On January 17, 2015 we took to the woods, and there, bundled in our coats and hand knits, I and I snuggled together for her to have "milkies" for the last time. This is not how I ever imagined things going, hoping to let her gradually wean whenever that would happen naturally, but as I have learned along this journey of life and of motherhood things do not always (or maybe it's ever) go quite the way you expected. After a rough December of impossibles this was another impossible yet necessary move I had to make for our family and my health, even with the heart-wrenching pain that comes along with it and I think it's important for me to capture that story:
After birth she gained weight well and I was constantly trying to manage an oversupply, thinking that was what was causing some little issues we were having with her clicking, frequent spit up, near constant nursing after the newborn days were through, and many other things that all pointed to resolving themselves once my supply was more under control. The only problem was that even when I would block feed and have a more manageable supply it would quickly jump right up again due to her constant nursing and as time went on things continued to feel more uncomfortable rather than working themselves out.
Luckily, I eventually found my way to a nursing moms group and over the next few months as things weren't working themselves out I slowly started opening up to others and realizing that this just wasn't how things should be. I shouldn't be uncomfortable and my supply really should have regulated a bit more by then. It was slow going opening up and finding out what was going on as I thought I was just needing to handle it on my own. Others were coming in with newborns who would refuse to latch or were going back to work and unable to pump enough for their sweet babies, how was I supposed to bring up an issue of having too much? Eventually I did turn to the leader one-on-one and open up about what issues we had been facing. She checked inside I's mouth and with that we had our first clue as to what we were facing.
She recommended we go see a chiropractor who specialized in diagnosing tongue and lip ties and providing craniosacral treatments post tie-releasing procedures and we made an appointment right away. We got in right around I's first birthday and she found her to have a pretty severe posterior tongue tie (one that can be easily overlooked but cause large problems for baby and mom) and lip tie as well and recommended us to a local specialist who would be able to officially diagnose them and correct them if needed. We eventually got in to see the doctor and she confirmed the ties and performed the laser release. The procedure itself was rather quick and painless but still hard on all three of us due to her having to be constrained for safety reasons. It took less than two minutes and I stroked her and sang to her all the while, while also feeling guilty for not knowing sooner, for having to do this to her at an older age. They said to be ready to nurse immediately after to provide relief for her and because many moms notice an immediate change, making nursing no longer painful, but that wasn't the case for us and at her age it was really a hit or miss.
The aftercare was brutal, having to do tongue and lip stretches at regular intervals to avoid reattachment and having to be done in the middle of the night, waking her up to do something I could tell made her distressed but that was necessary if we didn't want to go through all of this again. Counting down the days was how I was living at that time, dreading each time the clock came around to another time for stretches. This is another thing that would have been so different had we known as a newborn. Most people I've talked to who have had that experience say the stretches are no big deal, just a swipe of your finger prior to nursing and then carrying on, but with an over one year old the distress and the physical strength exuded each time I had to do the stretches was overwhelming. About a week in we also had an extra uncommon obstacle thrown our way, one her doctor had never seen happen before, when one night she started bleeding from her mouth. We were told a bit of blood could happen during healing, but in this case the blood kept coming and quickly picked up in volume until she was vomiting up blood, covering her white onesie from head to toe and without us being able to tell what was happening. At the same time she was pulling chunks of congealed blood from her mouth and eventually a piece of what we could only think was tissue in the shape of her tongue. We quickly dialed 911 and had a paramedic at our door, but by the time they arrived the bleeding was slowing down and the vomiting had stopped. They talked through things with us and were able to assure us she was swallowing blood (bleeding from above the shoulders can apparently come at large volumes) and the upset to her stomach was causing her to throw it up and that the chunks were congealing as they rested in her mouth, but with a bit of uncertainty on the tongue shaped piece. They stayed for a bit but things having calmed down they recommended we went in to the ER to have it looked at whether we went with them or on our own, so we decided to go on our own. On the way there she slept in her seat, once waking up to pull a piece out and then falling back to sleep and resting peacefully. We sat in the ER parking lot for a long time letting her rest and waiting to see if the bleeding had really stopped and in that time we were able to get in touch with her doctor and talk things through and all together decided to let her continue to rest rather than putting her through more distress since we had now narrowed down where the bleeding had come from and there was nothing more that could be done, making plans to see her at her office first thing in the morning.
The next morning we went in tongue shaped tissue in hand and it was concluded I had a reaction to the numbing gel used on her ties before lasering (something they don't always use but had for her since her ties were so thick), something they had never had happen before in all of the many cases they had seen. This reaction basically caused a chemical burn to her tongue and as a sunburn would peel after a certain period of time, that's what had happened with her tongue and her scabbing and had caused this whole ordeal. While having an answer was comforting it was also heartbreaking thinking she could have been in any additional discomfort and the mama guilt was strong, even though I know there is no way I could have known about all or any of this, but still wishing I had and that it was all just a dream. We carried on as usual, but with permission to just do the stretches a couple of times a day and to not wake her up for them, which was such a relief.
The bright spot to all of this is that we noticed a change for I immediately. She was always an unsettled baby and suddenly she seemed happier and less stressed, like a pressure valve was released and she could finally breathe easy. She began tolerating more solid foods when she had previously still been gagging on many. She began making more variety of sounds and vocalizations. So many things changed that we knew that while it was a hard thing to go through that it was worth it to provide her with that relief, to help her release the tension she had no way to control.
Unfortunately the pain on my end only continued to increase. With children having the procedure at an older age (she was 1) their nursing habits and muscle memory are so fixed from doing things the same way for so long that there is no guarantee, but I stayed hopeful. I brought her for craniosacral adjustments up until the point where they could do no more (due to her fighting/biting of the doctors fingers) and her having really done all she could do without it providing any improvement on my end. I talked to lactation specialists and gathered any tips, but really we were left where we started, with her nursing fairly frequently and my nipples blanched and painful after each time.
Many may wonder why I would continue despite such pain, but I don't know how I could have stopped. Her milkies were everything to her, still such a huge part of our day and while the pain was not enjoyable it was something I had grown accustomed to and at that point was willing to put up with in order to provide her with that comfort, security and nutrition. At the same time I did eventually begin offering her a snack when she would ask to nurse after it not having been that long and trying to slowly help her along in decreasing the frequency of our sessions. Around 22 months she showed signs of being ready so we night weaned with ease and over the next few months I was able to gently and gradually help her along to only nursing before nap and before bedtime, with an occasional third time in the morning, but rarely.
Being pregnant at this time only meant an increase in the already-present discomfort and pain and I wondered how I was going to establish a new nursing relationship, how I would even be able to know things were going well with our second daughters nursing if my nipples were already so sensitive and uncomfortable, how I would stay sane trying to nurse a newborn all day long through that discomfort and how I would not become resentful over the entire ordeal. At the same time weaning I, taking away her milkies...thinking of doing so felt impossible. Eventually though, it was wearing on me so heavily (physically and psychologically) that I knew it would have to happen for the sake of our entire family, I included. So, now and then I would mention that one day the milkies would be gone and tell her all of the other wonderful things we could do together instead and I would try to put us in situations to cut out the nap time nursing by doing a car nap a few times a week if things would work out that way and there was a day or two where she didn't nurse at all just due to the nature of our day and travels. At that point we were only a little over a month out from my due date with number two and I knew I needed to do it now in order to have time to work through things with her before baby sister was here and nursing around the clock, so I decided on a day that we would share our last milkies.
That morning we went to the woods, enjoyed time in nature, and eventually when I was as ready as I was ever going to be and had found a nice spot, we sat down and I talked to her. I asked her if she wanted milkies and explained to her that this would be the last time, but that we would always be able to be close and share special time together. We talked for awhile and then she snuggled in and latched on and tears filled my eyes, my chest tightened and I felt like I was doing the impossible in willingly saying goodbye to these moment, but knowing it was what had to be done for us all. I let her see me cry, letting her know I would be okay, but that it made me sad and that I loved her and we sat with her nursing from each side one last time for a long while, holding each other close and taking each other in, gazing into each others eyes in a way that is so unique to the nursing relationship we have shared. When enough time had passed she sat up and I held her close and hugged her tightly and talked to her about how much I loved her and what a special person she was.
We then traveled to a place called Build a Bear together to have her create a special baby. She chose a dalmatian dog and I recorded a message from me to her onto a small device placed into her paw, letting her know she could always squeeze the hand and hear my voice if I was ever not near and she needed that comfort and that was that.
The first few days were hard on us both, more me than her as I felt like I was rejecting her and denying her of something so important to her, but we easily worked through those couple of tough times on her part and one night of us crying together seemed to really make an impact in helping her to understand it was hard for me too, that I wasn't happy to be leaving those times behind either. From that point forward she has mentioned milkies from time to time and we will talk through it but in general we are now at a good spot to move forward. There are still times I ache to pull her in, to let her nurse freely and to provide her with that comfort, but we have found our way on to other things and while nothing will ever replace those 2 years and 4 months we shared in our nursing relationship, I know there are so many other beautiful parts of our relationship waiting to bloom and reveal themselves in the days, weeks and years to come.
I know for some people the end of nursing is not such a big deal or it is something they look forward to, but for me it is hard. Staying strong and continuing through the pain in order to maintain that part of our relationship was not easy, sometimes it felt unbearable, but it was also such a rewarding and meaningful part of our relationship and not one easily left behind. At the same time, I look forward to starting a new journey with our second daughter who is due just three days from today. There is a part of me that has always wondered on this thing I always heard other moms talking about - about the flood of hormones with letdown that would leave them sleepy, elated and in love, something I have never experienced due to our unique circumstances. Maybe I will have that opportunity this time. I will never regret any part of mine and I's journey, but I want to feel that feeling, to have things as they "should" be this time around.
Meanwhile I will look back on our months together with her at breast with joy and with pride and while it is hard for us both I know our relationship goes much deeper than those moments and that our closeness will remain and continue to thrive in the years to come. I have always done absolutely all I could for my sweetest girl and I will continue to until my last breathe. She is more than I could have ever imagined, she is incredible.