A Letter to My Nursling...
Let me tell you a story, little one…
Way back before you were even born, your Daddy and I sat in a small classroom on cold chairs behind hard desks, and listened to a strange lady talk about breastfeeding. She was strange because, well, she was very excited about this thing called breastfeeding. And we were not so sure!
They showed us movies of babies trying to latch for the first time. It looked a little bit scary! Like pterodactyls, tiny baby pterodactyls, ready for lunch. I wondered if it might hurt. I wondered if it might not work like it did in the video.
But we listened and learned. I was glad that your Daddy was there.
We giggled a lot. We tried to focus a lot. I also ate a lot of snacks because I was hungry from growing you. And I had to sneak to the back and pee a lot because you were sitting right on top of my bladder, in my womb. Getting ready. Ready to be born.
And soon enough, ready or not, you were. You were here, and we held you and loved you and it was a wonderful thing. I cried, happy tears, because I loved you so. And I remembered the movies they showed us in that silly class, and they didn’t seem so silly anymore. But do you know what? You were like a baby pterodactyl.
When you decided to latch for the first time, you moved your way up from where they laid you on my stomach - wiggly, worming your way up… and you raised your tiny head on your tiny oh-so-strong neck, and you made this tiny but very loud sound. Just like a baby pterodactyl. You knew right away just where to go. You found my nipple and you latched on for the very first time. And you nursed for the very first time.
Oh, it wasn’t easy at first. In that first month, I had to figure out lots of things. Leaking milk, squirting milk. Blisters and soreness and strange new positions. I nursed you sitting up in bed, in the rocking chair, on the couch. I nursed you to sleep and I nursed you through wide eyed sessions. I got tired, sometimes, and even when you wanted to keep nursing I grew frustrated and peeled you off that latch and handed you to your Daddy. He’d take you in the shower or rock you or sing you songs. I’d relax a little, take a breather. And then, we’d nurse again. That first month was busy, oh so busy.
The next five months, I learned. We learned together. I learned to nurse you laying down. Oh, how that helped! I got a bit more sleep, and that helped too. At the end of those months, you were learning to sit, and my swollen breasts were starting to find some sense of normal. I felt a little more comfortable with me, and you felt comfortable with me too. You started to latch without me supporting you, to nurse while we slept without me fully waking. We moved together, like one. But you still nursed a lot. Oh you nursed a lot!
Between your six month “half-birthday” and the time you turned one, we did a lot of things together! We got out of the house often. We became pros at the carseat and the baby carrier and you took bigger breaks between nursing times. I learned to love wearing you in a stretchy wrap, and you could nurse there too. It took a little practice, but we got it. We nursed on the bed, in the bed, sleeping, napping, waking. We nursed walking and pushing a cart in the store. We nursed while reading books and while watching the squirrels out the porch windows. We nursed in a water park, can you believe that? We did. On a big inner tube on the lazy river, with a big ol’ hat over your head because it was awfully sunny out. I was a little nervous then, that someone might see me nursing you there. It felt funny. But it also felt right. You needed me. And I was glad.
As you grew, you started to realize that there were so many things to see and do. You twisted and turned as you nursed. Ouch! Sometimes that hurt. But usually it just made me giggle. Sometimes you nursed sitting up, sometimes you nursed in your soft structured carrier as we walked around here and there. We nursed on cold days and hot days and windy days. We nursed on airplanes, and trains, and sitting in the front of the car waiting to pick your Daddy up from work. Sometimes people made me nervous. But mostly, I looked down at you, and I felt ok. And often, when you were nursing people didn’t even notice you were nursing, and that made me feel a new feeling. Confident.
Around your first birthday you started nursing more and more! At first, I was confused. What’s with this? And you had started nibbling at lots of foods too, so I wasn’t sure if it was ok. But then, I knew that you knew. You knew what you needed. And so, whenever we could, whenever we were both ready, and whenever you wanted, we nursed. You nursed an awful long time at nights. I didn’t know then, that you had a pretty big deal of a thing called a posterior tongue tie. It didn’t let you nurse as easily as you should have nursed.
We got that revised with a laser, much much later when you were nearly three and a half. That restriction in your mouth meant that you couldn’t get the milk out very quickly, so you’d grow tired easily, and fall asleep still hungry, and wake up soon and want to nurse more. I didn’t know that then, I only knew you needed me, and you needed nursies, and so we nursed.
Sometimes, it felt like you nursed all. night. long. You were growing so much. And not just big and tall and strong. You were growing developmentally too. Learning new words, learning to walk and pick things up and learning that when I went around the corner, I didn’t disappear. There were a lot of things you had to learn! And did you know, that nursie milk helped your brain grow? It did. And did you know that nursing comforted you when things were scary or overwhelming or frustrating? Of course you did, you knew that before I did, I think. And so we nursed.
Sometimes people would ask me, “Isn’t it time to stop nursing now?” But I remembered that silly class back before you were born. About all the wonderful things about nursing. About how nursing was something special between me and you. And something inside me said, “don’t stop.”
And so I asked some friends I knew with toddlers who loved nursing just like you. And they knew what I know now, that nursing is for you and for me, and that all the wonderful things about nursing don’t stop being true just because you are one. Or two. Or even more. And so…
You grew from one to two. And my little nursling, you were a great nurser. You weren’t always a polite nurser… no. Sometimes when your teeth were coming in, they hurt! You wanted to bite everything, especially soft things, and sometimes you bit me. I yelped and sometimes I said words that meant “ouch”... and Daddy would hold you for a while and get me a cup of ice water and then when we were both ready, we’d try again.
Did you know that you can’t bite and get nursie milk out at the same time? We both learned that. We found some good chewing toys and biting toys that weren’t me. And we nursed on. Nursies are good for teething toddlers. Nursing is comforting too. Sometimes, you’d come to me, and lay your head on my chest, and ask to nurse. Sometimes, you’d scream and yell and shout. But we worked it out. And you learned that sometimes it was ok to wait, and I learned that it wasn’t a big deal to nurse wherever we were, so that I didn’t have to make you wait. And on you grew.
As you turned two, you started nursing more and more again! I remembered this from when you turned one, did you? But this time it was a little different because you were so busy during the day! So busy. When you nursed you wanted to sip and go. You barely stopped unless you hit your head or fell down or got very sad. Then you’d cuddle up to me and nurse and nurse. At night, you’d nurse a lot. I was pretty good at nursing while we slept by then. And so were you. We cuddled up together with Daddy in our family bed, and you nursed whenever you needed. Sometimes, we moved you over just a bit so Daddy and I could sit and watch you and talk and be.
Usually you fell asleep before us, and I would nurse you carefully to sleep in the rocking chair, singing you songs, always the same songs, and telling you the story of when you were born. That was your favorite story. I’d tell you stories of Frog and Bear too, that was your favorite made up story. And you’d nurse while I rocked and talked and held you. And you’d drift slowly off to sleep.
You grew from two to three. Three is big! It seems big, anyway, but now that you’re older three seems kind of small again. When you were growing from two to three, we nursed a lot in your carrier and at home in our family bedroom because that is where you were still.
Very soon after you were two, I started growing tired, and a little grouchy, and my nipples hurt, a lot! I’d tell you sorry, that I couldn’t nurse right then. You’d understand, mostly. A little baby was growing in my womb, and my body was starting to change before I even knew it! Did you know it? I think you did. You told me that nursie milk tasted like ice cream. And you hugged me a whole lot more.
You still wanted to nurse a lot, but I didn’t always want to nurse for so long. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable. Sometimes I felt grouchy. Sometimes I felt sick. So we made a plan. When I felt good, and we were home and you were not too busy, we’d sit and nurse as much as you wanted. At nights, when I didn’t feel so good, we’d play music, and I’d say, “after the next song…” and then you’d be done, and you’d cuddle up to me, and fall asleep. I’d sing you songs and tell you stories while you nursed. Just like before, only now, I held you over my growing belly, your long legs hanging off the side of the rocking chair or falling over mine as we lay in bed.
We didn’t go to a class then, because you’d already taught me a lot about nursing, and we felt ok to start again when baby came.
I was worried that being pregnant might mean there wouldn’t be milk for you anymore. I was worried it would hurt, to nurse you still. So we just nursed one day at a time. At night times, we gently, slowly stopped nursing and waited till morning when the sun came up. You stayed by me in bed, and sometimes when you had a bad dream or when you really needed it, we’d have just a few sips in those midnight hours. But mostly now, you slept right on through till the morning light. You were ready, and so was I.
And then one night, after a long day of shopping, I felt particularly uncomfortable. I put you to bed with lots of cuddles and songs and stories anyway. And I kissed you goodnight, my nursling. I didn’t know then that it would be your very last time as my only. The baby was coming! Things were not exactly as we’d planned or hoped, and we knew then that we had to go to the hospital. Late, late at night we called our neighbor, who you called “Nana.” She came to our home. You were sleeping. I lay down beside you and nursed you one last time, to make sure you would not miss me too very much when you woke and didn’t find me there. That had never happened before. But I knew you would be ok. And so we left you there, with Nana watching, and went to the hospital.
The very next day, Nana brought you to the hospital to see us. To meet your new sibling. I heard you in the hall. Your tiny voice. You seemed proud and worried and curious. When I saw you I put out my arms and Daddy helped you climb up in the bed. “Is it a girl?” you asked. And it was. You had told everyone, for months, that it was going to be a girl. You were right. And you oohed and aahed over her and I oohed and aahed over you both. And then, just like that, she got hungry again. And so you latched, together, for the very first time.
It wasn’t always easy, nursing you both. At first, when you were not yet three and she was still so small, you both wanted me constantly. We stayed in bed and cuddled a lot. But I knew how to nurse her laying down right away, and I knew how to wrap her in our woven wrap right away, and so we got some sleep and some walks in the sunlight and we did ok. We did more than ok.
When it got hard, we made a plan. We drew pictures and made a list and when you wanted to nurse we’d look at the list. Nurse in bed when you wake up, nurse together with your sister once in the morning. Nursies were for baby only at naptime (oh I loved naptime!) but then you had nursies all to yourself when she fell asleep (and oh, we loved that time too). One time to nurse in the afternoon, and nursies together before bed. And then you’d lay in bed beside us as I nursed her to sleep. You still do.
Just the other day you said to me, as you were dancing down the hall… “Momma, I can have nursies when I’m seventeen.” You don’t know how old seventeen is. To you, tomorrow is still forever. To you, five is still huge. I remember that feeling. And so I tell you simply, “if you need to, if you want to.” But I know, now, that you are nearly done. It is the end of our nursing journey. But it is not the end of us. I will always be your momma, and you will always be my nursling.
I hope you never forget nursing side by side with your sister. I hope you never forget these times. I hope you always speak fondly of nursies. Because I have loved nursing you.
And that, little one, is our story so far...