Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thankful (breastfeeding mentioned)

Pam, of Portland's LaLeche League, this is for you.

Connor, my oldest, was 10 weeks old and I was beginning to panic. In two weeks I was going to have to return to work, and he was not taking a bottle.

I'd waited to introduce the bottle until he was about 6 weeks old, heeding the advice about nipple confusion. I'd followed the tips of taking a walk and having Gary give him a bottle in my absence. The theory was that if I was anywhere near he'd be able to smell my presence and the bottle would be rejected.

Gary tried, my MIL tried, my friend Monica tried, a whole host of friends tried. Walking past the house I could hear him wailing.

I threw prevailing wisdom to the winds and tried myself. Nope.

At 11 weeks I felt compelled to confess to the woman I'd lined up for day care. She was understanding; said her own child had refused the bottle.

I'd cut my work schedule way back. I arranged it so I would work a two day stretch, have three days off, then work four in a row, then back to two days. This meant working every other weekend when Gary could be the caregiver. Therefore, Connor would only be in daycare two days a week.

I think I believed a miracle would occur and he'd be feeding from a bottle before he was 12 weeks old.

He didn't.

My first day back at work he woke in a particularly smiley mood. It just about killed me when I turned him over to Petra. When I called a few hours later my heart sank to hear his cries in the background. She said she was trying to work with him. I called an hour later and she said that wrapped in my shirt he'd taken a full bottle. I rejoiced and relaxed.

He never took a bottle again.

At week 8 Petra told me she couldn't take it any more. Honestly, I couldn't either. He was going 9 hours without food, sometimes longer if he didn't happen to be hungry just before I took him to her house.

I went to my bosses and told them I had a problem. I told them I'd lost my day care and why, and said that while he wasn't feeding from a bottle I'd probably lose any other day care as well. I asked for another month, maybe two, off until he was old enough that he could take my milk from a cup. They said they could not give me any more time. They implied that if I withheld nursing long enough he'd "figure it out."

This left me two options. Force him to take a bottle by withholding nursing long enough, or quit my job. I'd worked for this group for 17 years.

Just as my parents had not lived in a cultural context that made it possible to co-sleep with their infant, or feed on demand, it seemed inconceivable to me to give up thousands of dollars of income because my baby wouldn't accept anything but my breast. At the time I was the sole source of income and insurance benefits for our family, because Gary was in business for himself. His business was supporting itself, but I was paying the mortgage, and the bills. Losing my income meant living out of our savings, and it meant forfeiting the matching benefit my company would pay into my retirement: the contract stated I had to be working until December 30 to receive the match. It was late November, so I was missing the match by about 6 weeks.

There was nothing in my experience that would make that course of action make sense, but neither could I withhold from my baby what he loved so much. He was already going without eating for nine hours straight, and then when I come for him I'm to deny him? I was anguished, and talked to my Laleche leader, Pam.

She mused, "It's funny how there's all kind of support for taking out a loan for a house, or for a car, but we never think of taking a loan for a baby."

Those simple words provided the perspective I needed. I knew that my baby was not going to have to be the one to give because he was the weakest link in the chain. What was important was to honor his very impressive will, not overpower it. I went in to work the next day and gave notice.

It still makes me weak in the knees to think of how close I came to doing what would have broken my child's heart, and would have done great damage to my vulnerable conception of myself as a mother.

I'll be forever thankful for those chance words at just the right time that gave me the support I needed to make the right choice.

Thank you, Pam.


Wordgirl said...

Oh I am smiling a huge smile over here.

Thank you for this post -- so much is unknown to me right now -- but what I do know is that there are times we have to honor our hearts -- but it is difficult when the prevailing culture, as you so eloquently put it, is telling us otherwise -- this post made me feel very validated in some strange way -- and I'm not even there yet.

XO to you on this Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for your thoughtful presence which I rely on more than you might imagine out here in cyberspace.



Ailey said...

A most beautiful post, dear friend. And a window into a time in your life before we were friends. I don't remember you ever sharing this with me. It was so beautifully shared here, though. I really appreciate your way with words and your strength of heart, that shows so clearly in this story from you life.

Love and Hugs...

Ailey said...

Ooops a PS...Is it any wonder that yours and Connors bond is as it is?

Melanie said...

What a great post. I am in the "do what it takes to be a good mother" category of parenting, and really can appreciate the stance you've taken. I think we do ourselves and our children a disservice if we do not do what they need us to. :)

excavator said...

Thanks Pam, Ailey, Melanie. And Melanie, welcome to my blog. How nice of you to stop by and comment.

We're often expected to choose between the sensibilities of others and the needs of our children when we parent. I'm very grateful for the occasional nudging we get from the universe...all of my training all my life predisposed me to the other choice. I really needed that chance remark from my friend Pam 12 years ago so I can look back through the years now and feel the relief of having made the right one.

Pam Hogeweide said...

I am Pam, retired La Leche League leader.

This post was written in November. I have not spoken or seen Ex since our baby boys were, well, baby boys. The intersection of our lives was brief and intense, and then she moved away.

Fast forward about 13 years. At a literary event over the weekend I recognized a face. "Oh, I know you!"

A happy reunion, talking and listening as much as we could squeeze into the chance space we found ourselves in. She told me this story and I nearly cried.

As I read the post this morning, I weep. That simple, forgotten conversation was barely a blip on the timeline of my life, and yet for Ex and Connor, it was a signpost. Today, for me, this comes full circle as this story is a signpost for me.

I have been meditating and writing about finding meaning for our lives in the ordinary course of everyday living. This story of Ex's is not epic; it lies on the heap of the mundane and unremarkable. Yet it's simplicity became a candle in the dark for a woman trying to find her way. A candle doesn't seem like much until the power's turned off.

Today, Ex, you are my candle to me as I am finding my way in the dark with my words and stories.

I am so glad we have reconnected. Check your email! Hoping to have coffee and much more catch up time with you next week. And soon we must get all of our children, who are now teens, together in one room, if only for a brief glimpse of the young men they are becoming.