This Diary of Motherhood is a series of weekly letters to my first baby, my little son who I call Baby Bird. I know not everyone wants to read about the highs and lows of motherhood so you can read non-baby related posts about travel, writing, freelancing or Amsterdam instead. Alternatively read one of my short stories or check out some book reviews and recommendations.
Dear Baby Bird,
As I mentioned last week, your father and I recently recovered from an impressively forceful sickness bug that took the carpet from beneath our feet, leaving us bedridden - though thankfully at different, consecutive times - and stranded us in the UK two days longer than we planned. It was the kind of sickness I hope you never feel, but I know you will because as rough as it feels at the time, it's not a really serious kind of bug and I know you're getting tougher and tougher every day, building up your strength to knock these unpleasant things into the gutter when they hit you... after a few days in bed, of course.
While your father bounced back from the virus within 48 hours, some three days after I'd stopped vomiting I still felt very wobbly and weak. During our journey back to Amsterdam I felt wave after wave of nausea hit me and as soon as we were home I got back in bed, leaving you and your dad to do bath time together. The next day, as I pushed you in your stroller to daycare, I became breathless before the end of the road and I had to stop and sit on a bench halfway into the short, one kilometre walk. The rest of the day I crashed out on the couch, ignoring my work and writing. Getting on top of the laundry was my sole goal and I felt irrationally proud and exhausted when I managed to do that.
It took me a while to realise what was happening to me, to understand why my body was taking so long to recover. It's because I'm breastfeeding. The bug left me very dehydrated and a subsequent few days of not eating and drinking enough left my body fighting to produce enough milk for you, and yes, it affected my milk supply, which dwindled. While you've swapped a few milk feeds for solid foods, you are still having 3-4 feeds of varying amounts a day (or night!), sometimes more, but in those days there were a few times when you pulled away from my chest and almost frowned, like you'd just discovered your favourite toy was broken.
Funnily enough, the supply issue didn't bother me that much. If anything, I felt relief that maybe I had a reason to stop nursing, and this surprised me because for eight months I have adored being able to breastfeed you.
From day one, breastfeeding has been a constant sweetness in our life together, when much of everything else soured thanks to sleep deprivation, my increasing anxiety, and the shock of how much my comfortable life had become very uncomfortable. It was an instant bond, even when I couldn't really describe our connection in all the superlatives I felt I should be using. When you cried for hours on end, when you didn't sleep for hours on end, and during all the other hours when I worried that I wasn't giving you what you needed, I knew that when you latched on to me, you were getting exactly what you needed; comfort, nourishment, closeness. Breastfeeding was the first thing I felt I did well as a mother, and boy, oh boy, did I need to know I was capable of doing something well in those early days and weeks of motherhood.
And while your suckling noises have changed (from high pitched squeaking gulps, to relaxed, deep, slow swallows) and you feel twice as big in my arms, my love for nursing you hasn't shrunk, not one bit. I have been incredibly lucky in that respect. The pain has been minimal and until last weekend, my supply has stayed strong and constant. I have marvelled at my body's secret abilities and treasured my great fortune. In short, I have simply loved breastfeeding.
That was until I felt so very, very exhausted and drained and dizzy last week. It was the first time I started to seriously think about stopping. You don't really need me for nourishment any more - not like you used to - and I no longer feel like it's the only way we connect. I've started to daydream about wearing clothes that don't button up at the front, and I have long been curious about what drinking more than one glass of wine in an evening would be like again.
Ironically, it was also around this time that you put the brakes on your impressive progress with solid foods. After nearly two months to get started, you shocked us with a sudden desire to try anything and everything. This lasted a month or so but now you have started to turn your nose up at all the savoury flavours I offer you and you no longer nibble away on the baby biscuits you used to devour. You still love fruit and would happily eat only this, all day, every day, but I am reluctant to encourage such a diet (especially when I think about the nappies!) and so we've had to start at the beginning again and mix fruit and breastmilk with vegetables and savoury purees to reintroduce the flavours and textures to you again. It's a minor problem, of course, but it's tiring and frustrating (and very, very messy!) having to go back to square one rather than progress to the next step which I was suddenly happy to consider, i.e. weaning you off breastmilk completely.
Now I don't really know what to do... But do you know what? It doesn't matter. I don't have to figure this out definitively now, or even ever. In fact, I'm tempted to just follow your lead and trust that you'll let me know when you're ready to eat more foods, and nurse less with me.
Isn't it funny that before you were born, I spent many months worrying that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed, but not for one second - until we started to try it - did I worry that you wouldn't take to eating solids?
I suspect that's because there's so many heated discussions and emotions surround the topic of breastfeeding and much of it is hurtful, shaming stuff for women to write, read or hear. From the bottom of my heart, writing publicly about my relationship with breastfeeding is not an attempt to make anyone feel that breastfeeding is the only way to nurture a child or have an early connection with the child, because it is not. To think such a thing is madness and against everything I believe motherhood to be, which so far I would describe as a constant gooey flow of warmth, kindness and love. Indeed, the fact that from five months you happily drank formula milk at daycare swept away a lot of my anxiety about how you were solely dependent on me for food, and this certainly made me a happier, more relaxed mother.
So I'm going to try and not worry too much about your step backwards with solids, because worrying doesn't have any positive bearing on anything. I'm also going to keep listening to my body and to you when it comes to breastfeeding. Although you will soon be going to daycare for three days a week and I would describe pumping as about as joyful as doing the washing up, working from home, I have the luxury of flexibility to pump at my desk... often as I write these motherhood diary entries. Furthermore, you're changing so quickly now that I wouldn't be surprised at all if one day you just decided you'd had enough and you'd rather spend our nursing time crawling around on the floor or watching your dad construct towers taller than you out of your Miffy/Nijntje building blocks.
In other words, Baby Bird, we'll figure this out together. And this, I'm learning, is often the best way to approach all of these minor obstacles on your journey that are frustrating and enlightening in equal measure... most of the time.
Your covered-in-pureed-banana, totally-fed-up-of-ugly-nursing-bras, already-nostalgic-for-when-it's-over, crazy-in-love mother x
Frances M. Thompson
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