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When I first started breastfeeding, I was faced with many challenges, from a NICU stay due to failure to latch, to a milk protein allergy that had my doctor telling me to quit. But I persevered, and by around five months had established breastfeeding as a comforting (for both of us) routine and ritual. I loved it.
The thing about breastfeeding for me was that it helped prove to myself that my body was capable of doing something right, after years of infertility and miscarriages. It helped heal me, in a way. I was able to feed my baby, to make him grow. All that weight he gained? That was from me! It was an amazing feeling.
After I got laid off and decided to stay home, I ditched the pump and the bottle, and continued to let LM nurse on demand. Breastfeeding was a big part of our first year or so together, a way of bonding us together. This was something special only we shared.
As he passed a year, the age at which most babies are weaned, many of my mom friends stopped breastfeeding. But I didn’t see any reason to stop, so we kept going. Luckily, I faced no pressure from my husband or family to wean. They were supportive of my decision to keep nursing.
Eventually, though, in the back of my mind I started to think it might not be a bad thing if he weaned. Nursing a toddler is not as calming as nursing an infant. There is a lot of twisting, kicking, pulling, twiddling and general gymnastics going on. I wanted to tell him, “Just stay still!”
Plus, I wanted to think about having another baby, which would entail fertility treatments yet again. Now, doctors will generally tell you to wean before attempting an IVF for two reasons. One is concern about the medications, and another is that a raised prolactin level may impede your lining’s growth and make implantation less likely. But, both of these concerns are greater when you’re talking about an infant who gets all of his nutrition from nursing — less so when talking about a toddler who nurses once a day. Plus, although there haven’t been any studies on fertility meds one way or another, the little research I could find said that the drugs, which are naturally occurring in a woman’s body anyway, are safe.
There seems to be a bit of a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude when it comes to fertility doctors and nursing. I was worried when we saw our RE (reproductive endocrinologist) that she would ask me if I was nursing, but she didn’t. I talked to a few other moms who cycled while nursing toddlers. I felt confident that I was producing so little milk that LM would not be at risk from nursing, nor would my prolactin level be too high (and bloodwork showed it wasn’t).
Then in a serendipitous turn of events, LM started weaning as I geared up for my fertility testing. The first to go was the nursing around naps. Our routine became such that he would fall asleep in the car on the way back from our morning activity, and then I would transfer him inside. When he woke he would sometimes ask for it, but after telling him no a few times, he stopped asking. He still threw a big tantrum after waking up from naps cranky, but he didn’t seem to connect that with needing to nurse anymore. Then, because he started staying up super late when he napped, we started encouraging him to go without napping anyway.
Then it was the morning. Because I’m lazy, I would generally take LM back to bed with me to nurse. But on the days Foggy Daddy got up with him, he just took LM straight downstairs. And LM didn’t seem to miss it. One Saturday morning LM burst back into our room after Foggy Daddy changed his diaper. I was still in bed, and he hopped up, asking to nurse. FD asked if he wanted to go downstairs with him. LM thought about it for a minute, said, “downstairs,” and got off the bed. He actually chose his breakfast (or his father) over me.
That left nursing before bed. It just so happened that last week my sister was visiting my parents, so we spent several evenings there. We’d change LM into his pjs before leaving, and he’d fall asleep in the car on the way home, and we’d transfer him to the bed. One night as I went to lay him down he woke up. “Mama, lay down,” he instructed. Here we go, I thought, believing he wanted to nurse. But he just cuddled next to me and went to sleep.
The last night at my parents’ house I decided to stay over. LM stayed on an airbed on the floor, and he made me sleep next to him. But, he woke up throughout the night, frequently asking to nurse. Because I had put my foot down on night nursing a long time ago, I felt comfortable refusing. In the morning, though, he asked again, and the desperate look in his eyes made me give in. A few sucks, a few minutes, and he was done. I was so tired I had my eyes closed the whole time, but now I wonder if I missed the last time he would ever nurse.
The real test would be putting him to bed at home. So far, two nights have passed in which I’ve put him down without nursing. The first day he asked, settling into position in the cradle of my arm, but I asked him if he wanted to read a book instead and he popped back up.
Last night he didn’t even ask.
So this might be it. This morning he did briefly ask, but I gently redirected him and he was OK with it. I don’t quite know how I feel about it. Part of me is glad — now I can pursue fertility treatments without worrying about it. But what if I can’t cycle after all, or if I don’t get pregnant? I feel like I would have encouraged him to wean for nothing. I could have maybe had a few more months of nursing my baby.
I will miss that special relationship. I tell myself that if I’m determined to have another child, I will nurse again. Even if our second child ends up being adopted, I will try to induce lactation, or at least feed him or her with a supplemental nursing system (in which a tube is taped to the nipple through which breastmilk or formula flows) in order to experience some of the same bonding I had with LM. There is no reason a baby can’t be nursed for comfort, even if he or she gets her nutrients elsewhere. I recently read about a tribe in Africa where the fathers actually nurse the babies when the mothers aren’t available.
So maybe it’s just time. There were no (or few) tears. True, there was gentle encouragement from me, but LM seemed to be going down that path anyway.
So, breastfeeding, thank you for allowing me to feel like a woman again. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to bond with my baby in that way. Thank you for this special gift that not everyone is able to experience.
I will miss you.
(Of course, there is a chance that LM could ask for nursing again. In fact, by writing this, I’ve probably jinxed it. So stay tuned.)
Extended breastfeeders, how did you feel when your child finally weaned? Did you have to encourage your child, or did he or she do it on their own?
LM’s tantrums lately have been EPIC. He just can’t calm himself down.
I know the feeling.
I feel like I’ve been on the verge of a meltdown myself lately. I always hold it all together, even as more and more is piled on top. I’m just not really sure how I’m doing it. It almost feels like muscle memory, the way I go through my day and take care of my toddler and make phone calls to doctors and therapists and write my stories and answer emails and talk to other moms. It all still feels, well, actually, foggy.
I remember when I felt more sure of my place in the world. When I knew what was going on in news and entertainment, when I didn’t constantly feel like I was behind the times. When I was out in front of things, instead of running to catch up. When I was gliding through my life effortlessly, instead of struggling to just keep my head above water.
I felt safe and secure. I had mental spaces I could go to that were places of comfort. I had activities I found therapeutic. I felt content.
It’s weird, this parent thing. In some ways I’m completely happy. But in other ways, I’m more stressed than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Can those two feelings coincide?
In some ways I think, Oh just get over yourself. And in other ways I think, F that, I do have it harder than other parents. I’m dealing with a kid who can’t hear. It’s hard. These two different voices are constantly battling in my head as I struggle to understand and accept my reality.
On top of that, I’ve decided to embark on an Extreme Fertility Challenge. Ready? First challenge: Grow an 8mm triple stripe uterine lining for your prep cycle! Uh oh, you failed, because your lining failed to convert to the proper striped pattern (betcha didn’t know that uterine linings can have patterns, did you?). Try again!
Next up: An OT evaluation for LM. OT stands for occupational therapy, but it has nothing to do with work. Well, not work in terms of employment. It’s more like how you work in your environment, or something. I’m not really sure. Anyway, LM failed (or passed, depending on how you want to look at it) that one too. Apparently all of his jumping and climbing, plus the picky eating and clothes sensitivity, plus his out-of-control tantrums mean he has some sensory issues going on. Again, not exactly sure what “sensory issues” are, but something having to do with the way you process input from your environment. Maybe at least now I have an explanation for all those shocked looks I get from other moms at the play gym when LM performs his usual crazy antics.
“You’re working way too hard,” the occupational therapist told me. “You’re trying so hard, doing everything you can. We need to help you out.” Finally, a validation! I’m not crazy. LM is f’ing hard! There is a reason I’m constantly on the verge!
I know I struggle with how much I put on my own plate and how much gets heap on there by life. But I don’t believe in doing things half-assed. There are things I want to accomplish in life. Every time I try to chill and relax and slack off, I feel guilty that I’m just being lazy because there are so many other things I should be doing. I have a hard time carving out “me” time. The time I do have never seems long enough, and then I’m back to regular life. I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel, going around and around again. Day after day, going through the motions.
I want to be able to just turn the wheel off and stop for a moment. Ironically, LM’s issues are forcing me to pay more attention to him when he’s playing, to try to engage him, to stay in the moment. When his therapists come over, sometimes they seem to just be playing with him, and I’ll think, “What the hell am I paying you for?” But then they will explain what they are doing, how they are using play to teach him. I try to replicate that, but it isn’t easy. Or maybe I’m just not a natural at it. But it’s hard.
Sometimes I wonder what would occupy my mind and my time if LM didn’t have any of his issues. And if I didn’t have “issues” getting pregnant. If LM was just a regular kid and I was just a regular mom who could get pregnant again whenever she felt like it in the privacy of her own bedroom. I fantasize about that. I know no life is perfect. I struggle on a daily basis with realizing that, with not trying to aspire to some nonexistent existence, with trying to find a way to make it through this fog to a place where I feel comfortable again. I want to get to a state of mind where I don’t find it necessary to remind myself whenever I start to feel light and happy of all the dark things in my life that should curb my enthusiasm. I know I should be happy in spite of all those things going on. But it just feels like too much.
I’m working way too hard.
Do you feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities in your life? How do you deal?
Sometimes I think I’m a glutton for punishment. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I sometimes feel like I am living the same day over and over again, just trying to get it right. I often fail. And I often bring it on myself.
Case in point: After five years or so of relentless testing, poking, prodding and disappointment, I finally freed myself from the dreaded RE (reproductive endocrinologist, or fertility doctor)—but tomorrow, by choice, I’m going back.
I have a sense of deja vu about the whole thing: the making of appointments, the gathering of medical records, the filling out of senseless forms when they have all the information anyway. I’m sure I will feel that way when I walk through those doors tomorrow, hold out my arm to give blood, open my legs for my date with the vag cam (sorry if that’s TMI, but you fertility patients know what I’m talking about).
I don’t know if it’s a good idea to try to get pregnant again. Part of me wants the doctor to say, “You know what? Your messed-up body just can’t handle it. So don’t.” But will she say this? True, clinics want to hedge their bets to increase their success rates, but they also want to make money. Would they turn away a willing and eager participant? I do know my doctor, and I should give her more credit that that, I suppose.
I know that’s passive aggressive anyway. I should make my own decision. And I can’t afford to wait any longer. I want to know what the deal is, what our plan is. I’m not going to spend another five years on this. It’s now or never.
Adoption is on the table. I actually contacted our preferred adoption agency, but they are not accepting new families until the spring. Well, spring is fast approaching (didn’t Punxsutawney Phil predict an early one?) and I want to make a plan.
That is really what’s behind my whole drive to figure this thing out. Why on top of everything I’ve got going on with LM’s hearing loss do I want to open myself up for more responsibility? Not just the responsibility of going through treatments, but of having another baby? Because I need a plan. I can’t stand to have this hanging over my shoulders, the will-we-or-won’t-we have another baby. There is never a good time to have a second child, just like there is never a good time to have a first child.
So we’re going to just do it.
Well, hopefully. After all, that’s not totally up to us. I wish I could just get pregnant on my own terms, like so many of my mom friends are doing. I wish I didn’t have to think about it. I wish I didn’t have to go all through everything. Again. Like Groundhog Day.
But that is my choice, isn’t it?
I posed the question to my FB group of infertility survivors: How did you make the decision when and how to have a second child? Many of the moms responded that simply, they didn’t. They decided to be one and done. They couldn’t go through that again. And they couldn’t start a new process (adoption) that could very well involve years of waiting as well. They just didn’t have it in them.
Do I have it in me? I don’t consider myself stronger than anyone else. I don’t know if this is an utterly stupid thing to do, to decide to go back down the rabbit hole of my own personal Groundhog Day (how’s that for mixing rodent metaphors?).
But I really want another child. I know I could be happy with just LM, but it’s there, nagging at me, this thing that I really want that I feel I at least have to take a shot at.
So here we go.
Let Groundhog Day begin again.
Fellow fertility patients, how did you decide what to do about having more children? One-and-done moms, how did you make that decision as well?