It has now been over a year since I last nursed a child. I know a few mothers who didn’t enjoy breastfeeding all that much and were glad to be through with it, but I didn’t belong to that camp. I don’t love everything about babies or motherhood – trust me – but I did love nursing. And the specter of a nursing child curled into me visits me from time to time and reminds me of all that I miss.
I not only yearn the feel of a sweet baby in my arms, nestled close to me, or the hundreds of calories my milk-making body burned while I just sat on my bum. And, yes, filling more than an A cup was nice, too.
There was the awareness of my strength, my purpose as a woman and a mother that breastfeeding brought to the surface. Each time I nursed a newborn for the first time – usually immediately after birth and a few times with the umbilical cord still attached – I discovered a new brand of bliss. My baby’s instant acceptance of me, my body’s ability to bring forth new life and then to nurture it – how could I ever doubt my strength again?
Oh, but I have and I do pretty much on a daily basis.
I wish I could bottle up that fleeting sense of my power and worth, but there are many days when I question my mothering, my ability to be enough. Love offered through nursing was more than just sustenance. It was protection. I could keep my baby safe. Love was protection, but now that my children are growing older, it’s just love. And sometimes it seems there’s not enough of it to go around.
Nursing also gifted me with the perfect excuse to be still, to be quiet, and to do nothing while actually doing something very important – nourishing my child.
My Bible study group was talking about the challenges of finding quiet time to pray and to work on our relationship with God. All relationships take work; our union with our Heavenly Father is no different. We can’t expect to strengthen our faith if we fail to ever flex our spiritual muscles or think that just showing up at church on Sunday is all it takes to become a woman of God.
I’ve been struggling with finding time for God. My relationship with Him is in need of some work.
As I watched my friend and wise Bible Study leader nurse her baby, I remembered how nursing became a perfect time for me to pray. Breastfeeding gave me a frequent excuse to withdraw into a cloistered calm with my baby or toddler. (I breastfed all of my children for longer than what is considered “average” or sadly, “normal.”). Sure, sometimes I nursed while reading a book to an older sibling or even while grocery shopping. By the time Baby #3 came around, I became quite adept at feeding my little one in Ergo as I tackled my grocery list. Once an older woman saw a chubby little foot sticking out and asked to see the baby’s face. I had to turn her down because what she would have seen more of was a huge, milk-inflated balloon of a breast.
I nursed on demand and so frequently that I had to learn to multi-task, but there were many times – especially those early morning and late night feedings – when my child’s noshing session became a mini retreat for me. During these hushed pockets of time in an otherwise noisy day that was usually filled with sibling squabbles, little girls singing, a big-mouth dog barking, and the constant cacophony of a full house, I had time to just think, ponder, pray, and be.
The world around me blurred into a calm palette of simple beauty. I forgot about the drifts of canary yellow post-it notes reminding me of this and that. My to-do list didn’t seem essential when I was feeding a baby. Nursing made me feel accomplished and calm all at the same time. It was as if my baby wasn’t only sucking milk from me, but she was also taking the stress and my OCD tendencies away.
I would find myself watching my baby’s eyelids grow heavy with each suck while long eyelashes fluttered until finally the sleepy eyes vanished behind delicate eyelids. My baby’s breathing slowed, and I would feel her tummy rise and fall against my own. So often my child’s breathing and my own would become synchronized as if we were one lovely unit.
I’m not sure why, but I vividly remember marveling at my children’s ears while they nursed. When do you stop to consider the miracle of an ear – those tiny, perfect forms that wiggle as a baby sucks?
I’d hear my baby’s small gulps, which would start out almost frantic and then slow with my little nursling’s breathing, as my body nourished her. Sometimes even after my baby pulled off, her lips would continue to suck satisfied with just the memory of my breast. A tiny starburst hand would often hold onto the fabric of my shirt or little fingers would tightly grasp my own finger, and my baby’s strength would surprise me. I loved those baby hands, their softness, the tiny dimples where knuckles would one day emerge.
I have lots of knuckles around here these days; my growing kids are going on all Cubist on me and are all angles now. Only my youngest still has that dimply softness to remind me of his baby days, and I know in a year or so he will lose it and become lean and grow up as his sisters have.
I am guilty of painting the past as perfect. When people die, we rightly memorialize them and even glorify them. We mothers are sometimes guilty of this when we enter a new season of motherhood. It’s easy to forget the constant and sometimes crazy-inducing sleep deprivation, the inability to crack the cipher of a baby’s endless crying, the loneliness of mother-infant seclusion.
And while I truly did love the nursing experience, I do remember times when I was exasperated that my baby wanted to feed again.
Everything wasn’t always all sepia-toned, but there was something beautiful about those quiet nursing sessions when I was forced to slow down, when I had the ability to discern the smallest of details like my baby’s ear or the fringe of lashes on her eyelids, when there were very little distractions aside from my ticker tape of a mind and even that seemed to slow down when I fed my babies, when it was just my child and me set apart from everything around us, discovering our own world where we existed only for each other.
I long for more of those kind of moments. My babies all grew up so quickly. I have a 10-year-old who sometimes reads the same books as I do (Wonder, Grayson) and goes on runs with me and makes me laugh. I have a 7-year-old who loves animals and is kind and sensitive and writes me the most beautiful “just because” notes and birthday poetry. I have a soon-to-be 6-year-old who has started to read, loves to draw, and has a pitch-perfect singing voice. I have a little Todzilla who leaves messes in his wake, but also gives me more spontaneous hugs, kisses, and compliments (“Mommy, you look beautiful,” he tells me at least once a day) than I probably deserve. When I ask him to please clean his room, he says, “No ‘sank’ you.” He’s even old enough to exhibit polite defiance.
Several years ago a friend of mine told me she could see me having at least eight kids. Honestly, I could see it then, too. But now as my days of fertility are waning, and life is moving so quickly, I am accepting my family size as it is and I am also realizing I need to carve out quiet time whether I have a nursing baby in my midst or not.
I had someone ask me today if I wanted more children. I paused. I used to emphatically say, “Yes!” anytime someone asked me this, and a part of me will always – no matter how exhausted or overwhelmed I may feel – long for a baby, a new beginning, a new narrative of hope that begins with conception. But I also know that I am blessed to have the four lively children I have and that this new season is pretty, darn fun and that I can’t wallow in wistfulness for the past or long for a future that may or may not include another nursing baby. I don’t want to miss out in the life that’s right in front of me.
I love watching my oldest play basketball and be a team leader. I love having my 7-year-old bibliophile tell me all about her latest book. I love how my girly-girl 5-year-old accessorizes her outfits every day and asks to play with my hair. I enjoy my toddler boy’s silliness and curiosity and how his hugs are big, strong, and frequent. These little people are so interesting, so full of personality. It’s wonderful.
So I told my questioner this: “I feel at peace with my family right now, but I’d never say no to another child. We’ll see what happens.”
That’s the truth. I desire to live life in the present tense rather than pining for the future or dreaming of the past.
But whether or not I have a nursing little one around to remind me, I need to be aware of the importance of withdrawing from the world and the busyness life, and this doesn’t include exercising to fast-paced music (this is what my alone time often consists of these days). I may not be able to use a baby as an “excuse” to seek solitude and prayer or to graciously turn down anything that pulls me away from my primary vocation as a wife and mother or zaps me of energy and joy. But I don’t need an excuse to quiet my mind and my heart, to be grateful for the everyday glimpses of beauty that are all around me like those long eyelashes, perfect ears, smiles, sunshine-kissed hair, bright eyes of my children. They may be bigger, but they’re no less amazing
Baby or not, I must slow down long enough to appreciate life, to be still, and to know that He is God.