Thursday, April 14, 2011

Guest Post: Our Unassailable Bond

I'm pleased to present a guest post today from K. Emily Bond, Writer, Editor, Researcher and Blogger Extraordinaire! 

Through blood and tears, breastfeeding fortified our unassailable bond

Once upon a time, pre-baby when my life was one big ball of crime writing ambition, I had a literary agent who told me, “I was not someone who had to have a kid, you know what I mean?”

I can’t resist the impulse to fact-check. The preceding was an estimation of what she said to me in my heavily pregnant state—and I don’t need to remind you how reliable our memories are 40 weeks into gestation.

Basically she was conveying that “maternal” was not a state that came naturally to her. Breastfeeding on the other hand, the most primal of maternal acts, caught her by surprise. This, I remember her saying pretty accurately: “The thing I miss most is nursing.”

I didn’t get it at the time. Her kid was a teenager whose best friend’s dad was a famous rock star. Clearly, a lot had transpired since she weaned: first steps, first words…first VIP passes to the MTV Music Video Awards. How could nursing be the thing she reflected on or even missed the most?

Now, six months after my son and I have weaned, I’m starting to get it.

In the beginning…

For me, nursing was an exceedingly difficult physical challenge. I had a C-section, for starters, and at one point during the birth had been put on antibiotics. As such, my body and son’s mouth became a Petri dish for sharing candida: the dreaded oral thrush. Ouch.

For weeks, I endured bleeding, cracked nipples, piercing razor-like pain that shot through my breasts like daggers each and every time my son latched on. Taking a shower was an event I dreaded because I knew at some point water would have to come in contact with my tender nipples. And, truth be told, every time my little bundle of discomfort—sorry, joy—wanted to nurse, I’d cringe: “Oh, no…not again!”

Those initial months…well, they sucked. And, oy vey, could that boy suck—with the ferocity of a Hoover, or a character out of Twilight.

Come hell or high water, though—or in this case, cracked nipples or bleeding—I made a commitment to my son and to myself to keep on nursing. And we did, boobs in tact.

What saved our nursing relationship in the end was La Leche League International, Nystatin, dietary changes (more leafy greens and yogurt; less refined sugars and carbohydrates) and these:

Yes, I spent much of my babymoon looking like a 50s pinup girl, but breast shells were essential in helping my body heal so that I could start enjoying nursing.

A nursing revolution…

Nip slips never bothered me. It didn’t matter where I was or how shocking it might have looked in an Ikea aisle, house of worship, pancake house or shopping mall. If it was time to nurse, the boobs came out. I got the occasional comment, sure. But nursing was too precious of a bond to be cut short by a guy who said stupid things like, “You need to give that baby a biscuit,” with his pregnant wife in tow.

My attitude was, “if you don’t like it… stop looking.” Perv.

In retrospect, I did perhaps take some perverse pleasure in shocking dudes like that. I felt like a revolutionary demonstrating to the world how natural it is to integrate nursing into your daily life. It was a bit, “look at me – I can nurse and shop for groceries at the same time!” but it was true…with a good baby carrier, anything is possible.

To demonstrate what an avid outdoor nurser I was, check me out on the city bus:

And, at dinner:

I don’t think I look like that much of a weirdo or even, at second glance, that much of a revolutionary.

End of a nursing era…

Nursing was non-negotiable, a decision I am so proud of making. Also non-negotiable, my end date. By the time my son turned two, I’d been regretting that decision for two months.

Perhaps regret is not the right word to use. It felt right to stop nursing. At twenty months, I was getting fatigued. We’re a co-sleeping family and the nighttime nursing was becoming a serious issue. His teeth, too, were a problem. Those early physical pangs started coming back, which I took as my body’s way of telling me it was time to put the boobs back in the holster. Honestly, I wanted my body back, too. Over the course of a few weeks, our nursing came to an end.

Guess what? I was floored by how sad that made me. The warning I had received so long ago in that tower in midtown Manhattan from one of the toughest women I’ve ever met came back and punched me in the gut.

My son and I had forged an unassailable bond through nursing. It’s how we got to know each other. How I conveyed to him for the first time that, as his mommy, “I will never give up on you, even if it makes me bleed.”

That, however, is a lesson he might not fully comprehend until he becomes a parent himself. Just as I didn’t comprehend how much love my parents have for me until I became a mother. That’s a subtlety that’s revealed itself over time, though. In my brief narrative as a parent I have received three big, concrete lessons, weaning being the most bittersweet of all.

The first one I learned from my C-Section: acknowledging my mortality. The second from nursing: mother boldly and fearlessly. And the third: trusting when it’s time to let go.

I sometimes check in with my son to see what he remembers about nursing. For instance, when he wanted to nurse, he would pat my breasts three times and tug at my clothes. Now, when we joke, he pats my breasts three times and dissolves into a cloud of laughter. He remembers…he knows. It’s unassailable, that bond.

Díga(Mama), a.k.a. K. Emily Bond, has worked for lots of newspapers, magazines and online media gigs including O, The Oprah Magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Village Voice, The Daily Beast, iVillage and more. She's now a WAHM living la vida social y real from her little corner in España.

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