I make a point of memorizing the license plates of cars in front of me at traffic lights. I always think that maybe I’ll be useful one day solving a crime. “Oh, ’95 Corolla with plates PEEN-15? Yup. Saw that whip at the intersection of Fullwood and 51 at 10:07. No, no, keep the reward money. I’m just thankful to be a citizen of this fine state and to be interviewed soon by 20/20.” I also have all of my friends’ license plates memorized (I don’t think they know that) in case something ever happens. I am a great friend. So far it hasn’t come in handy, but it will.
Equally so, I very intentionally try to remember important dates… the first date, the first kiss, the first “I love you,” the first smile, first laugh, first step, last nursing session. I commit every moment to memory, but the dates, unlike those plates, seem to just evaporate. Sometimes I hate that. I want to commemorate those big things. Other times I’m glad I have the emotions and the memory-soaked scraps of time unfettered by a specific month and day.
I promised myself I would remember the last time Nora Beth latched on to me for a nursing session, but alas, I’ve forgotten. It was about 4 weeks ago, give or take, and regardless of whether it was January 16th or 22nd, it was perfect.
There’s this nearly perverse, overarching idea that motherhood equals martyrdom… all of us suffering for the cause. As soon as we push that little sack of sweetness through our birth canals, we have societally developed a corporate condoning of PMS: Post-Motherhood Syndrome, where we applaud and glorify the suffering we all must be enduring. We share and viral-ize this heroine and that for “surviving” the very thing we were created for.
Where does that leave those of us enjoying our affliction? Have a quiet sect of us succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome, falling in love with the plight we’ve come under? Nora Beth’s newborn days were like that for me: I loved them. Breastfeeding was like that, even more acutely. Whereas I had seen page and page and post and post extolling the tribulations of having a baby, and the gauntlet of breastfeeding pressure and pain… it just… wasn’t. But where could I share that without coming across as smug… nay, mutinous?
Despite my early panic and doubts encouraged by social media mayhem about the disastrous ritual of nursing, for 13 months I fed Nora Beth, and it was wonderful. That isn’t hyerbolic. It was sweet and intimate. I am in no way trying to minimize the negative experiences and hardships of those who experienced it differently. I cannot imagine the discouragement, and I will always be thankful for the ease we had.
I wasn’t planning on nursing her until she was, say, 14, casually topping her off before she headed to Homecoming, but when my first goal of 1 year flew into sight, it seemed natural to keep going. Until, I couldn’t anymore.
When we went to see our fertility specialist in late December, he advised us that no treatments could begin while I was nursing. I’d had passive anxiety about that possibility but had tucked it quietly away and hoped that I was borrowing trouble. Following the appointment, I sat in a booth at Flying Biscuit, and I cried to David into my High Flyer while we discussed our options. It was anguishing having to choose my priority: continuing to feed my baby or moving forward with having another.
Ultimately the choice was clear. I had nourished her precious, roly frame for a year. She wasn’t depending on me like she used to, and she was showing signs that she was ready. I spent the next 3 weeks weaning her, dropping afternoon feedings immediately, then nighttime feedings, and lastly our morning feedings. One January day I scooped her out of the crib and went right down to breakfast, offering her a sippy cup of my frozen supply. It was a non-event. I hadn’t really planned to be done that day, but there we were. I debated whether it was better for me not to have known that our last time had occurred, or if I would regret not deliberately staring at her lashes fluttering against me a final time.
Later that day I nestled her in the glider and let her drink as long as she wanted. I stroked her silky, straightest-of-straight hair and sang “This Little Light of Mine” to her and memorized her puffed cheeks and gorgeous eyes and pudgy little fingers and sweet sounds, and it was perfect. She is perfect.
Twice after that she physically requested to eat, pulling at my shirt and my bra, and I let her, but that golden afternoon was cemented in my heart as our last time. We spent the next few weeks working through my frozen supply, mixing it with whole milk, and I didn’t even try to check the calendar before I swirled the last bag into her sippy cup. It was okay. I was okay. She was okay.
I wish there were more stories of the victories. That there were more of us saying, “I did it. I did a really good job at it. I liked it. I love this. It is good. There’s honey with this milk, and it is as sweet as can be.” It’s a good thing to fellowship in the midst of the burdens, and it’s a very good thing to magnify the good. This thing we’re doing… we’re doing it standing together in the promised land. We’re standing in the wild, flowing streams of the milk and the honey. It doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. It means it’s good. And it’s okay to proclaim it.