Brett and I were in Amsterdam on a little getaway weekend way before we had kids or were even married; the television was on one night as we were getting ready to go out, some sort of documentary about mothers.
At one point, a toddler walks in the room asking for milk; the mother picks him up, places him on her chest and continues the interview while nursing.
I was so shocked I laughed! I exclaimed something like: “I understand when mothers in developing countries nurse forever, because there may not be any other source of nutritious food around. But anywhere else? Nope. I know I would never ever do that. Surely this is traumatic for a child to actually remember nursing.”
*insert wild laughter and face palm as I think back to this*
Please don’t judge me too harshly, haha!! I was young(er), freshly engaged, and could not fathom letting mini-humans suck on my breast whenever they fancied.
Fast-forward 13 years and 4 children later, and I am nursing a toddler.
The funny thing is, I feel great joy and satisfaction from it! It feels completely right and normal for me and Justin.
Justin is our 4th -also last- child, and I am so incredibly thankful for this body of mine;
somehow it is still nourishing and comforting the child I grew and birthed two years ago. What a miracle!
It was not always the case, though. Nursing did not come easy for me at all.
After Charlotte, our firstborn made her way into the world I struggled with PTSD and a host of physical trauma; nursing was off to a rocky start, yet somehow we both got the hang of it.
It lasted 4 months until I ran out of milk and had to supplement with formula. I learned during this time that the World Health Organization recommends mothers nurse their babies for two years, and that this is the official recommendation in Australia too, where Charlotte was born. Amazing… and a bit sad as I found myself so far off that 24 month mark.
Then David came along, a big fat baby just the way you want them to be. I nursed him for no more than 12 weeks in spite of supplements, herbs, teas, resting, pumping, and eating chocolate brownies to release endorphins -I promise someone told me it was a legit technique haha!
Then we went through 3 miscarriages before asking for medical help to carry another pregnancy full-term. After just one IUI (and hormone supplements and shots) we were able to welcome a third baby into our family.
Simon had issues from the get-go. Nothing big, just the usual colic and acid reflux that make babies scream from pain day and night, not sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time, be almost constantly unhappy, and make their mothers wonder where their brain has gone.
With all this, I was able to nurse him for maaaayyybe 4 weeks?
I did everything I knew to do, everything the midwife told me -all the supplements and teas and pumping. And chocolate. Because sanity.
I found comfort in knowing I tried my best, and in selecting the best formula I could to make sure he got all the nutrients he needed.
Well now we were done having babies! We had three healthy children, each a gift, each so different from the next, and they made our everyday fun and wild and very busy.
Our plates were full!
I had started my own business, my husband was super busy in church world and music writing.
But my quiet dream had always been to have four kids… I felt a pang of sadness mixed with joy every time a friend would announce her pregnancy. I told myself my time had come and gone, and I learned to make peace with it. Our endocrinologist had told us we wouldn’t be able to conceive again without medical help anyway, so I reasoned our chapter of pregnancies was finished…
So when I missed my cycle entirely one month, I thought: “oh well I must be hitting pre-menopause, that happens all the time.”
But, just for peace of mind, I took a home pregnancy test. Never had I seen such clear blue lines announcing I was, indeed, pregnant!!
I remember staring at the stick, gasping, and muttering ‘noooooo wayyyyyy…’ I just stayed in that bathroom, letting the feelings of joy and excitement sink in, letting my heart feel all the love for a new life forming inside of me… How?
I had been taking a herbal supplement to help balance my hormones for a year now; I had wanted something natural to soothe PMS and those witchy mood swings I got every month, because who needs those?
Surprisingly, the results were lovely: zero PMS, my mood felt way more in control and normal, and somehow it also helped with sleep, improve my skin bumps, and I even dropped a couple pounds. Crazy how many areas our hormones impact eh?!
What I didn’t realize is that those oils helped my progesterone & other girly hormones so much that I was able to not only conceive naturally, but keep my babe full term -one week past term, in fact!
Naturally I started dreaming about nursing this very last baby for 6 months. After 6 months, I thought, he will start solids, so I’m ok supplementing with formula. It felt impossible.
But I wanted to have a clear goal of giving this child the best I possibly could. It was a stretch, stats were not running in my favor: nursing respectively 4 months, 3 months, then barely 1.
Well, essential oils helped me balance hormones and get pregnant out of the blue, maybe there was a way oils could help with nursing?
I ordered Fennel essential oil and Ningxia Red (antioxidants from organic goji berries) after a little research, and started using them as soon as I came home from the hospital with my fresh newborn.
I’d put a drop of Fennel on the back of my hand and lick it up before each feed (so a bajillion times a day) and I drank a shot of Ningxia every morning and every afternoon. That’s all.
I didn’t do teas, supplements, I didn’t pump, I was more tired than ever with 4 children now, and oh did I mention we adopted a puppy and I was homeschooling and nannying?
And yet. Nursing started off great, and stayed that way. We hit 6 months, then one year… my goals were all achieved and I am just. So. Tearful. With Gratitude just thinking about it.
I decided to let Justin stop nursing when he saw fit, and to let my body wind down when the time came.
I stopped taking Fennel and Ningxia 3 months ago, and only now am I running out of milk, which is totally appropriate. Justin is 2 years and one week old.
My heart is full. Justin is the cherry-on-top baby of our family, thanks to oils and an awesome God who in his grace and love gave us one more soul to look after. He saw my unspoken dream and said yes.
Nursing is the redemption story… thanks to oils drawn from botanicals our Creator God planted long long ago.
When I see a mother nurse her baby, I always wonder about their story. Is this easy for you? Was it easy to fall pregnant, and stay pregnant? And birth, how did that go? How does nursing feel?
I have friends who knew they never wanted to breastfeed, because it just was too strange. As soon as they gave birth, they stopped their supply with a pill, and fed their newborns bottles of formula.
This is such a beautiful, wise decision; because you see, what matters is the mother-child connection. Nursing is supposed to weave threads of love between mother and child, but if it doesn’t, choose something that does!
Bonus: dad can feed baby too 😉
Ultimately, as a mother, your mental health is the most important thing.
Not criticizing yourself for your current capacity and choices, and not judging another mother for her ability and decisions are what make content, secure children, loving families and communities.
So wherever you are on this nursing spectrum, be gentle with yourself. Know that you are enough, and your baby loves and needs you no matter what you feed him.
Then go create relationships with other moms by simply getting curious about their story, listening, leaving plenty of room for grace.