After tearing off the band-aid of breastfeeding we watched and waited as my little girl struggled to adjust and accept her fate. Lamb broth. One whiff can send any sane person running for the door. "What is that rotten smell that kicks up every other day?" our neighbors had innocently asked. Oh that? That's just my daughter's main food source. The kitchen walls dripped of it. This was our new normal.
When I stopped nursing and began eating a regular diet again I gained one pound per day for the first 10 days and another 5 in the next few weeks that followed. As I began to thrive my daughter began to slip - at first. I felt about 70% sure that I was making the right decision for both of us which somehow didn't help at all to lessen a whirlwind of grief, worry, and guilt. If I were my therapist I would have told me to feel the grief and let it move through me. I would have encouraged me to listen to my intuition about the worry in order to learn what it had to teach me. Guilt however, is a tough one.
As the nursing mom of a baby (then toddler) who reacted to all but 8 foods through breast milk I formed a sort of hyper-connection to this baby. It was like attunement on steroids. The simple act of licking the butter off my finger after spreading it onto my 5 year old's toast would have resulted in a chain of reactions including loss of sleep for a week because my baby couldn't handle the dairy that passed through my milk. For real.
For the first 16 months of my daughter's life I used separate cutting boards, sponges, and knives to prepare my foods and I avoided all food-related stimuli that exceeded my 8 item menu in order to maintain whatever shred of sanity I had left and keep my breast milk free of allergens. The layers around the role food played in my life peeled away until it was only about one thing - providing for this child. It was ALL about that. Mostly I felt grateful that what I was doing was working. I also felt like my hands were tied behind my back and I was starving all the time. It was suffocating. And then I was grateful again. And so on.
So even though it was my decision to wean, disconnecting from her in such an abrupt and visceral way was a shock to the system - mine, hers, and our family's. I am beginning to understand that the guilt I felt was a reflection of the enormous connection I had with her. It was the intimacy and dependency of the relationship a mother has with her newborn, but mine stretched well over a year. To tell her "No more," when she came to me to be nourished and nurtured by nursing was far and away the hardest thing I've ever had to do. She had experienced so much pain and fear because of how her body responds to food, and nursing was her way through it. There was an understanding she could fill up her tank when she needed to and it made her feel good. I was doing this for her! And then suddenly I wasn't.
Her sadness was deep. It shook us all. We all cried through it and when she (graciously) accepted the lamb broth bottles we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Our story is still being written, but now is the time to begin to notice what is working.
I have learned a few things about myself as a parent. While this is not my first rodeo, and it wasn't a cake walk the first time around either, I am now crystal clear on the following truths.
I learned that I know best for my child. I learned that through close observation and listening I could track what made her feel strong and what made her weak.
My job is to pay attention. I learned that she is the expert on what she needs and it's my job to follow her lead. I took a very simple but wholehearted approach to caring for this child with baffling immune reactions to (almost) everything, and things began to shift.
I believe the best kind of parent you can be is the one your child needs.
What can you do when it feels like you are chasing your tail at best, and possibly harming your child at worst? Listen closely. Ask your heart what your child needs, what you need, what your family needs and see what comes to the surface. Find people who will support you and listen respectfully while you tell your story. Open to the vast feeling of vulnerability and allow yourself to look around and see what it has to show you. If you can find a way to go there, you will be able to support your child with a clear heart and mind.
We hold the healing for our children until they can hold it for themselves. So, hang on warrior mamas and papas. And don't forget that you know your child better than anyone else. Trust in that.
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