In my 12.6 years of parenting, I have spent 8 of them breastfeeding my children. That’s 96 months, or 416 weeks, or 2,290 days. Two thousand two hundred ninety DAYS.
I never thought of myself as a radical parent, one who took natural childrearing to the edges of social acceptability, but in retrospect, speaking those words aloud shocks even me. I have never been able to admit that without receiving a brief yet awkward stare in return. However, I square my shoulders and think of my firmly attached (so to speak) children and thank whatever primal instincts guided us. Let’s all have a moment of silence in thanks to the hypothalamus.
I thank mine in particular for the instinct that told me that something was wrong with my too-sleepy baby after he’d been home with us for only a week.
This Polaroid has been on our refrigerator for over nine years, and is one of my most precious possessions.
It was taken by a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford on August 18, 2000. My second son had gone into heart failure, stopped breathing, and then been unconscious and on a ventilator while he recovered from viral myocarditis. This was the first time I had been able to hold him or try to breastfeed him in 10 days.
During this time I pumped milk for my 8-day-old child like a maniac, trying both to keep up my milk supply and to keep my poor, engorged breasts from exploding. When you’re spending ten hours a day watching over your baby hooked up to monitors and IVs, with a tiny defibrillator standing ready next to his bed, it’s a little disorienting tending to the mundane, relentless routines and tasks. My breasts didn’t know my baby was sick, and went about their job as if it were he at the nipple and not the industrial-strength breast pumps they keep on hand for exactly this purpose.
About ten minutes after this photo was taken, he actually nursed, something they had warned me he would probably never be able to do. They weren’t sure if his heart could take it, but as it happens, both of our hearts did just fine.
I also found this email I sent to a co-worker later that evening: “Thanks for the good thoughts—they worked! I held Dylan today! They also surprised me by taking him off the respirator just before I got there today…it was just too beautiful to describe. He looks like my little boy again. I made reprints today, and the announcements are going out tomorrow.”