Monday, May 23, 2016

And now we're done!

Or Chronicles of our breastfeeding journey!

So, it was the morning after Pickles was born. The nurse woke me up at 6 am and mumbled something about pumping. First I thought she was nuts. I had just gone to sleep at about half past 4am, after a particularly tough ordeal the previous night. I had given birth to my little baby at 33 weeks (he was born premature) And for a first time mother who had put aside a lot of reading about breastfeeding for the last trimester,  I had no clue what she was talking about. I barely even remembered I had given birth as I rubbed my eyes. And then it hit me, my baby would ask for food sometime soon from the little enclosure that he was put in the night before. I sat up worried and the nurse came back again, this time to help me express what was supposed to be colostrum. She said she wasn't sure there would be any as it may be too soon but to both of our surprise, my body had decided it was indeed ready to make food for the little baby. And there began my journey.

After that I started to pump regularly, every 3 hours on the clock. And the output got better and better. But Pickles could only get it through tubes and eventually through bottles, as they had to limit his intake. And the space in my freezer was filling up. I was determined to give him the best food I could, like I felt I had to compensate because my body couldn't hold him in for longer.  Like every mother, I wanted only the best for my child and I was as disciplined as they come. I don't remember any other thing that I've been so fiercely devoted to. And one particular day, the doctor said Pickles was ready to latch and we should try. And the nurse put him to my breast. I had no clue how this would work but the little guy seemed to know exactly what he was doing. He leapt at me, nursed like he hadn't eaten for days and then fell asleep contentedly in my arms. I can't even begin to describe how it felt but it will suffice to say that it was a very emotional moment for me. In that moment, it felt right. All the hard work, pumping every 3hours, everything seemed worth it.

And then we brought him home one fine morning. It was a new beginning for both of us and I'm glad we both came out of it pretty strong. I've heard a lot of mothers complain about the difficulties of breastfeeding and I'm not saying it was not hard. It was super tiring in the initial few months, to say the least. But I loved the bonding time we had, Pickles and I, especially in the middle of the nights. Call me crazy but I actually enjoyed the time when the world was asleep and we would wake up t nurse. It was as if we had stolen a pocket of time and kept it for ourselves to savour. Just the memory of it makes me ache to go back. But that is not to say that I don't remember feeling tired and angry at times when he wouldn't stop or wouldn't fall back asleep. Or the tired mornings when I had to go back to work. Or being so angry at R for snoring away when I was trying hard to put Pickles back to sleep and I couldn't.

When Pickles was about 3 months old, he started to get really bad diarrhoea and an even bad diaper rash. We saw many doctors but the problem persisted. One doctor asked me to stop breastfeeding, saying it could be the cause but after intense research of my own,  I refused to believe her. Some doctors said it had something to do with my diet and I changed my diet considerably, avoiding things like dairy that could trigger such a reaction. But it still didn't work and the diarrhoea persisted. Finally, we saw a GI specialist who seemed to think that Pickles was lactose intolerant. He asked me to stop breastfeeding and start feeding Pickles soy milk formula instead. I decided to give it a shot for a couple of days. This incidentally happened to be around my first "Mother's day". I remember spending it so depressed. A lot of people told me I was lucky I could stop now and that I would now get my body back, but I didn't want it back. I just wanted to nurse my child again. After that it still didn't help and I had had enough of this nonsense. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went back to breastfeeding Pickles and treating the diaper rash very aggressively. It worked! I was happy again but another problem them emerged out of this. Pickles was now refusing the breast. He had nipple confusion. Just as I was beginning to feel I had won over one battle, a totally big war was now upon me. Fighting nipple confusion took more out of me than anything I've known. I was torn between trying to nurse and stopping completely.  If you think I'm joking, try to feed a baby who is really hungry but refuses to eat. But I fought on, trying all sorts of tricks to get Pickles to latch again. And then one fine day, all was well with the world again! He latched on and I had won this round!

Around this time, I had to go back to work full time. Although I was happy to be up and about, I remember hating having to leave Pickles with a complete stranger. But soon G was not a stranger any more. She supported my decision to breastfeed Pickles for as long as I did. She would feed him whatever I had expressed, even at times when he was not receptive. She was such a great nanny that I started to worry that he would love her more than he would love me. But I needn't have worried. Pickles was always happy to see me after I came home and would then just want to be with me. Our bond was strong. I may be wrong but I believe it was breastfeeding that made the bond tighter. And contrary to all that I had heard, Pickles never had any confusion about who his mother was.

Going back to work was something I always worried about. I wasn't sure how I would pump when I was at work. We didn't have a mother's room (pumping room) but when you really want something badly enough, you somehow make it happen. In my case, my colleagues and friends did. At work, my desk was in a room with a bunch of other grad students like me, who would leave the room whenever I needed to pump. After a while, I didn't even need to ask, they would just walk out when it was time. I remember someone even put up a poster on the door when I was pumping, that said something like "Don't knock. Baby-food cooking inside" or something like that! And thanks to this kind of support, I continued to pump at work until Pickles was 18 months old. And then I stopped pumping. I started to nurse on demand whenever I was around and at night.

And so we continued. I've seen little Pickles transform from a little animal who would pounce on the breast when he was hungry to a little gentleman who would wait for me and then put his little arm around my waist while nursing and then again to this circus clown who would want to nurse standing up or doing all kinds of acrobatics. If nursing a baby is pure joy, nursing a toddler is total entertainment. Pickles would suddenly want to talk while nursing or wait until he finished and then suddenly say something very funny. We had our own code word, 'Nunnu'.  It was one of the first few words that he used. And then when he was about two, I started telling him he could only nurse at night. And so it became 'Nunnu-taachi' (meaning nurse and sleep). So whenever he was sleepy, 'nunnu-taachi', he would beckon. And he would run to our bedroom and sit at my pillow, waiting for me to come and nurse him.

At some point, I started to worry that I would never be able to go out late again. And I couldn't even go to a conference if I wanted to. And I was already dodging all the travel plans at work. I considered weaning Pickles but three things held me back. One, that I had always thought I would nurse him until he self-weaned (if such a thing was possible). Two, I was too scared to even try, knowing the amount of tears (for Pickles) and sleepless nights that would come with it. Three, I wasn't sure I was ready to let go just yet. Foolishly, I thought my baby would still remain a baby as long as I kept nursing him. And so, I put off weaning almost infinitely. On nights when Pickles would keep latching or latch and come back over and over, I would swear to wean him soon. I kept chatting with a friend and every time she would bring it up, it would remind me that maybe I ought to try. And then I would procrastinate yet again.

Until the dentist pulled the plug. Although people warned me about the ill-effects of nursing at night on babies' teeth, I had found equal amount of research that suggested otherwise which I was happy to believe. At his first dentist's appointment, we found out that Pickles had a developmental defect called Enamel Hypoplasia, which meant that his enamel was not developed properly. Although he had no cavities yet (!), the dentist said that Pickles teeth were at a higher risk for decay. And he gently suggested weaning as he didn't want to put him at any more risk that his teeth were under.
After much consideration, I decided to finally bite the bullet and do it. Weaning (and some sleepless nights) were scheduled on the calendar for the following weekend. I started preparing Pickles early in the week that his 'nunnu' would be finished soon and he behaved like he understood. On the first night, he cried himself hoarse when I said nunnu was finished but fell asleep eventually. I considered giving up so many times, but I just held on. He woke up many times and every single time, R and I gently coaxed him back to sleep with a sip of water. On the second night, he asked for nunnu and then told himself that it was over and fell asleep listening to a story. I wondered if it was so easy and when he woke up a zillion times that night, I decided it wasn't. On the third night, it was slightly easier. I felt depressed that maybe it is really over now. And tonight is the fourth. And he fell asleep easily enough.

And just like that it is over. I hadn't expected it to be like this but I think he will be over it soon. But will I ever be, of that I'm not sure!

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