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Every morning at approximately 6:15, Elise, my 19-month-old, wakes, calls for me, and then begins to chant, "Milk, milk, milk." Before smiles, hugs, or even a simple "hi," she's focused on nursing. Last week I decided to cut out the morning nursing session in my first formal attempt to wean her. But she's still chanting. Luckily, a bowl of dry cereal distracts her enough, and she doesn't give breastfeeding another thought until bedtime.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I decided to begin the weaning process. While I didn't need any reason other than sore nipples (ouch!) to help me make the decision, the real reason is purely selfish. I want to be done with breastfeeding for a while.
Shortly after Julia was born, I remember that first terrible moment in the hospital room where I sat propped up, gown dropped, my breast fully exposed, with the nurse grasping my nipple and plunging Julia's face into the flesh of my breast. After several failed attempts, the nurse instructed me to switch sides. We tried again with no luck. The next morning a lactation consultant helped me get Julia latched on, but the success was short lived. Julia wouldn't latch on for long and when she did, it was extremely painful.
When I got home, I got in touch with a local breastfeeding center and worked with another lactation consultant. For weeks I endured painful nursing sessions even though I worked with the consultant almost daily. When Julia was eight-weeks-old, I was just about ready to throw in the towel. But something wouldn't let me give up. I felt really committed to breastfeeding even though it was so challenging for me.
Thankfully, one of the consultants at the center finally figured out the cause of my pain. I had a condition known as Raynaud's phenomenon of the nipple. Basically, when Julia latched on, my nipple would spasm and cause terrible pain. After the diagnosis, I was able to get treatment and go on to breastfeed Julia until she was 15-months-old. But I always had periods of time when I experienced some discomfort, so breastfeeding has always been somewhat of a challenge for me.
When Elise was born, the Raynaud's returned. Unfortunately, the vitamin treatment that helped relieve my pain with Julia was having no effect this time around. To make matters worse, I developed a fissure--a small tear on the nipple--and I was unable to nurse on one side for several weeks. Needless to say, I was exasperated. I couldn't understand why breastfeeding had to be so hard for me.
I spent many countless nights, with either Julia or Elise restlessly trying to latch on to my breast, tiny hands clawing at my skin, and me crying my eyes out in exhaustion, pain, and frustration. I felt like a total failure. For most of my life, things have come pretty easily for me. I couldn't understand why the one thing that seemed like it should come so naturally was so difficult. It pushed me to my absolute limits. But I never gave up. I've given up on other things in my life, but these were my children. It wasn't an option.
Needless to say, I'm nervous about breastfeeding another baby. I'm not sure what difficulties I'll experience this time around. So with that in mind, I think it's fair to give my body a rest before I begin the whole process again. Tonight will be Elise's last nighttime nursing. I would like to say that I'm sad. But I'm not. I'm happy that despite the struggle, we lasted nineteen months. I'm happy that I experienced the magic of watching my baby being nourished and comforted by the one thing that only I could provide, even if it took so much out of me to provide it.