I have a confession to make: I really don’t particularly love nursing Rowan. I love the idea of it, but in reality he is at a stage that is something akin to trying to nurse a manic octopus. He claws at my arms, breasts, and face. His newfound locomotion has him trying to crawl while he nurses, gymnastic feats of sticking his butt in the air and doing the nursing equivalent of the dizzy bat game. He can’t seem to keep his top teeth off of me, and occasionally bites down — apparently just for the fun of it. He’s distractible, and he pops on and off repeatedly.
Then I come across these pictures from one year ago today. The first time he ever latched. In NICU-speak it is called “lick and learn” which we all agree is a horrible name. In memory it feels like it was so very long before this happened, but these pictures prove that it was really one week from his birth. He wasn’t really ready, but I think the nurse could see my desperation. There was so little I could do to care for him — I couldn’t even get him in and out of the isolette on my own, because my ab muscles were too sore to let me sit or stand without the aid of both my hands. The NICU doesn’t just make moms feel helpless, it can make them feel pretty useless, too.
So this saint of a nurse must have understood, because she pulled the curtains and let me latch him on. The memory of that feeling is a moment of focus and clarity in a foggy landscape. An oxytocin rush of peace and relief. You know that feeling when you are exhausted in every possible way, and you finally get to lie down and close your eyes? That moment as you are straddling the line of sleep, not quite surrendered, but where the load you’ve carried on your shoulders all day finally slips away and you find a calm you couldn’t muster five minutes earlier? That’s what it felt like. All the anxiety, sadness, and overwhelmed feelings gave way, for that long minute, to intense solace. My muscles relaxed, and I found a contentment that I had not known I was capable of during that period of my life.
It was short-lived, of course. For the several days prior he had been taken off of feeds entirely, and only allowed to have IV nutrition. The day before he had finally gotten back to the three pound mark. Something as simple as nursing was burning more calories than he was taking in, and exhausting his tiny body.
But it was that moment when I found a connection I didn’t realize I had been missing. It was the first time I felt important, the first time I let the guilt go for ten seconds in order to break through the postpartum haze and really see my son as mine.
No, I don’t love it when he uses my body as a jungle gym and my nipples as a chew toy, but I am so, so grateful that it’s even a possibility.