I don't usually publicly share my journal entries, but I'm going out on a limb here and sharing today's entry. If you don't want to read a sappy, emotional mom post then just x out now!
March 11, 2014
I think I just nursed my last baby for the last time. He is 16 months this week. I have been contemplating for a while to know when it was time to quit. I didn’t want to have to use a bottle (another habit to break later) so I knew that I would nurse until he was comfortable and proficient with a sippy cup. I also didn’t want to quit for selfish reasons like just wanting my body back or going on a trip (I’m not condemning anyone who ever stopped for those reasons. I just didn’t want to this time—I have in the past). So last month when we went on an amazing trip with our friends to Cancun, Mexico, I pumped every morning and night while we were on vacation. I wanted a peaceful answer to be done before we left, but it didn’t come. I’m experienced enough now in the torture of regret so I packed my breast pump (really more like an old friend). It has been with me through 7 children including the full time employment while nursing the first two and the PICU stay of the 3rd and everything else for the other 4. It took up almost half of my small carryon suitcase. (We didn’t want the hassle of checked baggage). The peace of mind was worth all of the clothes and shoes and things I left behind!
Yesterday morning I woke up (after being woken multiple times in the night with a 16 month old terrorist demanding to nurse before going back to sleep), and I thought to myself for the umpteenth time, “Maybe it is time to be done nursing.” This time, unlike the previous times, I had a wave of peace wash over me, and I knew it was time. So I didn’t nurse all day yesterday until just before bed-- that was more for my comfort than his. Then I brushed his teeth, helped him with his prayers, and laid him in his bed with his binki and favorite blankie. I love watching how he does it the same every time. On his tummy, head to one side, shoulders pressed to the mattress with his palms up waiting for the soft velvet touch of the blankie with the baby blue satin trim. His fingers take hold on each side and draw the material into clenched fists while his wrists wrap the softness once around bringing it in close to his body.
He went right to sleep. I had noticed last evening while we were playing at the park that he might be starting a cold as his nose was running a lot and getting thicker, yellow mucus. I felt sabotaged. I knew he would be waking in the night even more than usual. In my mind I thought, “It just isn’t fair that he would get sick just as I make my decision to be done nursing. Maybe I should wait?” I wavered for a moment, but went to sleep resolved that it was time. Sure enough he was up 8 times in the night; I held strong all 8 times and did not nurse him even though he cried and begged.
This morning I had to wake him to drive the kids to school. I let him drink his sippy of milk on the way, and then we came home, and I gave him cut up French toast (leftovers from his siblings. While feeding a family of 9 on a daily basis, I’ve learned a few short cuts) while he finished drinking his sippy cup. After which he begged for a bath. By begged, I mean squirmed and wriggled off the changing table and ran straight to the tub in my bathroom and started climbing in. I conceded to his wish even though I had bathed him last night after the park. There is something indescribable about watching the joy of a baby in the bath so I decided to enjoy today (a rarity since I usually have every minute of every day over scheduled). After he was dressed, he played with the kitchen and dishes that his five year old brother and seven year old sister left set up in his closet for a while and then moved on to the tinker toy concoctions built by his older siblings, and he even found a blue marker and wrote all over his face and hands and perhaps other hidden spots waiting to surprise me later. Of course I was wiping up counters and sticky syrup off the kitchen table, picking up piano books thrown across the living room, folding and putting away clothe, and other mundane overly repetitious tasks .Suddenly he was no longer content. He walked to his crib and reached through the cherry wood slats and pulled out his white and baby blue polka dot blankie. With the blue satin trim clutched in his right fist, his left fist was pumping open and shut (sign language for milk), and he ran to me and grabbed my hand and led me to the bed where he climbed up with his blanket and waited expectantly! We have nursed most of his life with him lying on his favorite blankie with me sidled up next to him. In fact as early as 6 months old he would recognize what was coming as I would lay the blanket down and then him, and then begin to lift my shirt and lie next to him. He would lay there with the biggest gummy grin and clap wildly, excited and waiting! I will miss his nursing clap.
It is with such bitter sweetness that I arrive at this moment. I am hoping that writing my feelings can ease the sadness of the moment. I love the power of sustaining my baby with my body. There is such a satisfaction of being able to nourish each of my babies with myself. Life giving life! I love the gulping sounds of the newborn and the chubby hand of the 6 month old patting my breast as he sucks. I’ll miss the fish eye glance, eyes locking and grin mid suck that brings us both to giggles. I am grateful that I was able to do this for all 7 of my babies. I really have spent just over half of my 14 years as a mother nursing a baby!
It has come with a price and a huge time commitment! I still remember the rock solid pain of engorgement, the fever of mastitis, the cracked bloody nipples of some less than proficient beginners, the precious lost sleep, the stress of running home to relieve an overwhelmed husband or babysitter from a hungry baby or waiting too long and round wet circles on the front of my shirt announcing it to the world. There is nothing like a nursing baby to teach an overwhelmed mother how to schedule and multitask with a baby nursing at the breast, toddler sitting at her side listening to a storybook or at least pointing out pictures before turning the page, while interjecting homework helps for the kindergartener, while dinner cooks in the crockpot and boys race around the room alternating between playing and fighting. I couldn’t do this after coming home from the hospital with my first, but I’m pretty fluent in this type of scenario now!
The reality is I had 7 kids within a 12 year span. I have spent most of my motherhood feeling overwhelmed. I am not the mother I envisioned before my first baby was placed in my arms. The endless hours of fantasy play, peaceful picnics, serene walks, cuddled one-on-one time, night time story reading, baking culinary masterpieces, exploring the great outdoors, attentive conversations, blissful romps on the trampoline, wonderful wisdom imparted at just the right moment, soft whispered secrets, gentle butterfly kisses on the cheek, my talents being skillfully taught and absorbed by these miraculous beings who are a part of me……I live with a lot of regret.
I don’t regret having children, or the number of children, or even the rapidity in which we chose to have children. I live with the regret of not being the mother I thought I would be. Sometimes I let regret rob me of the satisfaction of the progress I have made; the joy of the mother that I am becoming!
It is true that I yell too much; it is true that I do this in spite of knowing how damaging it is to a child’s (or anyone’s) spirit. It is true that I have endless checklists whether written or mental, and I race around so focused on completing tasks that I am totally missing out on living; it is true that I do this even though I know my children and people around me are more important than any one thing I am doing. It is true I am a poor listener and I lecture too much; it is true that I do it even though I know the importance of listening and discovery learning. I could fill this page with examples of things I’m doing wrong even though I know there is a better way. I am often left feeling like an even bigger failure because I am once again failing at something I desire to do better. I am learning the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is truth confirmed to my soul telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. Changing my body and spirit to act accordingly is the process that brings me to wisdom. Wisdom is applying knowledge.
I started this year 2014 with one goal “No yelling!” I failed the first day and almost every day since then. I have wisely modified my goal, “Yell less”. I’m finding some success! And so it goes with all of my faults and flaws. I’m slowly improving and slowly evolving. I have discovered that my problem lies not so much in my vision of the “perfect mother”, but in my expectation to BE the perfect mother! I too often forget the process required in becoming. Vision is good. It is necessary even. In Proverbs 29:18 we learn, “where there is no vision a people perish.” Vision provides something to strive for. My motherhood vision problem is that my twenty something year old self didn’t know that sick-baby sleep deprivation is much different than self-inflicted, out all night with my friends, sleep deprivation. My sunnyside vision of motherhood was shaped without any personal experience with the darkside of motherhood to go along with it. It is ok to strive for those sunnyside ideals of motherhood, but I now acknowledge that I’m fighting through the trenches to get there.
A lot happens in my daily life that causes my voice to erupt. Nine people under one roof, 9 different personalities, 7 of them subordinate to me yet often they disobey me. There are deadlines to be met, pianos, trumpets and voices to be practiced (preferably not at the same time and how to avoid the fight of whose turn to go first), children to be listened to, sporting practices to be attended (usually with overlapping schedules), laundry to be washed, cuts to be bandaged, floors to be mopped, food to be cooked, hearts to healed, floors to be swept, children to be hugged, don’t even mention the homework, and despite my best effort the bathroom still smells like pee most of the time! I still hope that one day I can check “No Yelling” off my list!
Today as I close this chapter of my life as a nursing mother with a 14 year old daughter and five more miracles in between, I will not let my imperfections and failures rob me of the real successes and joys of my motherhood today.