Personal Essay: All the Milk

Mona Altman, Eden Prairie, Minnesota

Editor’s Note: This essay was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of Northern LLLights, the Area Leaders’ Letter for La Leche League of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

As I sit down to write these thoughts, I am in the midst of weaning my third baby. Samuel is one month shy of three; the ultimate age in his mind. He has grand plans of how he will learn to drive a truck when he is three, as well as how he will take on all of those pesky little life jobs such as dressing himself. He also has decided that at three he can be done with nun-nuns. I am giving him a bit of a head start on this one. After tandem nursing for the past 15 months, I am ready to have one nursling again – mostly ready. And Sam seems ready, too – mostly ready. So, we are going for it.

When a breastfeeding journey stretches over 35 months, weaning appears as a slow and gradual process. I suppose Sam has been weaning for something like two years now, as he has increased the family grocery budget with his appetite and grown from my sweet babe-in-arms to this life-loving little man I now behold. Whenever I reach this point, when I see nursing truly coming to an end, I grow a bit nostalgic for the time that was. I find myself wondering, “Just how much milk did I make for my Sam?” How curious I would be to quantify this act of love. Measuring before my eyes the gallons of precious nourishment I have made and given. As anyone who has tried it will acknowledge, breastfeeding can be tough at times.

Tandem nursing has been especially hard for me. While some struggle with those early days of infancy, it seems the days of toddler nursing are the difficult point for me. I have learned a lot about how nursing is a relationship and how to create loving but firm guidance about nursing manners. When little brother Henry was born, I knew Sam was not ready to wean completely, but I also knew I needed some limits for him. Using structure and routine, we were able to help Sam know when and where to ask to nurse so that the answer would be yes. I didn’t want to be constantly refusing him, which was hard on our relationship, but I also had to be honest with myself and know that saying yes to every nursing request wasn’t going to be good for us either. With my guidance, he learned that we only nursed in the morning, at nap, and at bedtime. And then we only nursed in his room. And then we dropped the morning nursing, which was hard on busy family life.

In the midst of this give and take of mother and child, a global pandemic hit, changing life as we knew it, and making me more determined than ever to continue to nurse both my little ones. It was one thing I could give them. Putting them to my breast was my little act of hope. Now Samuel naps peacefully after asking if he could nurse and me saying no again. I have said so many times this week, “It is sad when the nun-nuns are all done. I am sad, too,” but each time this phrase has been accepted, and he has cuddled into bed for some sleep, his little blonde head resting next to his stuffed Sasquatch who has been affectionately mistaken for a monkey. I creep back in to check that he is asleep and take one more look at this peaceful innocence, and I am happy. Happy I have given when it was hard. Happy I gave what I could even when I couldn’t give everything. I know Sam likely won’t remember breastfeeding, but I hope he will know that things worth doing are worth doing well and when you think you can’t give anymore, give a little bit more anyway. Even if it is just a drop of milk.

Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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