursed in the pitch dark and utter silence of midnight, in the noise and chaos of a Barcelona morning, in the quiet of midwestern sunshine, in the everydayness of a living room scattered with baby socks or toddler books.

I feel super lucky, so blessed that breastfeeding went as well as it did for us. Gabriel never took a bottle (or a pacifier for that matter), even though we tried very hard, so I imagine that a different work situation could have meant the end of breastfeeding. As a grad student I was able to be at home with him a lot of the time, and the Mister and I could work our schedules around feeding the baby. When Gabriel started daycare, at 11 months, it was only a few hours a day, and I could tell how much he looked forward to nursing and a nap when he got home. I never had to leave him overnight—even when I gave papers at conferences the Mister hovered in the hallways so that I could feed Gabriel during the breaks. It was a true team effort—the Mister supported me 100%, even in the midst of pain and crying and despair. I could never have fed Gabriel the way I did without him.

I’m in awe of my friends who pumped exclusively from day one to feed their babies breast milk, or who pumped when they went back to work, or who struggled mightily to continue nursing despite some major challenges. Breastfeeding does not go easily for everyone, and it makes me even more grateful for the experience we had.

There! Now I’ve gone and written a treatise on breastfeeding. I didn’t mean to. I was going to tell you about Gabriel’s other big change: starting Flemish daycare! He said his first word in Dutch today! I’ll have to write about that later. I guess I needed to reminisce in a wash of hormones about what the nursing relationship was like, and just how much it meant to me.

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