by Emily Zarek

12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days.

My son, my baby, my last child, turned one this week. It’s the end of an era in more than one way. I’ll never have a baby again. He started walking two weeks before his birthday and each day gets faster and a little more heart-stoppingly dangerous as he totters about his world. (His sister was never this much of a daredevil–I never seriously felt that her life was in danger if I left her alone for a moment. He’s giving me a run for my money.)

It also marks the beginning of the end of my last nursing relationship. I was fortunate to nurse my daughter for 22 months. More or less easy, straightforward, enjoyable. Her brother, of course, didn’t follow her lead, and was a challenge from day one. From tongue and lip ties, to a diagnosed “personality problem” (aka losing his ever-loving mind the minute my letdown stopped), to faltering weight gain, supply dips, triple feeding, and pumping–so much pumping–my nursing relationship with my son has been anything but easy. Anything but straightforward. But at its heart, it has been enjoyable.

And that’s why I persevered. Despite the moments I cried in frustration, the moments I got unconscionably angry at a small baby who refused to latch and eat, the moments my husband wanted me to quit for all our sanity, the moments friends and IBCLCs told me it was okay to quit (I knew it was okay –I always knew). Despite all that, I’m glad I didn’t. I love nursing. I love the weight of a baby pressed up against me. The feeling of chubby fingers winding in my hair.

In the beginning it seemed like breastfeeding would go smoothly. After a more or less uncomplicated delivery (again, so different from his sister, despite being 9.6 pounds to her 7.5 pounds), we enjoyed skin-to-skin cuddling, and he latched fairly quickly. (His sister’s delivery was more precarious in nature, and I didn’t get to nurse her for several hours after her birth.)

But that was where “smooth” transitioned to “shitshow.” After his first day with us, he began screaming inconsolably when I tried to nurse him. The LCs at the hospital couldn’t see anything wrong with his latch. I didn’t feel any pain, but he had trouble maintaining a latch for more than a few seconds. Despite this, his sugars were stable and his diaper count was on point, so they discharged us without further ado.

At his first pediatrician visit, however, he had already lost 10% of his body weight. My milk had been slow to come in, and his fussiness feeding hadn’t helped matters. Unable to cope with listening to him scream, we decided to supplement with formula while I pumped to try to stimulate my milk. I don’t regret this decision; he was hungry, and I refuse to starve a baby. Thankfully my milk did come in shortly thereafter, and his weight began to climb. Technically he always gained “enough” weight. But my gut told me that he should be gaining more. He was huge at birth, and was dropping percentiles fast despite gaining the appropriate six to eight ounces per week.

He was diagnosed at the Birth Center with a suspected posterior tongue tie and an upper lip tie, which we had revised at two weeks. Unfortunately not much improved after this procedure, and the stretches, and the craniosacral therapy that I resisted at first but ultimately gave in to out of desperation. He still struggled to maintain his latch, had poor suction, and would angrily pop off when my letdown stopped.

At six weeks his weight gain halted. He may even have lost a little. Although my milk had been slow to come in, once it did come in it came with a roar. I had an oversupply that kept his weight going even though his performance at the breast was sub-par. But once he hit six weeks, my supply down-regulated and although it was still a normal supply, for a baby who was “living off the letdown,” it wasn’t enough.

And so the pumping began.

From six weeks to four months, I was in a cycle of triple feeding: nurse, pump, bottle-feed. I did this for four to five feeds a day, every day. And it worked–his weight gain rebounded incredibly, and he started climbing percentiles instead of dropping. Ironically my returning to work at 12 weeks likely helped my sanity–at least at work I was only pumping. Once he turned four months I decided to start weaning off pumping at home. My supply remained strong, despite having dropped down to just pumping before bed. And somehow… we managed to coast along. My supply held in there, with occasional dips that I addressed with adding in a pump here and there, or taking fenugreek for a few days.

At six weeks, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to two months. But weeks turned into months, and now here we are.

A year.

And we’re still going! I’ve begun dropping pumps at work. I am so, so, so ready to be done pumping. I don’t resent my pump–without it I wouldn’t have made it a year. But I’m ready for an amicable split.

Where will the next few weeks, months take me? I don’t know. I don’t have any particular goals. With my daughter my goal was a year, and anything after that was a bonus. Weaning with her went smoothly, as everything did. Somehow I suspect this dude will once again give me a challenge I won’t anticipate.

I have so many pictures of him nursing. I never took our nursing relationship for granted, so I took a picture whenever I could. His behavior at the breast isn’t always pleasant. Although he likes to hold onto my hair, this also manifests in yanking my hair as hard as he can. Other tricks include shoving fingers in my mouth, up my nose, or pushing my head back and forth. He’s not a “calm” nurser, unless he’s actively falling asleep. Then he holds onto his own hair, and settles in. And I breathe him in.

My baby boy. Happy birthday.

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