Letter to My Breastfed Baby:
You were born in a hospital only a few miles from our home where we had planned to give birth. Our midwife held you to me and you nursed right there in the corridor. Paper gown, IVs, groggy, I couldn’t even hold you myself yet. You were so strong, you made me strong.
Two nights turned into five. You nursed through my fevers, sweat and then cool water trickling down to your cheeks from the compress my favorite nurse swung around like a party favor before wrapping around my neck. My milk was slow to come in, but you gladly slept tucked into my gown, always close. Our midwife sat on the edge of the bed and fed me cool, sweet tea that made my milk flow and my breasts throb. The fever broke, came back, then broke for good. Your suck grew stronger and you made me stronger.
before going home, you refused to nurse. The hospital had insisted we
feed you formula when you didn’t meet their demand for wet diapers,
and now you protested this unfair confusion. I didn’t blame you. We
didn’t want to be in this hospital room with the long dingy window
facing a brick wall, the moldy shower curtain, the armbands and alarms
and protocols. They wore me down until I shouted and cursed, “Give
him the bottle then!” And now you turned your head and refused my
milk. Oh you are so strong my little boy, but I will be strong too!
Back at home, away from the formula and finger feeding tubes and syringes, we settle in and you nurse again. We spend whole days in the same spot, skin to warm skin. We marvel at how you thrive from just my milk and at how confident we feel in our ability to nourish and care for you. At night, we pull you close in the big bed and you nurse with one arm stretched out behind you to daddy. We sleep and sigh, the three of us touching hands and feet and bellies. Together, we are a family and we are strong.
You are only seven months old when I finally see a doctor about the swollen milk duct I can always feel when you’re nursing on the right side. When we find out, the words come too fast: cancer, surgery, chemotherapy. All we can think about is our happy breastfeeding baby we’re not allowed to even wean gradually. When you turn your head towards me, I have to hand you to daddy and now my job is to measure and mix bottles. How will I comfort you and sleep with you and care for you? I want to pull you to me and nurse you, let the hormones release and wash away my fear. I want to feel your little hand flicker back and forth across my belly as you drift to sleep. Instead, you sit in your high chair while I hold cold cabbage leaves to my breast so daddy can wind bandages tight across my chest. I want to laugh at the cabbage leaves and at your face as you throw the cup of formula at us, but I break down. I am afraid I am not that strong.
One day at a time, my milk dries up and I figure out how to hold you on my hip and then on my back away from my sore breasts. You’re delighted and you pull my hair with your little grasping fists. Our wonderful midwife is far away in another state expecting her own baby soon, but her voice over the phone is as clear and direct as the day you were born. I do what she says and clap for you when you slurp down the goat’s milk we give you and I kiss your face and hands when daddy feeds you.
Late one night when daddy needs a break and you cry and fuss and refuse to sleep, I find the courage to take you back into my arms. I cradle you in our bed and as you look up, I instinctively know what to do. You take the bottle and suck steadily while I whisper to you, my mouth close to your forehead like a long kiss. Your hand swishes against me, so familiar, so secure. Our bond is strong and we will be strong. You drift to sleep as I hold you, milk dripping from your sweet, sleeping mouth.
.: This letter was written by Kelly to her son Ari :.