Thank you, Eliza of "The Painter's Wife"

If any of you have read my previous entry, you'll know that I'm struggling right now with breastfeeding Little C (as I've said before, I use the term breastfeeding very loosely. In my case, breastfeeding means exclusively pumping breastmilk for my baby). I am at a very challenging point in my breastfeeding journey and just today, I found a new tear in my nipple, right beside the last one that just healed. Sigh.

Because of the difficulty that I'm having right now, in addition to all the hurdles that I've had to overcome in the seven months or so that I have been religiously pumping breastmilk for Little C, the past few days have found me seriously considering transitioning him to formula. I'm also struggling with the question of weaning. The how isn't a problem. I know I just have to gradually cut back on my pumping sessions and my body will stop producing milk. The question is when. I don't know when I'll be able to feel okay about not expressing milk for my son's consumption. Most of the exclusively pumping moms I know stop after their baby's first birthday, and right now, I'm making that my soft deadline. Emphasis on the word "soft". Right now, I'm imagining it to be Little C's first birthday, and I'm transitioning him to formula and I just feel sad.

This quote, shared by Eliza of The Painter's Wife on Facebook, came at just the right time.

To Mommy Eliza, thank you. This post, which may or may not be a casual "share" on your part, has inadvertently given much needed encouragement to a fellow mom to keep up in the quest to give my son the best there is. I hope one day, in my own way, I'll be able to unknowingly help another struggling mom the same way you helped me today. :-)

Happy day mommies!

The Question of Weaning When You're Not Direct Feeding

As of today, my breastfeeding career (including both direct feeding and exclusively pumping) has lasted seven months and twenty-three days. A little over two months after I gave birth to Little C, we had our first official day without formula. Approximately three months after giving birth, I reached my peak production level of 36 ounces of breastmilk a day.

Shortly after that though, I had a serious case of clogged ducts, which left me weak and feverish for about two days. Since then, my breastmilk has decreased considerably, which meant that formula-free days were again far and few in between. I was hoping that eventually, with a little bit of persistence, my supply would go back to the way it was before I got sick, but I've had no luck. I remember feeling very despondent, and I wondered why it was so easy for others to produce milk. I felt really bad because I haven't been negligent. I've kept to a strict pumping schedule, taken all the supplements I could and just plain refused to give up. Eventually, I consoled myself with the thought that as long as I had enough to give my son, then I was producing just the right amount.

When Little C started eating solids, I had a two-week streak of no formula days, and I was even feeling a bit proud, because there would always be a stockpile in the ref of several small bottles of expressed breastmilk, enough to tide Little C over even if I spent most of the day out of the house.

Then, for some reason, just a few days ago, Little C's appetite kicked up a notch. Or several notches. Suddenly, my small, precious stock of milk was gone. I could barely keep up with him, and our level of formula supplementation was as bad as it was when he was first born and I was still trying to establish my milk supply. Added to that, I suffered from a tear in my nipple, which grew larger and larger by the day, making it pure hell for me to express milk. I figured it would heal itself, so I kept pumping to produce milk, but it just kept getting worse. When I finally saw blood come out from the wound, I had to consider whether I should stop pumping to let it heal.

I was in a quandary. If I stop pumping to let it heal, my already meager milk supply would decrease even further, but if I don't stop pumping, I would make the tear worse and run the risk of it getting infected. Eventually, I decided to pump on one side, and just hand express the milk from the breast with the tear. So far I've been doing that for the past three days, even in the middle of the night.

But for the first time, I had to give serious though to whether it was time for me to stop giving milk to my son. I wondered if this was my body's way of telling me to let it rest and that what I've given was enough.

I couldn't sleep that night, and the one question that was bouncing through my mind was, "Should I stop already?" I had to admit I was tantalized by the thought. I imagined all the ways my life would be easier. No more lugging around my heavy breastpump bag. No more tightly scheduled outings. More time to work. No more sore boobs and nipples. Getting to wear a normal bra for a change. Getting to buy clothes just because I like them and not because they would let me express my milk more easily. MORE SLEEP. Wow.

Then I look at Little C and I can't bring myself to do it. Because he's a younger child, I didn't have the one-on-one time to spend with him the way that I did with J. Because he's my second baby, I didn't feel the necessity of asserting my maternal territory by insisting on doing everything for him, from burping to bathing to changing diapers to putting him to sleep. I let the yaya do all that, because I knew that not doing all these things doesn't mean I love him less. But giving him my breastmilk? That was my gift. The one thing I do for him that no one else ever could, and in addition to giving him unlimited hugs, kisses, cuddles, this was my love language for my little boy.

My son adores me. I am his favorite person in the world. He looks at me and I see in his eyes that he loves me. He's always so happy to see me, and no matter who's carrying him at the moment, he will hold out his arms to me the minute he sees me. If a new person suddenly carries him and he gets scared, he searches me out and begs me with his eyes to come get him. When we are in a room together and I suddenly disappear (to go to the bathroom or to chase after J or to get something from the other room), he always looks for me.

I am overwhelmed by how much he loves me, and I am overwhelmed by how much I love him. And so now,  even with my tired body and battered breasts begging me to stop, there's that little voice in my heart that tells me to keep going, just one more day. For him.

Now, with the amount of breastmilk that I produce decreasing with each pump, I am confronted with the thought of how to stop. It's not a question of when. I think deciding to stop giving him breastmilk will be difficult for me no matter when I do it. Despite the fact that it will make my life easier, it is an agonizing decision. And unlike moms who direct feed, weaning will be more difficult for me, because my son is never going to say no to breastmilk.

It's a difficult decision because I know that so long as I keep at it, milk (meager as it is) will come out. But at what point do I say that it's the end of the road for us, and it's time to stop? And how do I do it without feeling like I am taking something away from my son?

I don't have any answers to these questions at the moment. It is something that I am struggling with, but for now, I'm glad to have gone through one more day where I have given my son the gift of mother's milk.