This month our little man, our rainbow baby, perhaps our last little spawn, Dr. Baby himself, will turn one. On Thanksgiving day, no less. The full gravity of that didn’t hit me until I sent out the call for Booby Award milestones a week or so ago. My baby is a year old. He’s grown so much, of course, but he isn’t the only one who’s changed. He shook up our family-of-three-for-nearly-a-decade, and he has transformed me as a mother so much more than I ever thought possible. The last 12 months have been and continue to be enriching and enlightening. Such as this morning, when that age old question “Can a child breastfeed with ham in their mouth?” was asked. The answer is “Yes.”
Harrison Valentine made his entrance into this world in a birth pool in our living room, beside a roaring fire, with my husband, my mom, a midwife, her assistant (a doctor from Mexico), and my two very dearest friends present, after only about six hours of truly active labor (about nine total); labor that began a year to the day after suffering my second miscarriage. From the moment I pulled him from the water and Amy laid him on my chest, I was in love- a very different experience from the daze I was in after my previous C-section with his sister. Once the last of the god forsaken stitches were in place, and the birth team had gone home, and his father and I curled up in our bed with our new infant, the next few days became a blissful blur of fatigue, food (although I was up the very next day making macaroni and cheese- much to my midwife’s chagrin- my mom and stepdad brought Thanksgiving to us so we could rest), whispering visitors, baby cuddles and nipple pain.
The first four weeks of breastfeeding are the effing worst, dude. OMG. If I’m being really honest right now: had I not been an admin for the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition group, and the editor of the Whole Mothering Center newsletter, and involved in all our other breastfeeding/ crunchy/ attachment parenting groups, I would have given up. Through tears I yelled said to my husband, “I can’t NOT breastfeed! What will people think?! I’m going to do this!”* [*Edited for profanity.] I don’t remember pain even remotely like that with our first child, and it instilled in me a little more understanding for the mamas who really struggle, and sometimes eventually quit, in those early days. So, score one for peer pressure.
A baby wasn’t the only thing born that day last November. Nor was it just me and my husband that were changed. Our daughter; the only egg in our basket; the center of the universe; the first child, grandchild, and great-grandchild on my side, lost her Single Child status forever. The fears that I had about our sassy little nine year old seething with jealousy and resentment at the interloper evaporated when she held him for the first time and cried tears of joy. (Dammit, feels, get out of here! I need to finish this post!) To everyone’s shock, the moments of sibling rivalry have been few and far between. The most irritating habit she’s displayed in relation to her brother has been trying to tell me what he needs, what he likes, or how to mother him. Hello, I am your mother also, take a seat. She has been an immense help every day of her brother’s life, and I am so proud of the sister she has become.
It doesn’t keep me from wanting to strangle her on more than one school morning a week, because let’s be real, not getting a real night of sleep in over a year and then putting up with attitude because your older child didn’t get her crap together the night before is life right now. I love cosleeping, but it has not been completely without strife. When he was about five months old he rolled off the bed. Our king size, elevated bed. I felt horrible. Horrible is not even a strong enough word. I felt horrible times infinity. But because I’m an American mom in 2015, I also had to deal with the doubt that plagues our mothers today- Oh my God. If we didn’t cosleep, he wouldn’t have been on the bed to roll off. He would have been safe in his crib. Maybe They’re right. He shouldn’t sleep with us. It just isn’t safe. But then I’d have to get up 15 times a night to feed him. That sounds awful. He’d be all alone in a dark room. All by himself. He’s never been by himself. What if he’s scared? What if he aspirates in his sleep and dies? What if he gets cold? Or hot? He has to be with his mom. Babies are supposed to be with their mom. What if I sleep with him on the floor? Yeah, I’m not going to do that. He should stay in our bed. But what if it isn’t safe… Believe me when I say that it almost caused a genuine nervous breakdown. Over the course of a week my frazzled nerves- worn thin by lack of sleep, mild postpartum depression and a sense of being judged and doubted- could not bear this thought process. My husband truly saved me when he said “Don’t worry about it. I worry sometimes too, but then I think about all the babies that have slept with their parents for thousands of years. He’ll probably be ok.” He has been amazingly supportive, and I honestly don’t think I’d have made it through that drama without his man-words of support. And I don’t think I’d have made it to a year of breastfeeding if Harrison hadn’t been in our bed. He still wakes from 3-10 times a night, but I still feel it’s been the right choice for us. Almost a year in, getting a 4th grader and a baby in the car to get to school on time is not near the nightmare I feared it would be, but it’s still not my favorite. It is often the time of day that I look back on and think, “Ah yes, that will be the moment that her therapist points out as her ‘root’.” But then there are the mornings when Shelby still gives me a kiss unprompted before getting out of the car, despite my channeling Mommy Monster, and then the baby falls back asleep on the way home and I get to drink half a cup of coffee that is actually hot. I plan on attempting to night wean him after the first of the year using Dr. Gordon’s technique. I also plan on moving him into his sister’s bed (who, at 10, still begs to sleep with us because she hates to be alone). If I can shove both of those needy little cuddlers into a bed together and lay in my own bed with no one breathing on me, the rest of 2016 will be a piece of cake.
I’m not quite ready for our breastfeeding journey to end, though. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I miss not being touched all the time. I miss just putting on a bra and not thinking about it for the rest of the day. Not being in various states of undress throughout the day and night? What’s that like again? Then again, I am a fan of not having to make bottles, or constantly clean sippy cups (he does use a sippy cup, but often will just drink water out of my cup instead). I like not having to make food for him all the time, or spoon feeding him purees, only to see much of it end up on him and the floor and the walls. Not scrubbing mashed carrots off of things is the best. That’s right- my 21 pound, 30 inch-long one year old still gets nearly ALL of his nutrition from boobs. Breastmilk doesn’t stop being super food at exactly 365 days of lactation. And while it can get annoying, I believe that following his cues ala Baby Led Weaning is the better way to go. I mean, he’ll start eating more food when he’s ready. Right? Right? Probably.
My baby is growing up so fast, right before my eyes, and although I spend literally almost every hour of the day within arms’ reach of him, I feel like I miss so much. I know I’ll miss his grubby little fingers rubbing my face as he nurses, or feeling something poking me and fishing out leaves I didn’t realize he’d shoved into my bra. I’ll miss these attached little moments, the same way I miss the way he used to root around in his sleep, and stay in one place after I laid him on the floor. I’m sure I’ll miss the way he couldn’t talk back to me because I know I miss his sister not being able to.
This year has been tough, man. But it’s also been amazing, and filled with lessons both good and bad. I’ve learned to very clearly and firmly stand my ground about some things- like being sure I reiterate to healthcare professionals that forced retraction is NEVER ok– and that some things are ok to let go- like letting my grandma feed her six month old great-grandson apple sauce, his first food ever- and being content with it. I’m not quite ready for (what very likely is) my last baby to be a year old. It seems so final. It seems so complete, somehow. Like he’s a real person now or something. It’s been a real ride, but I’m so glad I had a ticket.
Anna- mom to Shelby, 10 years, and Harrison, 12 months- is Senior Editor of the WMC newsletter, as well as an Admin for WMC’s community pages on Facebook. When not fishing lunchmeat and foliage out of her undergarments she likes to make lists and tell people what to do.