Posted in Blog, Emotional wellness, Family life, House and home, Life as a mom, Mother, Shawna

Mama Bear in a pink bathrobe

It turns out I am not a super-cool 20-something wearing stovepipe jeans and an understated T-shirt, drinking a PBR and affecting boredom while listening to a live band.

On the contrary, turns out I’m now the nemesis of such a person. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I hit my mothering low. I mean ROCK BOTTOM. Q went straight from yucky cold to epic teething to first sore throat, and somewhere during that last transition, she stopped nursing. I don’t mean that she started to wean by dropping a feeding a day, no, I mean she nursed one late morning at 10:30 and then she just stopped cold turkey. The sight of the breast made her sob. Sometimes she would try to latch on but wouldn’t know what to do next.

Those of you who’ve studied The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding or any other nursing tome know what this is. It’s called a nursing strike, and it’s when your baby stops breastfeeding because nursing is physically painful or emotionally traumatic for them due to illness or something their mama did that made them angry.

I was pretty sure it was the sore throat, teething, et al that was the culprit, and my doctor agreed. But when you’re pumping seven times a day while caring for a sick baby and sleeping like two hours a night for two weeks straight, your mind finds lots of opportunities to revisit the “something their mama did” possibilities. Was it taking away the ball so she could take her bath? Pulling that piece of plastic from her mouth in yoga while the whole class watched because they thought she was choking? Was she just tired of nursing on the damn nipple shield we have to use because she can’t nurse otherwise?

I think it might be hard for people to understand just how traumatic the strike was for me (not to mention for Quinn). I mean, my baby is 11 months old, she’s eating lots of solids these days, and I know lots of mamas who’ve stopped nursing way earlier than this. But I believe that babies should be nursed through their babyhoods, and to me that’s at least 18 to 24 months. The World Health Organization has my back on this one.

I know that’s easy for me to say as a stay-at-home mama who doesn’t have to pump three times a day, five days a week. I have many friends who work full-time and I think they are all amazing. I understand when they give up on pumping at work after months of misery (For my part, after six weeks back, I chose to quit working rather than pumping, but I realize how lucky I am to have had a choice). For the most part, I blame our society and our government for this, and not mamas. If we valued care of young children, American women wouldn’t have to associate breastfeeding with the smell of poop and air freshener, staring desperately at old pictures of their babies as their breasts are prodded and pinched.

But I digress. Breastfeeding has been a battle for me from day one when my baby girl, born without any drugs or interventions, crawled herself to my nipple but couldn’t latch on. The first months were hellish and the pain was the least of it. Thanks to the nipple shield, an eyedropper and an amazing lactation consultant, we were able to forge a rough nursing alliance but it was still on the rocks for the first five months.

Still, it has always been worth it. I know that nursing gives my baby girl comfort and attachment and nourishment and it gives me those good mama hormones and a few minutes of rest to reflect on how happy I am. And at 11 months in, I was pretty happy. Nursing was finally working for us, nipple shield and all.

Enter the nursing strike, and those horrible early weeks came flooding back. The pumping to give her bottles. The eyedropper used to entice her back to the breast. The sobbing and frustrated baby who just wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t. Me having to affect an air of nonchalance and serenity throughout it all. It was all eerily similar, especially the misery.

It was about 50 hours in to the strike when my neighbors, ubercool 20-somethings who really need to look into renting in the U District (did I mention I am 30 now?) decided to have an open-air concert IN THEIR BACK YARD complete with amps.

I had just gotten Q to sleep and had actually managed to slip out of the bedroom. This was an amazing feat, since she had been sleeping almost exclusively on my chest and in the crux of my arm throughout the whole cold-teething-sore throat-nursing strike debacle (Did I mention I also had a staph infection on my breasts and had to rub cream on them every time I was not nursing or pumping?).

It was about 9:45 p.m., and I trudged my sad, dirty, messy self into the living room to pump for the bazillionth time that day, defeated by yet another no-go at the boob. My hair was mostly up in a topknot. I was wearing pajamas and no bra. The band, which had already been playing loudly enough to shake our walls for about 15 minutes, decided to bring it up to 11.

In a previous life (AKA last year), the hubs and I would have poured some cocktails and enjoyed the free concert from our patio.

In this life, they woke up my baby.

The next five minutes rolled like the cinematography of The Blair Witch project. My hubby went upstairs to a screaming Q to see if she would let him hold her a minute (Hell NO!) as I slipped on flip-flops and a giant pink bathrobe and ran across the street to do I-wasn’t-sure-what.

The front stoop was littered with cool 20-somethings, affecting boredom and somehow texting, smoking and drinking all at the same time.

“You’ve got to be f##!!ing kidding me!” I yelled, entirely unselfconscious and finally having a chance to unleash the crazy I’d been bottling for days.

The conversation continued in that vein for a while, my in my dorky pink bathrobe, and them SO not.  In the end, they turned down their amps, and I returned home to my baby, who did not nurse the whole night. I felt about a million years older than the hipsters next door. Some cop cars showed up at around midnight and broke up the concert. I was at the window, pumping in my bathrobe.

The next day, it was quiet on my street. I spent the day just like the previous three, spending a lot of skin-on-skin time with Q, playing in bed, and pretending to not care less whether she nursed or not.

At bedtime, she latched on hungrily after some elaborate but understated mommy maneuvers. I tried to soak up every second of the bonding, just in case she came back for a swan song only. Instead, she nursed through the night and came back the next day.

I was euphoric, vindicated and exhausted. In other words, ready for the next week of whatever mommyhood felt like throwing at me. I took off my bathrobe and put away the breast pump. Grrrrrrrr!

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  1. I haven’t been through a nursing strike (thank God) but have had many friends face it. I heard in our Childbirth class that no matter how committed you were to breastfeeding, your committment would be challenged. I’ve face some challenges in the last year with my son and we’ve gotten through.

    I admire your committment to stick with it. And thank you for sharing your story.

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