Tomorrow you’ll turn six months old – a half of a year. This is a big milestone, and it marks the arrival of a few changes. We can start letting you be out in the sun while using small amounts of sunscreen, we can take you swimming, we’ll start transitioning you from sleeping in our room to sleeping in your crib in your own room, and we’ll also begin introducing solid foods and weaning you of breastmilk. Somehow these changes seem hugely momentous, milestones that seemed so far away only six months ago. I am amazed that we’re at the six month mark.
When you were born we both struggled with nursing. We worked very hard at it, receiving consultations from lactation specialists as well as OT and PT staff. You did not nurse at all for your first 24 hours. After I came out of surgery and was in recovery, they placed you on my bare chest and hoped you would nurse. I tried as best I knew how, remembering a little from the nursing class we’d taken and trying to follow my instincts, but you showed no interest. We continued to try every two hours, but you were sleepy and uninterested. At 24 hours, the limit of how long they’d let you go without eating, we introduced a bottle filled with milk, and you drank well. And every two hours we kept trying to get you to nurse. On our second day the specialists started coming to help us.
In addition to being drowsy and falling asleep every time I tried to feed you, they said you did not know how to suck. Through sessions multiple times a day while we were in the hospital, they taught me exercises to do with you to teach you this necessary action. At first I’d stick my finger in your mouth and massage your gums by lightly rubbing my finger along their toothless ridges. This was to ‘wake up’ your mouth. Then I’d lightly tickle the roof of your mouth, trying to get you to clamp down with your lips and suck on my finger. Then we introduced a pacifier, which you quickly took. We’d perform this routine before I tried nursing you, and with every feeding you got better and better. We’d put a few drops of milk onto my breast to try and get you interested, and I’d use a nipple shield to help you latch easier.
You still fell asleep at almost every feeding and the nurses encouraged me to do whatever I could to keep you awake. They taught me to lightly rub your cheek or legs or to undress you in an attempt to stimulate you and keep you awake. Nothing worked. They even went so far as to encourage me to put a wet washcloth on your little naked body. Although this woke you up, it also upset you, and resulted in you crying out in shock and distress at the cold. I hated it, and struggled with not wanting to cause you discomfort but also knowing that you needed to eat.
I was determined not to leave the hospital until we had nursing figured out. One night, I think it was our third or fourth night in the hospital, around midnight, a nurse came to wake me up to feed you and must have read on the charts about our difficulties breastfeeding. She was so positive and uplifting, and said we were going to nurse successfully tonight. Her optimism was contagious, and I desperately wanted to succeed. She helped me position you and I lifted you to me, and even without the shield you nursed. It was the very first time you’d nursed without the nipple shield. It was amazing, and I was so thankful. Although I couldn’t replicate that for the rest of my time in the hospital, you continued to progress every day, and you were able to nurse effectively with the shield. You did continue to fall asleep with almost every feeding, and I was constantly trying to keep you awake to eat.
Nursing during these first days was overwhelming and difficult, stressful and anything but natural. I wanted to succeed at this, and was determined to do so, but I realistically didn’t know how long we’d be able to do this. Nursing often took upwards of two hours, with you falling asleep or losing interest, and with the guidance I’d been given to feed you every two to three hours, I was attempting to nurse you virtually nonstop. I had known that nursing would be difficult and I’d been encouraged to keep trying for at least six weeks. This was my goal.
We continued trying to nurse, and I decided to attend the free breastfeeding support group (aka ‘Milk Club’) at the hospital six days after you were born, and only two days after we left the hospital. I cried the entire way there, and struggled to pull myself together to walk into the room where the support group was held. I was ashamed and embarrassed that I hadn’t yet been able to perfect the art of feeding you – something that seemed like it should be natural and intuitive. Although I was doing everything I could, I felt like I was failing at this most basic requirement of motherhood. But this group was so helpful, made up of other moms trying to figure this out. Some were first time moms with newborns, while others were BTDT moms (been there done that moms – a term given to moms with at least two children) wanting support. It was wonderful to be surrounded by a couple dozen women experiencing the same doubts and hesitations that I was feeling. I left the room with some of my questions answered and feeling much less alone and inadequate.
We kept attending Milk Club at least once a week for many weeks. I would weigh you before and after I fed you and meticulously document and chart how much you gained from these feedings, and how much you gained from week to week. Then you turned six weeks old, and you were gradually becoming more and more efficient at nursing. You were more wakeful and we’d only use the shield sparingly. You still nursed for a long time, probably averaging an hour and a half with every nursing, but we were getting a hang of it. I decided to extend my breastfeeding goal to six months.
And now here we are. You’re six months old tomorrow, and thinking back over these past months and how far we’ve come, those struggles in the early days seem almost trivial, one of many difficult but surmountable obstacles of transitioning to being a parent. You nurse so efficiently now and you’ve continued to steadily gain weight and grow. You also take a bottle amazingly well, even holding it and feeding yourself. With the introduction of solid food right around the corner, I look back over the past few months and all the time we’ve spent in this intimate interaction, and I feel sadness that this time is coming to a close. Although I’ll continue to nurse you – my new goal is one year – the time I spend doing so will become increasingly less and less as solid foods become a growing part of your diet. I can’t help but feel sorrow for the loss of this connection I have with you, a special, quiet, peaceful moment that only you and I share every few hours. It is a visible mark of your already-rapid progression of becoming less dependent on me, and in this moment, I find it remarkably sad.