I took a gamble this morning and lost. Dylan fell asleep in my arms, so I ever so carefully laid him in his cradle and raced downstairs to take a much-needed shower. By the time I turned the water off, I could hear him screaming bloody murder throughout the house. Who knows how long he actually slept while I lathered away. He could have been screaming the entire ten minutes I was in there (and yes, even 10 minutes was luxurious…gone are the days of wasteful, but lovely, 25 minute soaks). At any rate, regardless of whether he had been screaming for one minute or ten, his cry can bore its way into the core of my heart and crack it wide open. It is physically painful for me to hear him go on like that, especially when I feel solely responsible for its source.
As quickly as I could, I went to him, scooping him up and holding him close – his frantic little face pressed into the crook of my neck – as I rocked and shhh-ed him to a calm state. When his breathing evened out, I took him to our chair in the nursery and gave him the greatest comfort there is for him: mama’s milk. He went for it like a pig goes to trough. Much like the little boy, Randy, from that classic film, A Christmas Story, when he finally eats his meatloaf and mashed potatoes by scarfing down his plate with his mouth, so Dylan goes to the breast. Sometimes, he even snorts and grunts and makes loud breathing sounds as his head rocks back and forth in an attempt to latch. It’s like he can’t get it in his mouth fast enough – such a voracious and insatiable appetite. But when he does, oh boy. His eyes roll back and his whole body seems to utter a sigh of relief. His little hands clamp to whatever they can – the neckline on my shirt (if there is one), or simply the breast he’s sucking on, as if to stake his claim. Sometimes, he re-focuses his eyes on mine, and we just stare at each other in this little love fest for endless contented moments. And I have to say, nursing has become one of the strangest and most pleasurable joys of motherhood for me. I even find myself looking forward to the next feeding, like the witch from Hansel & Gretel, because I can see it fattening him up (and there’s not much I love more than Michelin tire legs on a baby).
But it wasn’t an easy road to get here – especially since Dylan arrived four weeks early and spent the first week of his life in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. The lactation consultants at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) had me pumping just hours after he arrived and set me on an every three hours around-the-clock pumping and (attempted) feeding schedule for the first month of his life. I was like a Mombie in those first days and weeks and when my milk finally did come in, it came with a vengeance. Suddenly, I had these massive breasts I couldn’t control – they were spraying Dylan like a leaky garden hose and the poor baby couldn’t handle it. Because he was so early, he hadn’t developed a strong sucking reflex yet, so I had to use nipple shields (which look like plastic sombreros), and I held him to my breast like a running back cradles a football, tucked into my side. Most of the crying in those early days (on both Dylan’s and my behalf) came from an inability to coordinate this whole scene. At times, I teetered on the verge of throwing in the towel.
And then, somehow, magically, it worked. With serious hand-holding help from the lactation consultants (one in particular who calls herself the “milk fairy”), it finally seemed to click. Dylan was nursing and growing and gaining weight and I didn’t need the shield anymore. My movements started to feel natural, routine. I started to kind of like the feel of the let-down, and I knew we had turned a corner. In all its strange, wonderful weirdness, I enjoy being both the source of food and comfort for my child. I just hope it can continue, once I return to work next month.