Principle Number 2: Feed With Love and Respect
Long before I knew I was pregnant with LF#5 (Loin Fruit Number Five), I’m pretty sure that T-Bird knew something was different. We had just moved into a new home, in a new city, and I figured T-Bird was seriously ramping up her nursing efforts in order to establish some of the security she was missing. Surely, it would pass soon enough. Then I assumed I had come down with the flu—crippling fatigue and all day nausea. T-Bird needed to nurse more to receive those healthy immunities. Surely, it would pass soon enough. Sir Hubby was at work more and more growing the business we had moved to a new city to support. T-Bird wanted to comfort nurse because she missed her daddy, or sensed the added stress I was under when he was away so much. Surely, it would pass soon enough.
It hasn’t passed.
Historically, one of the most debilitating pregnancy symptoms I have always suffered from is fatigue. Major, first-trimester, life-stopping, crippling fatigue. The 4+ years of spacing between each of my children has always allowed me to take frequent naps. My eldest children were always at school, or big enough to watch a video and have a snack while I dozed next to them on the couch. This time, sixteen month old T-Bird takes one lousy 30 minute nap a day. The lack of sleep in the first trimester, plus the ramped up nursing, really took me out of life for a while. Even now, she has no interest in doing anything other than nursing. Well, nursing, and bringing me dolls, stuffed puppies, and sometimes shoes to “nurse” on one side while she nurses on the other. She is also insisting on frequent side-changes, and becomes displeased when I attempt to put a breast back in the bra…a real problem when she wants to nurse in public.
I have also suffered from Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex since I gave birth to T-Bird last March. In the beginning, it was overwhelming and I thought I was going insane. As soon as my milk let down, I would be hit with a rolling wave of nausea and a horrible feeling of panic…or just an overwhelming desire to “get out of here” (although I can never define where “out of here” actually is…out of my body? my mind? my thoughts?) I was so relieved when I learned about DMER and realized that I was not alone, or crazy. Knowing that it would be happening, and knowing that it was not serious helped me to live with it, and it vanished almost entirely in January of this year. Coincidentally, January was when I had my first period, which leads me to believe that my DMER symptoms are closely tied to my hormone levels. It recently occurred to me that the incredibly strong feelings of nausea I was having early in this pregnancy were probably very closely related to the amount of nursing I had been doing and that the DMER symptoms were amplified by morning sickness.
T-Bird is more committed to nursing than ever. She uses her sign for milk emphatically—sometimes using both hands instead of just one. She claps her hands when she sees me lifting my shirt or hears the unsnapping of my bra. She also uses her sign for thank you when I allow her to nurse. Such manners! Nursing seems to still bring her so much joy. How could I make the conscious choice to take that away from her? I have read that a decrease, or even a total lack, of milk supply is very common during the fourth and fifth months of pregnancy. What if my milk vanishes altogether? What will this mean for T-Bird? On the other hand, nursing 3 or 4 times a night, and every few hours in the day, has left me exhausted and cranky. I find myself getting upset with T-Bird whenever she asks to nurse. I deserve to feel rested and enjoy my beautiful family as well as my current pregnancy. If my milk dries up, will I be relieved that the decision to wean will be made for me? Or will T-Bird and I both be heartbroken that our special (yet sometimes strained) relationship will end? Is making a hard choice better than having it made for us?
In Adventures in Tandem Nursing, by Hilary Flower writes about the how important it is to keep all your options open and using these pregnancy and tandem nursing challenges to learn about yourself and what you are capable of.
A mother facing a weaning dilemma must often make a bold decision, one she considers far from ideal. A mother making this difficult choice needs to draw deep into her reserves for honesty and compassion in evaluating her own needs and those of her child, the courage to face the downside of her decision, and faith that she and her child can go down the road together as a team. In the end it’s a leap of faith. Faith not in tandem nursing or pregnant weaning, mind you, but in oneself as a mother. If your gut is telling you one thing, and your head is telling you another, go with your gut.
Ahhh. The head vs. gut dilemma. Sure, the part of me who wants a long bath, a big glass of wine, and a single-digit sized pair of jeans wants to quit nursing, to be done with this pregnancy stuff once and for all, and to go on a long vacation. Is that my head or my gut? I’m not sure, but I am sure that other than the long bath, those things are just not possibilities for me right now.
So what I am sure about? I am sure that I have always considered nursing my babies to be one of the greatest privileges of my life as a women, and one of the most important gifts I can give a child as their mother. The security, the comfort, the peacefulness, the lifelong health benefits. The quiet moments staring into each others eyes. Warm hands on warm skin. Soft, chubby baby cheeks. Tiny knees pressed into my tummy. Pats and grins. I know that in a few short months I will be nursing another baby full time, so weaning now would only provide a short respite from the demands on my body.
Now, 16 weeks into my fifth pregnancy, I still have DMER symptoms when my milk comes in, but they are not as intense and I trust that they will continue to improve everyday. Certainly, recognizing it for what it is has helped me cope and plan ahead accordingly. I try to eat and drink approximately 30 minutes before I think she will nurse so that hunger and low blood sugar do not exacerbate the nausea (my midwife swears that apples are a sure way to keep an upset tummy away). It usually passes within a few minutes after my milk letdown. Deep, even breaths and relaxation seem to help. Which also contribute to feeling grounded and present when I nurse T-Bird instead of feeling resentful or trapped by her increased demands for “nursie!” Another part of our new plan is to set clear boundaries for nursing. I make sure that T-Bird has plenty of food choices at each meal, and offer healthy snacks and drinks before I make the choice to nurse. We are working on cutting down to nursing four times in a 24 hour period: in the morning, at nap time, at bedtime, and once in the night. We nurse in the bed, only. Already, I feel better knowing when, and under what circumstances, I will nurse her.
I certainly do not know what the future will hold when it comes to tandem nursing a 20-month-old and a newborn. A lot might change developmentally for T-Bird during the next few months. Perhaps she will self-wean before then. Maybe I’ll end up being a full-time tandem nurser for the next couple of years. I do know that following the principles of Attachment Parenting will ensure that we both make it through all of our choices while remaining respectful of the needs of the entire family (me included). Without the support and love of our family, and our fellow AP’ers, I know that these past few months might have brought out the worst of my parenting tendencies. Instead, we’ve been able to rely on the lessons that AP teaches and have used these challenges to learn more about ourselves and to grow stronger as a family.
Now, if I could just get some sleep before the third trimester…
*Update 1/30/12: Since going gluten free and healing my gut in March of 2011, I have experienced ZERO DMER symptoms despite tandem nursing for another two years…and doing it while pregnant with our 6th baby. No symptoms AT ALL since March. More than ever, I am convinced that DMER symptoms are a sign of significant hormonal imbalance, inflammation in the body from toxic foods (like wheat), and serious vitamin/mineral deficiencies from damaged gut health. Please seriously consider removing gluten/wheat from your life and taking steps to heal your body with nutrition. Visit Heal Thyself to learn more about foods and lifestyle choices that can change your life.