The Weaning of Amy Grace
by Mary-Tim Hare
When Amy Grace was born she latched on, nursed, and stole my heart. I thought it would be easy. I’d been attending La Leche League meetings for months before her birth, I’d read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding over and over and had watched my mother nurse my three younger siblings. But it wasn’t easy. It was very difficult and that was my first necessary lesson in humility.
We visited breastfeeding clinics and sought help from La Leche League dozens of times in the first months. I waited for the dreaded advice, “wean her to formula.” I didn’t get it. I fed from droppers, from Nyquil cups, sprayed milk into her open mouth as I wept and let her suck on my bleeding nipples for hours at a time. She was almost four months old before we had a pain free feed and had figured out that it was a prolactinoma causing me to overproduce milk which had altered her suck to one almost unbearable for me. But we fixed it. And this was my second lesson: trust.
When she was 12 weeks old I went back to work in a maximum security correctional centre. I pumped several times a day with my exposed back turned to the open window into the inmate’s exercise yard. Guards came and stood in my classroom while I left to pump milk for my baby. Some told me how their wives had done the same for their children. Some told me how their milk was “bad” or “weak” so they had formula fed. Female officers told me they weaned because they were embarrassed about milk letdowns occurring while on duty with the inmates. I worked mainly with men incarcerated for sex offenses, most often pedophaelia as well as arson, other psychiatric disorders, and dying from AIDS and hepatitis. Every day I came home from this maelstrom of human suffering and horror and held my baby girl close, close, close to my heart. I nursed her with the joy the prison never housed, and she cleansed me of my day and made me new.
My father would call and say, “Isn’t it about time that girl stopped nursing?” My mother told me that if I visited them in Maryland I should know that nursing in public was illegal. It is not. My beloved mother-in-law still tries to shepherd me into a bedroom to nurse. My best friend told me when Amy was small that nursing after they could ask for it was perverse. Now she says nothing, but she does smile. My very dear brother-in-law used to tell stories about the “weird” family down the street whose four year old would march up to his mother and insist on nursing. He told the stories and laughed, because he knew I would never go that far, despite my verve for breastfeeding. Poor man. He still supports Amy and I, in more ways than this, as at age two she cuddles up to me, lifts my shirt and tells everyone she’s going to have “yummies” and that they are “mmmmmm.” There’s a lot of humility to be found in having both of your breasts exposed by a toddler in the company of your doubtful in-laws on a regular basis.
Now that I have left my outside job and devote my days to Amy, Amy devotes her days to me. She stands in front of me as I pee and nurses. She sits in the seat of shopping carts and nurses as I lift groceries off of the shelves. She nurses in her sling and she nurses as she rides along in her car seat with mommy twisted around beside her. She nurses as I cook dinner and she nurses as I change her diaper. She nurses in the bathtub and she nurses as I read to her. She nurses when she’s sad or hurt and she nurses when she’s happy and flirtatious. She nurses down to nap and she nurses throughout the night.
Weaning? I thought she would wean when she finally took solid foods at 13 months. I thought she might wean when she cut her tongue badly enough to bleed all over her sweater. Weaning? Isn’t that when a mother refuses her baby the comfort of the breast and they both cry endlessly? Nursing Amy Grace has taught me one very important lesson: I’m not smarter than evolution. No book, no study, no “piece of advice” could account for the joy and healing nursing her has given to me or the health and security it has given her. When we started how could I know what the experience would be like? But if I had tampered and been proud in the face of nature—look at what I would have lost!
Weaning Amy Grace? I can’t write about weaning Amy Grace because in my heart, I want to be her nursing mama forever, and ever, Amen.
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