Michael at 2 years old
If one more person says I was able to nurse Michael so long because I had an easy time, I'll scream!
Yes, it's true I nursed Michael for 3 1/2 years. Yes, it's true I never gave him a bottle, not once. Yes, I would gladly nurse again, should I have another child. But it's not true that I had an easy time! I guess I'm not much of a complainer, because my own family are the first to say . . .
Oh well, but Cathy had such an easy time!!!
Perhaps I should start back at the beginning, even before Michael was conceived. My husband and I had our ups and downs, but at the time things seemed steady between us. Our first child, Jason, was approaching two years and I wanted another child. My husband and I discussed it and, I thought, agreed that the time was right and Jason needed a brother or sister.
Suddenly though, my husband was working late every night, and always too tired.
So he was very shocked the day I told him I was eight weeks pregnant. He had avoided me so much, I knew the exact date I had gotten pregnant. However, I was pleased and really looking forward to this new child. I read every book, attended La Leche League meetings, and did my best to eat nutritiously.
By my fifth month, my doctor was harassing me for not gaining enough weight. My total weight gain was only 14 lbs. at the time of Michael's birth. As well, the arthritis I had as a teenager flared up so badly that I feared spending the last months of my pregnancy in bed.
In my seventh month, my husband began seeing another woman, as he had done while I carried Jason. Could I find it in my heart to forgive him . . . again? Like a fool I did, even though things were very bad between us by this time.
When I went into labour more than three weeks prior to my due date, I was frightened for my baby's safety. I kept hoping it was only false labour. After five hours of contractions - three minutes apart - I accepted this was the real thing. I had been toying with the idea of a home birth, but wasn't yet in the right frame of mind.
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I did my best to have my baby naturally, in the confines of a modern hospital, with no support or training. The nursing staff did their upmost to sabotage my efforts. During a strong (and long) contraction, a nurse informed me that the anaesthetist was leaving the hospital. If I wanted medication, I had better take it NOW. Only upon reflection later, did it occur to me that it was 8:30 in the morning, when she told me that!
Alone and frightened for my baby, I gave in and received an unnecessary epidural. This only helped to prolong my labour, which lasted 17 1/2 hours. Finally it was time to push and, with much coercion, my husband was finally by my side. With the epidural topped up, a large episiotomy and legs up in stirrups -
I gave it my all. Michael Douglas was born, weighing 5 lbs. 10 oz. on June 16, 1977.
The nurse wrapped Michael in a blanket and laid him on my chest. Laying flat on my back, legs still up in stirrups, Michael and I spent our precious few first minutes together. My recurrent arthritis made it extremely painful to lift my head for a good look at our new son. The nurse took Michael away to an isolette in the corner, and left him to cry. My heart was breaking for him, while my doctor cracked jokes with my husband and stitched me back together. Then everyone left - doctor, husband and baby.
Left me to spend that special first hour, in a bright delivery room - alone!
When I was finally taken up to my hospital room, I asked to see my baby.
Oh, no dear, you need your rest.
I'll rest later, I told the nurse,
I want to see my baby NOW!
Finally the nurse promised to take me to my baby as soon as she got a chance. We were walking past the nursery windows, looking for my name, when suddenly everyone was shouting - and I was on the floor. I had fainted! The nurse got a wheelchair, and insisted I go back to my room. But I still NEEDED to see my baby! With much disdain, the nurse wheeled me up to the nursery window. Perched at the edge of the wheelchair, afraid of fainting again, I peered through the glass at my hours-old son.
Unsatisfied, but exhausted, I allowed the nurse to wheel me back to my room.
Six hours after his birth, they finally let me hold Michael and nurse him. His little rosebud mouth barely covered the tip of my nipple, his suck so gentle. I had only nursed Jason for two and a half weeks due to inexperience, lack of support or information. I promised Michael then and there, that this time would be different. That nothing and no-one would stop me from nursing him.
Little did we know what fate had in store for us!
We started off with rooming-in and demand feeding at night. Then Michael developed a high level of jaundice, and spent most of his day in the nursery under photo-therapy lights. Then he was put in isolation for a hospital-induced infection. When I woke in the night with full, and painful, breasts - I was told Michael had already been fed.
So you can get your rest, dear!
Expressing milk into the sink, was not MY idea of rest.
But we continued to nurse.
Michael was an extremely sleepy baby, difficult to rouse, with a poor sucking reflex. Since he was considered a premie, he was on a three-hour feeding schedule, yet he took an hour to wake up and fed. I undressed him, changed him diaper, flicked his feet, switched sides every few minutes - all in an effort to keep him awake and sucking. Even so, Michael took so little milk that he lost weight, going down to 4 lbs. 14 oz.
But we continued to nurse.
Finally, after 11 days, Michael was back up to 5 lbs. 4 oz. We were on our way home at last. To keep up his weight, I set the alarm every three hours day and night, waking Michael to nurse. Although he now nursed stronger and longer, I swear he didn't open his eyes till he was a month old. He just nursed and slept. At his six-week check-up, Michael weighed 8 lbs, 10 oz. He had almost doubled his birth weight, on my breast-milk alone!
Sort of made up for the lack of sleep, sore nipples, emotional drain and pure exhaustion. Clear sailing from now on, or so I thought.
We continued to nurse.
Michael opened his eyes alright, and decided he needed to nurse by the hour, except in the evenings when he marathon-nursed. Even during the day he would often nurse for an hour or more. I thought I had sore nipples before! I spent Michael's first year with the cups of my bra down, because of constant sore nipples.
But we continued to nurse.
My arthritis continued to cause me pain. Remaining in one position for long nursing sessions left me in tears. It took me months to figure out positions for pain-free nursing.
But we continued to nurse.
My husband walked out on us, for two weeks, when Michael was two months old. My husband said he never wanted either of our carefully-planned children. If I ever got myself pregnant again, he said he would leave me for good! Michael developed colic, and my evenings were spent walking the floor till we both collapsed in bed. I began eliminating eggs and dairy products from my diet, and at three months Michael stopped crying.
We continued to nurse.
My husband walked out for two more weeks when Michael was six months old. Coping with a crumbling marriage and an extremely jealous three year old, Jason, I was falling apart. Then Michael developed Bronchiolitis, and was hospitalized. I insisted on being with him as much as possible, to the chagrin of the nursing staff. When Michael refused to take a bottle, the nurse berated me for not introducing bottles - just in case - and for not starting him on solids.
Michael wasn't interested in solids yet, and besides I hadn't planned that he would end up in the hospital. I asked to be allowed to stay the night with him, since I was his sole means of nourishment and security. The hospital's solution was to sedate him. My poor baby! I argued with my doctor to have Michael released, and he called me an hysterical mother. But he finally let Michael come home.
So we continued to nurse, day and night.
When Michael was seven months old, I developed a breast infection. My whole breast was inflamed and hard. I soaked in warm water, expressed by hand and started Michael on the other side first. With plenty of tears, but no medication, it cleared up.
We continued to nurse.
At nine months, my husband left us for good, and Michael started teething. When Michael bit me while nursing, I cried out. Michael was so startled, he went on a week-long nursing strike. I spent the first week after my husband left, walking the floor and crying along with Michael, who refused to nurse.
Everyone suggested it was a good time to wean him, that I'd had enough. By now I had connected the fact that Michael seemed to fall apart whenever my life was at its worst. I realized we were connected in more ways than my breasts. I woke before Michael cried, I knew his needs before he expressed them. We were in synch! I KNEW weaning him would be the worst I could do to him. He was grieving for his father, and I was the only security left in his world. So we walked, slept and bathed together, and gradually Michael came to trust me again.
And we continued to nurse.
Suddenly becoming a single parent, with no means of financial support, everyone assumed I would go out to work. Yet, having lost one parent, how could I deprive my children of their only remaining parent!? Jason would spend four years in Play Therapy before he would come to terms with the loss of his father. So my decision was to remain home.
My children needed me much more than any boss.
Even though Michael nursed every two hours (day and night) until he was two and a half, he became an easy-going child. He was perfectly happy, AS LONG AS he was by my side. During my few attempts to leave Michael with family or friends, Michael cried inconsolably the whole time. A LLL Leader commented that Michael seemed to feel he was still a part of me. She didn't mean it as a compliment, but in truth we both needed each other very much!
We became inseparable. We travelled everywhere together, using a Cuddle soft baby carrier . . . to drop-in centres, grocery shopping, doctor's appointments, the library, the movies, visiting by train, board meetings, even my sister's wedding. And everywhere we went, we nursed. People began commenting on what a GOOD baby Michael was, just falling asleep in my arms.
No-one even noticed that my year-old child was
I did a lot of
running after my husband left, staying in our little apartment as little as possible. I was on the go so much, I didn't notice the sore on my ankle until I developed blood poisoning. My doctor wanted me hospitalized, but I wouldn't leave Michael. My doctor advised that since I must take strong antibiotics, and Michael was 14 months old, I should wean. I refused, but promised to stay off my feet completely, until the infection cleared. Quite a promise, with two active boys under four to care for! My LLL Leader looked up the medication, assured me it was safe,
and we continued to nurse.
When Michael was 18 months, I caught a severe case of the flu, and virtually lived in the bathroom for two days. Otherwise I was collapsed in bed. My mother took Jason for a few days, and insisted it was TIME to wean Michael. How would I care for him, when I was so sick!? But Michael just crawled in beside me, to nurse and sleep till I was better. He didn't even get sick himself!
We continued to nurse.
At 21 months, Michael fell against a door-jamb and received a concussion. In the Emergency room, the doctor wanted to admit him for observation. Since I wouldn't be allowed to remain with Michael, I requested information on what to watch for. I was taking him home! The doctor argued with me, but finally told me the signs to watch for. Of course, as soon as we arrived home, Michael started vomiting. With no car, and it being very late at night, I had no desire to head back to the hospital by bus.
I spent the night with Michael sleeping on my arm, so that I could lift him the instant he started to vomit so he wouldn't choke. Michael nursed constantly that night, keeping up his fluids. In hospital, he would have been left propped on his side in a crib to prevent choking, an I.V. in his arm, lying alone in his own vomit. Michael continued to vomit all night long, and I was genuinely frightened. But he had the warmth of his mother's arms, the comfort of my breasts and a clean bed to sleep in. At five o'clock he finally stopped vomiting and nursed off to a blissful three hour sleep. That morning Michael was up and running as if nothing had happened.
We continued to nurse.
At one year Michael had reached 21 lbs., four times his birth weight! But then he slowed dramatically, taking until he was 7 years old to reach 35 lbs. he was pitifully thin, and I was worried! Michael had begun eating solid food after his nursing strike at nine months. But until he was 2 1/2 years old, he never ate more than 2-3 tablespoons of food a day. He had insisted on feeding himself from the start, and simply refused to eat more. Most people suggested he was too full of milk to eat, but even if I refused to nurse him all day long, he still wouldn't eat. After weeks of coaxing, refusing and generally frustrating both of us. I accepted that Michael knew best. I considered that maybe he was protecting himself because of allergies, and at least he was receiving the best nutrition through my breast milk.
So we continued to nurse.
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By the time Michael turned 3 years, he had pretty much weaned himself, and I must admit I felt mostly relief. Michael now only nursed in the early hours of the morning, but I was tired of it all, and looking forward to the end. Michael's little body had different ideas! From the time he was 2 1/2 years, Michael had frequent stomach pains, sudden rages (unrelated to his activities), worrisome sleeping spells and numerous allergic reactions. A month after Michael weaned, all his symptoms intensified. His stomach pains were severe, and he began passing tarry stools.
My beautiful breast-fed baby was falling apart!
Just days prior to taking him to the Hospital for Sick Children Out-patient Clinic for extensive medical tests, I tried putting Michael back on the breast, eliminating all solid food and everything else. The test results, including a full body scan and barium swallow, said Michael had a pre-ulcerous stomach.
But on breast milk alone, Michael's eczema cleared up, his cheeks bloomed colour again, his stomach pains vanished, his rages ceased.
Michael, however, was HUNGRY! I just didn't have enough milk to satisfy an active 3 year old child, exclusively. After two weeks of exclusive breast milk, Michael began eating solids again. His symptoms came back gradually, but never as strongly as before. We continued to nurse until Michael was 3 1/2 years, when he weaned himself again. Michael's allergies were finally brought under control by going on a four-day rotation diet, on which he remained for several years.
On looking back, I really do feel it was worth it. What sort of condition would Michael have been in, health-wise, had we not nursed!? Our connection was real, and important to both of us. I needed Michael, just as much as he needed me. No matter how bad a day I'd had, no matter how
witchyI felt, the look of love in Michael's little face, when we sat down to nurse, was often all I had to keep me going. Call it determination, persistence, even fanaticism (some called it stupidity - to my face!) Michael and I lasted through crisis after crisis, through a divorce and a move to our first house.
All the while, growing stronger in our commitment to remain together and nursing!
So, please, even if you don't agree with my choices... don't let anyone say it was because I had it
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Last updated - February 8, 2017