My freezer is stocked with the usual suspects—a pizza, leftover casserole, mixed vegetables, and some frosty beer mugs. In the corner, however, sits something far more precious—my last bag of breast milk.
Like most nursing mothers, I breast-fed my son Declan around the clock. Every two hours for eight months, he curled up next to me, skin to skin, eyes closed, drinking deeply, while I inhaled his organic scent and treasured the time. I also pumped my milk occasionally, storing it in special little bags in the freezer for future use. When work or social engagements took me away from the baby, a thawed bag and a bottle took my place. Yet I pumped more than we needed, and those freezer bags piled up.
Once he started eating solid food, Declan would occasionally twist away from the breast when I offered it to him. At the same time, my workload steadily increased, and he spent more time with his nanny, who fed him bottles. He seemed to like it. He then abjectly refused to take my breast, staging full-scale “nursing strikes”—a disconcerting phrase that made me think of picket lines and bullhorns.
Much too quickly—as with all things related to childhood—this period of our lives ended. We weaned.
At first, I filled bottles with my thawed-out milk, pumping to keep up the supply. But that was time-consuming and inefficient, so I started phasing in baby formula. At least Declan was still getting some nutrients from breast milk, the preferred choice of doctors, I told myself. Yet the pile of freezer bags got smaller. When only one bag remained, I felt guilty and bereft. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding for a year, a goal I had wanted to reach. Many mothers I knew were still nursing past their children’s first birthdays. Was I a terrible, selfish mother for stopping short?
Over time, those feelings subsided. I thought about those women I knew who chose not to breast-feed or who stopped after a few weeks because of work or other pressures. They weren’t terrible, selfish women just because they didn’t nurse as long as other people have.
I believe they were simply mothers with tough choices who love and nourish their children, just like I do, and just like nursing moms do.
Declan turned one recently, and I still haven’t disposed of that last bag of milk. It is too old to give to my child, and I certainly can’t preserve it in a baby book. Pondering this one day, I glanced outside, where a robin had perched on our dogwood tree. We had planted the young tree when I was still pregnant and motivated to beautify the small world my baby would be entering. Maybe I could thaw out the milk and pour it over the dogwood, I thought. Surely that would be even better than water from the hose. Then I realized it wasn’t necessary. The tree was thriving, just like my son.
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