Two days and seven months. Roughly.
That’s how long I can say I was a nursing mama.
A week ago, or so, was the last time Serafina asked for mama milk. We had been weaning, together, gradually. First reducing to twice a day — in the morning and at pickup from school. Then to once, just during the cuddle that starts our day. Incrementally the sessions got shorter.
In the final month I’d say, “just for one second,” when she’d request milk. She’d reply, “two seconds” and then pop on with her mouth full of sharp toddler teeth and pop off just as quickly, usually laughing. We did that routine until it just stopped, suddenly and without notice. It was a peaceful and weirdly anticlimactic end to something that was so important for so long. But I guess that’s the best possible outcome.
Our nursing relationship began within minutes of her birth. I was able to put her on my chest as soon as she came out and let her find her way to the boob. We gave her a little assistance, but she had a winning suck and an eagle eye for nipples from Day 1. One particularly proud moment came during Serafina’s two-week visit to the pediatrician, when I was introduced to the staff as the first-time mom who was standing up and nursing a newborn just hours after giving birth. I guess the doc had observed me doing that and had been impressed. I didn’t appreciate at the time that that was a thing that was maybe hard to do, but I do now and it makes me smile.
We were blessed with no rough patches, no infections, blocks or trouble with latching: breastfeeding was smooth from start to end. We only struggled once, somewhere around the 18 month mark, when she asked so persistently for milk (which she then still pronounced as “meeeelk”) that I thought I’d lose my mind. I actually did a little. But we drew some boundaries (like not at the dinner table) and proceeded, despite the vocal judgment from some that it was really time to put an end to this. I was determined to not close this brief but sacred chapter in my child’s life with a battle, so we got through.
I also got through some seriously unpleasant pumping. From February to October of her first year of life, I pumped several times a day when I was at work or otherwise away from home. And pretty much every pumping session took place in my car — during frigid winter weather, wet, sticky summer weather and everything in between. I worked at a farm, which was ill-equipped to provide a nursing mama the privacy and cleanliness of a space for pumping. So I got a travel plug and drove off, for each pump, to a remote spot where I could stare at a stand of big old trees and make the food that would feed my baby.
I also hauled that pump to places and events I hadn’t anticipated. Like to Florida, on my first trip ever away from Serafina, when I went to say goodbye to my dying father. I wept in his bathroom and relieved my engorged breasts after a full day without nursing my then-18 month old. I dumped the milk down the drain. I brought the pump to Boston a few weeks later, for my next night away from Serafina, when my brother died suddenly. And wept, again, pumping to relieve myself, and pouring the milk into the kitchen sink in his apartment.
I *should* have brought the pump to a wedding in the White Mountains later that summer, when Darry and I stayed away for one evening alone. But I didn’t think my production was so high it would be a problem. Nope. Woke up swollen and in so much pain that I had to hand express and resort to begging Darry to suckle. Not a joke. Not a lie. It was hilarious and awkward and it worked.
When Serafina turned two my wife gave birth twins and her breastfeeding life began. The twins lost weight quickly in their first days, as babies do, and the doctors gave me orders to supplement them after every one of Darry’s feedings. Another family would have been pushed to use formula while the birth mom’s supply built up. But I had the milk and I was happy to help and it was an amazing gift for all of us in those early weeks. Serafina didn’t even seem to mind sharing.
We have no evidence that there is fact behind this anecdote, but during Serafina’s exclusively breastfed months (until she was 10 months) and beyond, her health has been nearly perfect. She’s had fewer fevers than we can count on one hand, just as many colds and she’s bounced back from all of them quickly. I feel lucky but also like the breastmilk has contributed to the strength of her system.
Coincidentally or not, right when she stopped nursing, she was hit with the worst virus of her life. A fever and cough that took her down for days — we’d never seen her so sick. The same virus had passed through all the kids in her preschool class, so perhaps there was no avoiding it. But I did note the timing in relationship to her nursing.
During her illness, in a desperate moment, I offered her mama milk to try to make her perk up. It was the first time she ever declined and I knew then we were done forever. How bittersweet, how beautiful and how big it feels in retrospect to view one big moment in my life and my child’s life from beginning to end.
There’s that thing people say about loving up your little babies. Hold them while you can, because one day you will put them down and never pick them up again. And you don’t know when that last time will be. That concept seems much more tangible to me now.
Thanks, boobs, for the hard work. Sorry nipples, but you’ll never be the same. Thanks, Serafina, for being the best little nursling. Thanks to all the other nursing mamas who validated my choice and supported me with insights and encouragement along the way.