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Pregnancy, breastfeeding, my toddler, and me

My pregnancies suck.  I’m often asked why I keep having children when pregnancy is so difficult for me physically with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG).  Usually my response is something like “because I’m crazy,” or “denial is a powerful thing,” or “I had to believe that next time would be different” and I attempt to laugh it off as just another piece of my crazy.  And maybe that’s exactly what it is.  The truth is, I don’t have a good answer that will help it all make sense, even to myself.  The best and most honest answer is simply that we didn’t feel done and I just couldn’t let HG win.

It gets even more confusing when I go through a difficult pregnancy and continue to breastfeed my current nursling.

At just over 26 months I’m pretty sure Smunchie and I are weaning.  It’s not what I wanted, or at least not what I planned.  I might have wanted it.  When I discovered I was pregnant with Sugarbaby I swore I would not intentionally wean during this pregnancy like I did last time.  No, we were going to stick it out no matter what.  Even if I hated it.

I did.  Hate it, that is.  It wasn’t the fact that my pregnancies are complicated, that I struggle to keep food and liquid in at all, that I end up with IVs and then a PICC line, or even that I feel like I have the most unrelenting case of food poisoning ever.  No, those things actually made me grateful Smunchie was still breastfeeding as it gave me a way to stay connected to her when I couldn’t get off the couch.  At first I was so grateful for breastfeeding and I cherished our cuddling “bobbies” time, because it anchored me a bit, it was only slightly uncomfortable, and I could tell she found it comforting in the midst of all the change we were experiencing with the effects of the pregnancy on our family.  But then it started to get more uncomfortable.  Then it started to hurt.  Then it started to require breathing exercises worthy of labor. Then every time she would latch I would mentally cry “please wean, please wean, please wean…”  I didn’t want to be a martyr, that doesn’t do either of us any good, but I didn’t want to end something that was so important to her plus I had this goal of not leading weaning and letting her self-wean.  And I’m a goal oriented person, I really like meeting my goals.  My experience weaning during my last pregnancy was unpleasant anyway and I deeply regretted it for even selfish reasons.  Mastitis and my HG getting worse made me greatly debate if the point of weaning, which was because I was still 26lbs below my prepregnant weight at the start of the 3rd trimester, would have been better served if we had continued breastfeeding instead.  Squiggle Bug was broken hearted and when she began rejecting me for all forms of comfort once we weaned, I was broken hearted too.  I wasn’t about to let any of that happen this time, no, I would fight for our breastfeeding relationship through this pregnancy.  It was important to me to continue, for both of us.

Pain, discomfort, and being downright miserable are hard to push through though.  To preserve my sanity there were times when I’d limit her feeding sessions, telling her we’d be “all done bobbies” after singing a song or counting to 10.  I’d try not to clench my teeth while she nursed.  Or stick my tongue out at her.  Or make scrunched up torture faces.  Or cry.  It didn’t help that I could tell my supply was dropping quickly.  In previous pregnancies I had been on Reglan to aid in digestion but this time we decided to see if I could go without as the side effect of depression had been difficult on my family.  Without the Reglan providing a boost to my supply, I experienced my milk drying up and the only response I had to galactalogues was to vomit.  I knew that to best prevent drying up I needed to let her nurse more but between her frustration that the milk sometimes just wasn’t there and me being ready to climb the wall every time she latched, I had to have limits on how long she could be at the breast or risk damaging our overall relationship if my frustration really came through.

The handwriting was on the wall.  I resisted but I welcomed it too.  It was confusing to be so conflicted.  The Piano Man didn’t say anything but I could tell he wanted us to wean, wanted the stress and emotional roller coaster about breastfeeding to just end.  Finally, about a month ago, he told me he thought it would be ok if we were done because, well, look at her.  She’s happy, confident, healthy, and almost never asks for it.  He was right, about all of those things.  If I didn’t offer, she didn’t ask, often for days at a time.  She did happily come for cuddles and kisses all the time.  She was still very attached.  Just, without the breast.  I offered right then and she did come over, climb on my lap and latch for a moment.  A brief moment, for just about the time she probably got some let down, then she let go, sat up, patted my breast, and said “tan tou!  All done.”  I think that was for my benefit.

She has breastfed a handful of times since then, most were her request.  I continued to offer but she began to decline more frequently.  She had things to do, games to play, places to explore, “bobbies” just weren’t what they once were.  Two weeks ago she asked to nurse early in the morning in bed.  Excited and kind of squirmy, she latched.  I started my concentrated breathing when suddenly she let go, made a face, and said “blech.  Yucky.  All done.”  I tried to get her to latch again, encouraging her to try but she only pulled my shirt down and repeated “all done.”  Since then she has tried only 2 other times, all brief, and all ending with some kind of disappointment on her part.  Like she remembers what it once was but recognizes that it’s just not that any longer.  I’ve stopped offering, mainly because she was starting to seem upset when I did and usually refused me with a sad “no.”

Once SugarBaby is here I will let Smunchie have the breast if she is interested.  I’m not going to insist or force anything and if she’s moved on then so will I.  Letting go hasn’t been easy but I know that together we’ll share with our newest nursling the joy that is “bobbies.”  My friend Diana Cassar-Uhl, IBCLC, encouraged me that we would find new ways to connect if our breastfeeding journey came to an end now.  She was right and they are equally precious moments.

Not everyone has a difficult time breastfeeding in pregnancy, please don’t think that just because that was my experience it has to be yours.  Every journey with every child is unique, honoring the journey means you take it as it comes.  I’m so grateful Smunchie and I have had what we have had.  I’m grateful for what is to come as well.  Breastfeeding through pregnancy isn’t easy for me but then, pregnancy isn’t easy for me.  This part of our journey was still beautiful and precious though, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

My big girls helped me with a little video looking over the recent months of breastfeeding during this pregnancy.  Gathered around the piano for this simple recording I looked over these 5 girls that have each had their turn to be my nursling.  Seeing them, today ages 26 months – 13 years, I couldn’t ask for more, my ordinary miracles.  (Don’t worry, I didn’t include any footage of me vomiting while breastfeeding or Smunchie waiting for me to finish puking so she could latch back on to the breast, just the breastfeeding shots.)