This was originally written nearly a year ago...but we're still nursing, though not as much! : )
His beautiful eyes stare into mine as the milk begins to flow. Those big blue eyes with the delicate Brushfield spots gaze at me with trust and adoration. In between gulps he pulls back just to smile and coo. Warm milk drips down my skin, but I don’t mind. My baby just smiled at me. He lifts his chubby hand to my mouth, waiting expectantly for my kisses. If I don’t respond quickly enough, he grabs hold of my lip, eyes locked onto my own. At almost 11 months and nearly 24 pounds, this is still his favorite part of the day; mine too. The bond that we share is precious, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
Some people are surprised that I’m still breastfeeding, and they certainly can’t imagine me nursing Benjamin past his first birthday. Over the months I’ve heard the subtle comments such as “Oh, you’re still nursing?” or “How long do you intend to breastfeed?” or “When he goes on the bottle…” What they don’t realize is that he’s not going on the bottle. I want to give my son the best start I can, nutritionally, relationally and developmentally. My milk is “God’s formula” as our wonderful pediatrician loves to say. Benjamin is learning to trust and to love at my breast. His tongue and jaws are gaining strength as he pulls the milk from me, all preparing his muscles for future speech.
My mother nursed my brother and me into our toddler years. I think we are the better for it. I dreamed all my life of nursing my babies. I’ve had to fight hard to fulfill this dream, harder than I ever imagined. I am going to cherish this time.
There was the month of pumping in the NICU. The lactation consultant taught me how to hook up, operate, and clean the Medela breast pump and attachments. It was the hospital grade pump, the Lexus of all breast pumps. My emotions swung back and forth between gratitude for this device that enabled me to build and maintain my supply and resentment for the sterile, mechanical hum of a machine in the place of my baby. There was the exhaustion of pumping every 3 hours around the clock while recovering from a C-section, coupled with the emotional wounds that were constantly bleeding. There was the constant bottle of water on hand—drinking, drinking, drinking. There was the ravenous appetite as more and more calories went into milk production. There was the thrill of watching the small bottles slowing filling more and more as the days went by and my supply was built up. There was the bitter-sweetness of seeing my milk fed to my son through a feeding tube straight into his stomach; tiny amounts at first as his tiny system adjusted. At least he was still receiving nourishment from my body. There were the first few failed attempts at nursing and the slow process of learning to bottle feed with the therapist. Breathe, suck, swallow. There was the devastation of hearing they had run out of my milk one night and had to supplement Benjamin with formula. My milk was one of the only things I had a measure of control over; one of the only things I could give to my son at that point. I cried, feeling I had failed him. My resolve to persevere with the pumping was strengthened even more. There were the constant nagging fears that Benjamin may never breastfeed, as medical professionals reminded me of his low muscle tone and possible poor sucking reflex common in babies with Down syndrome. There was the first precious time Benjamin latched on for a moment and looked up at me with wonder and confusion in this little face. How many ways are there for me to eat? I could almost hear him thinking.
Then we were finally home, and there was the nipple shield to enable him to latch on. There was the struggle of holding his floppy neck steady, directing him to my breast as he rooted around, and holding the nipple shield in place. All too soon there was the second trip to the hospital for open heart surgery and the extended two week stay. Once again there was the rhythmic humming of the Lexus pump around the clock. Once again there was the stress, exhaustion, and the fear I wouldn’t be able to maintain my supply. This time there was a heightened physical ache to hold my son close to my breast again and feel the sweet release.
A few weeks later there was the second home-coming and the supplementing with bottles of milk I had already pumped while I built up my supply again. In time there were the first few awkward experiences of breastfeeding in public with my special nursing cover, complicated by the use of the nipple shield. Eventually there was the long process of weaning Benjamin from the nipple shield. When he was in a calm mood, he could latch on to my right side without the shield with some patience and coaxing. The left side seemed to create more problems. If he was in a fussy mood, he would fight and scream until I gave in and put the shield back in place. There was the excitement when he was finally able to latch on to both sides and the relief when the nipple shield was put away for good.
Today, Benjamin is a pro at nursing. He quickly latches on without my assistance, eager for the warmth and comfort of Mommy’s breast. The milk is paying off too. His arms and legs consist of delightful rolls, his tummy is big and round, and his cheeks are so plump and kissable. Strangers comment on what a cute and healthy baby he is. Healthy-that word is so special to hear. Most people appear to have no awareness of his Down syndrome. They would never guess the premature birth, the ventilator, tubes and wires. They know nothing of the jaundice, the bloated stomach when his kidneys shut down, or the home-coming with nose canules and oxygen tanks. They would never imagine the open heart surgery and slow recovery. They have no idea about the ER visits leading to the discovery of double hernias and the following surgery. They are oblivious to the onset of seizures, infantile spasms to be exact, and the six week treatment of shots. Failed hearing tests and ear tube surgery never crosses their minds. They simply see a beautiful, healthy, baby boy…which he is…my little miracle.