In my last trimester of pregnancy, a flood destroyed our home. The spring green nursery complete with washed and folded-hand-me-down clothes and a honey colored armoir that I had as a babe, was destroyed. All of it, most of our home and possessions. In a heartbeat. We moved into a hotel and I searched for hope that everything would be okay.
There were piles of dashed dreams, and soggy moutains of memories all covered in sheetrock and mold in a dumpster. Except for this one little thing. Scruffy, a favorite stuffed dog from my childhood, that I had intended to give to our son. My husband saved him from the heap.
Sean’s birth rocked our world when I was induced due to high blood pressure at 36 weeks. And without being effaced or dilated or in any way shape or form ready to birth a baby, my heart pulsed blood at an alarming rate and yelled “enough”. The birth was long and awful and as soon as my insides stopped making waves on their own, the unnatural, fist against wall Pitocin pain had me crying for an epidural. The labor became my nightmare.
But I pushed. And pushed more. And more than ever I thought that I could. The doctor cheered me on with his normally soft-spoke, Moroccan accent, as though my next push really might be the one to birth Sean. But hours passed with no progress, and finally the doctor produced a vaccum to help. It failed. And then it failed again.
And although Sean’s heart was strong and steady, mine wasn’t. So we shoved off to an even more sterile concoction of tubes and drapery and masks and burning skin. And Sean, my little fighter, was completely lodged in my pelvis with his sunny side up extra large head. Three doctors, tall and muscular, pushed with all of their might to free him from my clutches. I will never forget the guttural sounds they made as they tried to free my boy. My baby was cocooned in a narrow cavern, in a body that wanted to hold him for just a few weeks more but a heart that was exploding with yearning.
We both were in bad shape; exhausted from the journey. He quickly became too yellowish which turned to scary yellow. So he spent time in the NICU under the bilirubin lamps and was brought to me every three hours to breastfeed. My mild was nowhere to be found after three, four, five days and more. And looking at that squirming, thirsty baby, I called for a bottle. He was so full and happy.
I continued to nurse and pump and supplement. Every hour I was awake seemed like clockwork. Going through the motions. And for months I prayed and relaxed and took herbs and drank beer and waited for the full feeling in my breasts that never came.
I paid an astronomical sum for a lactation consultant to come help me and her advice was more of the same. But that’s not how this body works. In order to make rivers of milk, this body needs warm baby lips and belly on belly. But by then, Sean preferred a bottle, and one which I could only partway fill with my milk. As we grew to know one another, he nursed less and less, becoming more fussy and fidgety as I tried to hang on.
One morning at 3 am in the throws of a winter storm, I responded to him. Instead of offering him my breast first, I gave him a warm bottle and cuddled in. I stroked his bald head and the soft spot between the faint trace of two eyebrows. I listened to his gulps and breathed with him as the snow came in sheets.
I watched his eyes get droopy. And finally, after four months of feeling like a ticking clock, I relaxed.
I’ve written a lot about nursing my girls; breastfeeding relationships that lasted 16 and 18 months. Before this I’ve never written much about feeding Sean and about how simply okay I was when nursing ended at four months. But that’s not what I’m supposed to say. I’m supposed to own my mother warrior title for overcoming a first failed attempt at breastfeeding.
The truth? I tried my best. It wasn’t what I planned. But trying my best was good enough for the both of us. Listening to his heart and mine turned out to be the best thing ever. There was no failing. Only learning and moving on.