Monday, May 4, 2015

Tale of a Second Nursling

A few years ago I wrote Juliana's nursing story, and I wanted to record and remember my nursing journey with Adalyn as well.

I think even Adalyn was shocked by the speed with which she entered the world.  She wailed loudly, protesting the harsh transition. But as soon as the excitement died down, she happily settled down to nurse. I loved being able to provide her with such a safe place in the strange new world - the warmth of mama's skin, a known voice, a familiar taste, a first and continuing connection.

But after her good start, Adalyn was sleepy and not so interested in nursing. The hospital's lactation consultants offered assistance, but when we left the hospital after two days, she was still not nursing well.  I wish I had asked for more help, but I figured we could work it out at home.  Besides, I had already done this before so surely I should know what I was doing, right?  Of course, Adalyn was just learning everything for the first time.

My milk came in by the second or third day, and since Adalyn wasn’t nursing so efficiently, I quickly became super, painfully engorged.  It caused a high enough fever I had to trek back to the doctor the day after leaving the hospital so they could rule out uterine infection.  Armed with pain medicine and cabbage leaves, I improved over the next few days.

The first weeks were rough.  I contracted mastitis twice in two weeks time - super high fevers, painful swelling, the whole works.  I have rarely felt so terrible in my life, but a hungry baby was always waiting, and of course nursing - the last thing you want to do - is one of the things you have to do constantly both for your sake and the baby’s.  During the worst of it, Kevin laid Adalyn next to me in bed and helped get her latched on since I couldn't sit up.

Thank goodness we were still with my family.  My mom, who has years of experience dealing with sick kids in the middle of the night, took over when I couldn't think clearly.  She helped get my fever down, called my midwife, and made trips to the 24hr pharmacy for more antibiotics, and she took care of everyone during the days of recovery.

Around this time, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding arrived from the library.  I read it practically cover to cover, even the parts that didn’t really apply to me.  I realized how much I had forgotten about nursing from the first time around.  It was so affirming and normalizing.

The mastitis finally improved but I was left with what appeared to be a plugged duct.  After working at it for days with no success, I went back to see the hospital lactation consultant and was examined by my midwife, who thought it seemed more like a cyst than a plug.  She scheduled an ultrasound and mammogram.  We spent the afternoon at the hospital, but fortunately the cyst turned out to be harmless and didn't need any extra attention.

Finally we reached the end of the first month, and things really started turning around.  During that first month, I was so grateful for my previous nursing experience to look back on.   I kept reminding myself, "This is worth it. It will get better. You really loved nursing."

Even in the pain and difficulty, there were sweet moments during that first newborn month.  The wailing impatience of a hungry baby instantly satisfied by the breast.  The milk-drunk baby who cannot resist drifting off into sleep. The tiny hands that reach and knead.  Waking up to discover you and baby have both fallen asleep nursing side by side.  Such closeness.

And things did get better after the first month.  At least until the second month, when I discovered another plugged duct.  After working and working at it with no success, I finally went to see the doctor, who ordered an ultrasound.  The results of the ultrasound were inconclusive, so a biopsy was done.  The whole process took weeks since it was over the holidays, so I had plenty of time to imagine tragic scenarios.  Finally I got the results - everything was normal!

And then, it really was smooth sailing.  Adalyn was a faster nurser than her sister, averaging 20 minutes a session instead of 45, which made a big difference, especially during the night!  She nursed often during the day but went for longer stretches during the night, so I really couldn't complain.

As Adalyn grew, she was also a much calmer nurser - perhaps because she was used to constant distractions.  She focused without too much difficulty and attempted much less acrobatics.
Her first birthday passed by with no thought of weaning.  What was a decision with Juliana - extended breastfeeding - was never a question with Adalyn.  It seemed perfectly natural to keep nursing, not “extended” at all.  We gradually reduced sessions until she just nursed before nap and bedtime, or occasionally during the day if she was fussy.  I would sometimes bring her into bed in the morning to nurse, but she rarely settled back down.

She derived great comfort for nursing, and I loved the connection with my busy toddler.  She loved to hold my hand or play with my fingers while she nursed. When she was feeling tired or sad or lonely, she would cry, "Naptime! Naptime!" Which I eventually realized meant nursing.  

Then one day at about 19 months, Adalyn abruptly stopped nursing.  One day she was happily nursing and the next she refused. I thought it was teething, which were obviously making her miserable, but as the days passed with no further interest in nursing, I knew she was done.

She nursed longer than many babies do, of course, but I was still sad for our nursing relationship to end.  I wish I had warning so I could capture those last days of special closeness.  I missed our time of cuddling, which she now had no patience for, and we had to work out a new bedtime routine.

Now I sit beside her crib and sing her a few songs while she sits up and pushes her face between the bars for kisses.  It's not the most calming routine, as it keeps us both laughing, but it's also irresistible.

I am grateful for the 19 months I had nursing my sweet second baby! 


Nate and Molly said...

Thanks for sharing! Peter nursed for 19 months too, and while I knew he was weaning by losing interest, I was glad I didn't know that his last session was his one so I didn't have to feel emotional. I'm happy for you that you've had 2 successful nursing journeys--what gifts!

Nate and Molly said...

His *last* one