When Tom and I first confirmed that I was pregnant, nursing came up pretty much right away. Tom mentioned looking forward to giving the baby bottles each evening or overnight so I could catch a break. Like a true zealot who was just begging to have her words fed back to her at some later time, I insisted that this baby was not having formula. I had nursed Corey for two and a half years, and while I didn't plan to let it go that long this time, there was no good reason to bring formula into the... well, formula.
Then I started thinking about why I nursed Corey for so long. My first husband turned out to be a bit of a nut job, something I realized halfway through the pregnancy. It was later confirmed when he lived on the corner at the end of my street. In a parking lot. With two other people who owned a car... they rotated who got to sleep in the car each night. "But he's breastfeeding" was my prepared response should Stephen ever demand custody or independent visitation. Thankfully it only came up once before the court ruled, and he didn't have the wherewithal to follow through on the threat. After that, I just let it go on because it was the easiest thing in the world, and because it was the most direct means of bonding with my beloved child.
Corey was so old when I stopped that we had a conversation about it.
Me: "There's no more nurch. Nurch all gone."
"No more nurch?" (short wail of despair)
"Mommy talked to the doctor and now nurch is all gone."
"Nurch all gone."
And then we snuggled and went to sleep (yeah, took me quite a few more years to get him out of my bed... baby steps, people, baby steps). He slept fine that night and never asked to nurse again.
When I took all of that in and combined it with the fact that Tom is not a nut job (or, as we say in my family, "You're weird, but you're my kind of weird and I like you"), I was relieved of the hyper-vigilance I carried around for Corey. I didn't have to nurse so that this baby wouldn't be stuck in the care of a man who put himself first (although not well) to the exclusion of the baby's safety and well-being. I could be like those mothers who declared how long they were willing to breastfeed, meet that quota and be done with it.
Most of the time I had figured that nursing for six months would be perfect. About a month before I returned to work, we spent $300 on a breast pump and I realized that I might as well pump for the whole first year. And if I'm pumping and giving Madelyn breastmilk in a bottle, why not just nurse when we're together, too?
I stayed home with Corey (and married to his father) until he was 11 months old. There was no pumping, there were no bottles, there was just me and him from his first day.
Madelyn started off with four days in the NICU due to a collapsed lung. There was no oral nutrition for the first day and then formula for the next 36 hours until the neonatologist agreed to let me nurse. With that kind of beginning, physically and emotionally, breastfeeding was tricky. Although she got the hang of it after about 10 days, it was hard to put it all behind me. My milk supply has been difficult to maintain. I have used herbal supplements, post-natal vitamins, extra pumping, extra nursing, massage... pretty much anything someone suggested, I did. Madelyn was almost six months old when we had to supplement with formula.
Over the past two months, my body has continued to wean her. The original plan was for Mad to get a formula bottle only when needed during the week if I didn't pump enough the day before for two full bottles. Within a matter of days that became 1-2 formula bottles a day during the week, and now we have to give her bottles on the weekend as well. My new goal is to get her through the majority of the cold and flu season.
You might be thinking that the tough choices to which I referred in the title are about choosing to add formula. Not exactly. Here's something you don't know about my life: the husband of one of my best friends, Nancy, is fighting leukemia. In February he was diagnosed with a "pre-leukemia" illness. In March we had a blood and bone marrow drive. A bone marrow donor was found, but not from our group. The extremely generous donor is in Europe (let's all say a little thank you for worldwide registries, shall we?).
Ken was supposed to have the bone marrow transplant last week, but the latest biopsy indicated that he now has "full blown leukemia," so it was postponed for two months while they put him into remission. I am on the list to be a blood and/or platelets donor and they finally called me this afternoon to schedule my donation. (I say finally because Tom and another of our friends have already been called twice!) I was so excited to be called, but it was a bit dramatic.
"I had episiotomy stitches in April."
"Let me check. (short pause) No problem. Are you breastfeeding?"
"Yes!" (with pride)
"Ooh. Oh no. I don't think you can donate. You can't donate."
"What?!? We're barely nursing. She gets about six ounces a day!"
"Hold on and I'll check." I heard her talking to someone else... "But she's weaning."
Turns out that weaning mothers are okay to donate, but I have to pump beforehand and not for two hours afterward. I guess I'd be really drained (ah ha... okay, I know it wasn't that funny). But in that moment when I didn't know the answer, I realized that I might have the biggest decision of my life to make. Do I keep breastfeeding Mad through the cold and flu season, thereby offering her antibodies to help keep her little body well or do I stop completely so that I can help Ken through this incredible fight?
I know what I'd do. I'm really glad I don't have to make that choice. I would if I had to.