Why I gave up nursing – Light in dark places

Light comes where you least expect it.

I am so tired; so unbearably tired. I silently wish upon parents-of-sleeping-through-babies that they are attacked with a terrible case of teething. It’s been holidays, so my maid is away. I am with the children 24/7. No yoga, no work, no sleep, no writing. I am crumbling but I don’t even know it. I drive to Centurion and I nearly crash on the speeding highway. I am so tired I constantly want to vomit.

I bump into a good friend in the park on Shabbas chanuka afternoon. She too has a little baby, the same age as my precious Yehuda. She too suffers from extreme fatigue due to her baby’s horrid non-sleeping habits. We swap notes; and commiserate as we are in the same transient but trying place. I like her very, very much. She somehow pulls off being simultaneously human, honest and transcendental. She is gentle and kind. So I am not prepared for what comes next.

After chatting a while, with some hesitation, she says to me. “I need to tell you something, and it’s only because I really, really like you.  “Go for it”, I say always open to honesty. “I am scared for you, you can’t talk like this.” I am affronted. I am the poster girl for honest-motherhood, I believe that so much is candy-coated and people need to know their struggles are common and normal. But somewhere in the recent weeks, I crossed a line and didn’t even know it. But she saw it. Somewhere I moved from honest to bitter, resentful and angry. I was envious of those with easier babies.

So I took a step back and breathed. Sure; I talk about gratitude. But it is lip-service. My heart is hateful. I am losing myself. And this friend is nothing but good and kind; so her words were just truth.

Something has to change, I realise. Something has got to give.

The very next morning, I called the night nurse who helped when Yehuda was born. I booked her for that very night; with G-ds grace she was available. That night I slept more than 2 consecutive hours for the first time in weeks.

I am so used to doing it all. Everyone needs me, so I need to. My husband needs his sleep. My children need me. Reading the book “Women, food and G-d” I realised how it’s very apparent in how I prepare our meals. My daughter gets her crumbed chicken and boiled eggs and salad. My husband gets his gluten-free Chalav Yisrael fare. And me? I shovel in left-overs while rocking my baby to sleep.

No wonder there is nothing left to give. Of course, the morning after the night nurse comes I feel like I have been re-born. I don’t recoil as my daughter begins her tyrannical commands the second she wakes up.

And of course, the  internal judgments rain down. How many millions of mothers coped without sleep through the millennia without the spoiled luxury of a night nurse? How pathetic are you, how weak and fragile. Look at all the mothers who are my age with 8 children and no maid and a spotless house and never complain.

But it’s a lie. This modern world of living in segregation is a new thing. We pay a price. It takes a village to raise a child. I envisage villages where grandmothers live with the family and hold the baby while the mother goes to draw water. No one does it alone. And I don’t need to.

There is more. I stop nursing. The decision rips my heart in pieces, I debate it for days. But I don’t have enough milk. I have been supplementing, so there is less and less. But I refuse to give it up.

Masked in selflessness, it became selfish and self-gratifying. Even though no one was gratified. I wanted to feel like a good mother. A good mother is one who breastfeeds at any cost. No matter how dysfunctional it makes her. No matter how anxious, edgy, stressed or debilitated from tiredness she is. My children suffered, I suffered.

There was a choice. I could devote myself full-time to re-gaining sufficient supply. I could exclusively feed and pump after each feed and drink beer and take Eglynol and prolak and fenugreek. But I don’t have the nerves or the will. I am reluctant to give it up because what if it doesn’t help his sleeping, and now I have weaned him in vain. But then a friend wisely re-frames it. At least you will know he’s not hungry. And she’s right. There will be one less thing to be anxious about. So I do it. It’s much more of an effort. But I am at peace about one more thing. In the night, I try the dummy before I get a bottle. I still haven’t figured out the easiest way to pack bottles. He’s not very scheduled, so it’s tough. But I know he’s getting enough milk and nights are slowly becoming tolerable.

I write this post overlooking the lush garden of the Misty Hills spa we have come for the night to sans children. We have been discussing it for weeks, but I was resistant. I still feel guilty for leaving my baby. I feel horrid when my mother tells me how he smiles non-stop at her. But it’s important to feed the mother. The mother feeds the child, but who feeds the mother. The mini-holiday is stupendous; I sit with nothing but my own thoughts.

Sometimes our darkness is so dark we don’t even realise we can’t are blinded. The darkest black is where we think we are enlightened. When we don’t realise we need help and love and support. It’s the darkness of the martyr or of the suffering servant who doesn’t make space to be held by another.

And so in  the bright summer afternoon under the blazing sun, I thank you you for showing me the light I didn’t know I needed.

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