Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The end of lactation

This is my own tribute to the efforts I put into my lactation. Giving up lactation permanently is difficult, and I am left grieving of sorts. Be forewarned! If you don't want to read much personal detail about my lactation experience, don't read it! Honestly, I'm only writing this for me, not for anyone else and I don't care if anyone else ever reads it.

For 42 of the last 85 months, I have fought tooth and nail to produce breastmilk for my boys. I have left countless meetings, ignoring the stares (sometimes glares) of my peers to search out some space that was at least partly private to strip half-naked and "hook up." I have struggled through countless other meetings where I felt I faced dire consequences if I left, waiting in pain, hoping I didn't start leaking before the meeting broke up. I'm sure I have lost much respect in some peers' eyes because of my making time for lactation, but I find that loss to not be a loss at all. I thrill in the bonds I made with other women who, upon hearing of my need, shared with me a bit of their own struggle with breastfeeding and going back to work, while they helped me find a way to succeed in the moment. Bless those women!

I have cried many tears over each of my babies when I could not succeed at feeding them at the breast. I have doubted myself, questioned my sanity, wondered at how I could give them a good start in life when I couldn't even breastfeed them--the simplest of all things in childhood, or so I thought. And then I discovered breastpumps. I have had a love/hate relationship with the pumps that have come into and out of my life. The bottom line is that I couldn't have done it without them. I do not grieve the end of my pumping days, but yet, I find I cannot toss the machinary aside callously. It has known me more intimately than anything else in this world for those 42 months.

I am proud of so much. Of myself, that I alone gave each of my children nearly 2 years protection with my own immune system, bolstering their own protection and ensuring fewer sniffles and coughs in their infancy. I can count the number of ear infections for both boys easily on my own fingers, maybe just the fingers on one hand. I am proud that I now have two very healthy, robust boys, who love the world and approach much with an eager enthusiasm. They radiate health. I am proud of the many ounces of extra breastmilk that I shared with other babies that had no supply of their own. I am proud that I let nothing stop me from being able to look back and say these things.

I am utterly thankful for the love and support I have received over these years from fellow moms struggling with their own lactation. Not all have been as lucky as me, but all of them wanted nothing short of the best for their own children. All of us have had incredible odds against our successes at one time or another. All of us struggled. Those that made our effort harder often didn't realize they were doing so. My own dear husband has asked me a few times "when are you going to stop pumping?" I don't know his motivation in asking this each time, but I suspect it was partly asked out of frustration for my insisting upon making time for pumping and the inconvienence that would sometimes bring. I don't blame him for his feelings. It's not something he can understand. And, it is also a distinct difference between us. I make my way through conflict with dogged determination, with the assurance that if I make up my mind, I will see it through come hell or high water. It is my unreasonable inflexibility that creates my success. My husband approaches conflict differently, although his own method can be just as effective.

These 42 months of lactation stand as a testimony to the dedication I have for my children. They are more than 42 months of good nutrition. They are a symbol to my determination to doing everything I can to helping my children have a good start in life. Underneath it all is the love I have for them. Although my breastmilk is nearly gone, and will never return, the love for my boys continues on, nurturing and encouraging them in the moments of their lives.

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