I don’t really remember much of the first time I saw little dude. There’s a fuzzy memory of a baby being placed in my arms after my C-section and this feeling of relief that everything was over. The next memory I have of him is waking up in the recovery room and my husband bringing little dude over to me. That would also be the first memory that I have of nursing. It didn’t go well.
In fact, it didn’t really go well for the next several months. Little dude lost weight in the hospital. (He was in for ten days due to an unrelated issue.) The nurses and lactation consultants worked with me for days and finally, by the time we left the hospital, we had begun to hit our stride…or so I thought. A few days after we were released, I ended up with severely cracked nipples, horrible pain during nursing, and double mastitis. The mastitis and cracked nipples went away, but the pain during nursing stayed for months.
I went back to work after eight weeks and ended up pumping and supplementing with formula until little dude was six months old. (I finished out the school year and didn’t teach the next one.) Once the stress of teaching went away and I was able to sleep during the day to make up for the sleep I wasn’t getting at night, I didn’t need to supplement anymore. Unfortunately, sleep and less stress didn’t change the discomfort or complete aversion to being touched that I had by that point.
My original dream had been to make it to twelve months nursing and then slowly wean. I would have done that, but there was a problem. Little dude was nowhere near ready to wean. It wasn’t just that he was nursing for nourishment. Nursing was one of the few reliable ways to calm him down or to get him quickly back to sleep.
It was around that same time that I began to discover the incredible concept of the saints in heaven. Growing up as a non-Catholic Christian, I had never thought about the idea that there were thousands of people (potentially more than that) who were rooting for me and praying for me in my life. I had fallen in love with Saint Monica and Saint Joseph pretty quickly. It took a flare-up of touch aversion and mild thrush for the same to be said of Mary.
I remember laying with little dude on his mattress in his room. (We co-slept because he was still waking up multiple times a night and I needed the sleep.) It was probably 10 o’clock at night and little dude was on the way back to sleep. By this time, I was back to gritting my teeth and counting internally to get through the discomfort of nursing. As I lay there on the mattress, I went over the nightly promise to myself that, if this was how I felt in six weeks, I would quit. Just then, a picture settled in my mind. It was a picture I had seen a few days earlier of Mary nursing Jesus. (It’s called Maria Lactans art and I think every nursing mother – and the rest of Christianity – should see at least one such picture.) At that moment, the idea that Mary had nursed Jesus and dealt with all the issues that go along with that was incredibly comforting. I closed my eyes and whispered, “Jesus, if you do this, please tap Mary on the shoulder for me.”
Just like that, a calmness settled down over me like a blanket – a mother’s warmth that I hadn’t felt in awhile and I rolled over and hugged my son. The touch aversion didn’t leave immediately. (In fact, it took getting off of birth control six months later for many of the physical isses to subside.) I still experienced discomfort and frustration in nursing, but that picture of Mary and Jesus stayed with me and, when I needed that comfort, it was there.
Contrary to what I worried about, my son did eventually end up weaning around three. I made it two years past my original dream. The final grace that kept me nursing was finding a doctor to remove the birth control rod in my arm – and finding one within our price range. I am convinced that we found that doctor through Mary’s intercession – much like I am convinced that Mary looked down from heaven and saw a young mother who was struggling – not just to nurse a baby, but even with motherhood itself at that point – and said, “I know what it’s like. Let me help you with that.”