Friday, August 6, 2010

It really IS "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"

My baby boy is growing up. He is almost one now. And he has decided he does not want to breastfeed. The night of August 3 at bedtime he refused the breast by biting every time he went to latch. He had been biting lightly once a day for about 3 weeks but I would say "No Biting!" and set him away from me and take a break and then he would try again without biting. This time he kept biting and then cried when I offered him the breast again. After about 15 tries I got the message. He cried for hours, soothed by nothing except my reading to him. He pointed to each picture on the page and looked at me to name what he was pointing at. It was like he was telling me this is what he wants me to be for him now- his teacher, his guide, not his milk supply. It was heartbreaking and also admirable. He fussed a lot as if he was vocalizing what I was feeling and finally fell into a fitful sleep. In the morning he still would not breastfeed. He bit again. He would not take a bottle or a sippy cup of frozen or pumped milk. I could only get him to take 2 sips of breastmilk from a glass that I held up to his lips. He ate about 4 spoonfuls of plain yogurt and then pushed all other attempts away. He screamed and cried the whole time. And so we read. He pointed and I named. I got the girls to summer school and then I called the doctor's office and asked the nurse if I could give him regular cow's milk at 11 months. She said no. Not until 11 months 2 weeks at the earliest. She scheduled him for an appointment with a doctor that afternoon to make sure he didn't have an ear infection. I finally pumped- just for relief. He would not take the pumped milk in a bottle, sippy cup or glass. I called a lactation consultant and she was very kind and empathetic. She said she would guess he was sick and to keep trying, that I was doing all the right things. I needed to hear that. It was so hard to not be able to soothe him and to not be able to feed him. I needed to cry, but I knew that if I started I would not be able to stop. So I picked up the girls, took him to the doctor. He was fine. The doctor said he could start cow's milk with a vitamin supplement right now at 11 months. We got home from the doctor and I realized I had not eaten all day either. I looked back and all three kids were fast asleep in their carseats- the one break in the baby's screaming all day. I drove to Marin to get myself lunch at in-n-out burger. I forgot there was no drive-thru there. So I sat in the parking lot while my kids slept grateful for the quiet trying not to cry. When they woke up all three were cranky. We went in and got food and ate it in the car. Carter spilled her milk all over the car floor. David screamed for french fries. I wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep for days. On the drive home the baby screamed and the girls tried to sing to him in such a caring sweet way. The "Maint Req'd" light came on on my dashboard. Time for an oil change. I first thought- great- one more errand I don't have time to do. One more thing that my husband will prioritize over all the other things that need to get done when he is home. But then I thought: I wish I had an indicator light. I need to maintain myself too. I need to eat on time. And shower. And reach a minimum of organization so that I can relax and enjoy my house without dreading the attic or the garage or the drawers. I am a mess right now. Sad without an outlet. Rationally knowing why yet not able to emerge from the sadness. My baby is growing up. He does not want to breastfeed anymore. I am proud of him, but I also wish I knew that last time was the last. He is my last baby and I am saying goodbye to his total dependence on me. Saying goodbye to his infancy. I miss it. I know I will grow to like having it behind me, but it has gone so painfully fast. I treasured more of it this time. I relished those quiet moments with his baby's breath on my skin, the scent of his hair. But I can't hang onto it forever. In one night it was gone forever. I was not ready.

I am recovering. He finally finally took a bottle and with that boost of calories, stopped his incessant screaming. Some twisted part of my brain is making me think I should pump for 2 more months so that this baby gets breast milk as long as my first two did. So I am scrambling to fit 4 pumping sessions in to my already disorganized schedule. Pumping, bottle feeding, washing pump and bottle parts, tending to all 3 kids and the dog, trying not to mourn too much the passage of time. I can focus on the good of it- I will have my body back, other people can help feed and soothe him, he can get other comfort from me, he is growing up and is thriving and healthy. I am thankful. I am sad. Dave Eggers' title was exactly right.


  1. Aw girl, I feel for you. Mine rejected me way earlier but it's sad all the same. The last baby, the bond with one is a bit stronger off the bat and all, and having to suffer through all that crying. You are a hero for surviving it and your acceptance is graceful and beautiful to behold.

    As for pumping I hope you have a hands free pumping bra so you can do things with both hands while you're pumping or else you're nuts. Also I hope you're renting a hospital grade one so it goes fast. You need to put your sanity as job number 1! And do you have the microwaveable sterilizing bags you can buy? Makes the cleaning so much faster. I'm sorry for the mourning, I know it hurts and not many people understand if they haven't gone through it.

    I wish you the best and am thinking of you. You rock as a mom.

  2. Just read this post and it made me feel sad for you again. I know how this feels with your last baby - your detailed description of how he had his little rituals when he nursed made me remember how Natty would always put her little hand under my sleeve - I loved it. (Now she does it every once in awhile just because). The only good thing I can tell you is that as your babies grow, you learn to love every age they are because they are just such fascinating characters. Then, one day, you look up and you have all these grown people walking around your house and you really like them! Hang in there, no one ever figures out how to have the perfectly organized life, except maybe Martha Stewart, and she doesn't seem that happy, so it must not be all it's cracked up to be. Just know that you are such a great mama to three kids who adore you and a husband who totally loves and respects you, even if he occasionally gets snippy over all the toys everywhere. I know he secretly misses the lovely chaos of family life when he's away.

  3. Thanks for the poignant passage into your beautiful soul. I think you will always have some feelings of grief for the "loss" of your babies. As this wound is covered by so many wonderful layers of the new person they are becoming, you think about it less often. But then they will be 33 years old and you will feel it all over again.