Yesterday morning my body stopped making milk. I don’t know if it was the chaos of moving, the stress of starting an extremely demanding, high stakes job, or the fact that I have been sleeping for part of the night apart from E in another room in order to add some sleep to my reserve for the long nights of residency, but my body reached a minimum threshold of contact and milk demand and decided to close up shop. When I got in the car and put on my pumps (pumping while driving = how I have survived the past few months), I knew something was forever different. Thirty minutes later, adrift in the endless rows of cars in the hospital parking lot, I looked down at the empty bottles attached to the pumps — oh loyal, maddening, tireless pumps! — and made the realization that was also a decision that my milk-making adventure was at an end. I called C and told her to save the three ounces that were in the fridge from the previous day — I wanted to give it to E myself — and removed my pumps for what will be the last time for a while.
There is no question that this is a case of my body’s wisdom outpacing my own. Time has never been more scarce and I want to spend all my time outside of work either with E, or, in the 30 minutes after she goes to sleep each night, studying to be a better doctor and writing to keep my humanity intact. Oh, and keeping some kind of live connection with my partner. These will all be daunting enough when I am on a week of seven straight days, not to mention the month of November when I will be working 28 days in a row with only one day off. In this equation, twenty minutes of washing and sterilizing pump equipment morning and night, thirty minutes of pumping three times a day, and night-time feedings do not add up to success or happiness. My job now is to be the best mother I can be under the circumstances and this necessitates that I focus on being present in every sense as much as possible, not sitting on the couch pumping or falling down from lack of sleep.
Still, I cried. Sitting there under the gray morning sky, I remembered those crazy, ecstatic moments in the delivery room when they put her squirming blue body on my chest and I felt her latch on for the first time. I remembered all the middle of the night nursings during that first month when I didn’t know anything about anything and would take E into the living room, turn on the light, and nurse her on the couch, both of us fully awake for several hours each time. I could see her in my mind’s eye, nursing while gazing meditatively at her own hand, then at me, then at her own hand again. Our two bodies have been in such contact! It defies my attempts to fully integrate it, this intimacy we have shared.
But then I was late and had to stop crying and get myself together. To everything there is a season, and in the life of a resident, it is almost always either the time to plant or the time to harvest.
I felt the urge to mark this milestone. The problem with living outside the context of organized religion (Jew-ish/lapsed Jew/can I substitute a decade of therapy for a decade of services?) is that there is just no framework for these moments in life. I googled “weaning ritual” and page after page talked about talking with your toddler about weaning and planning the ceremony with them. Does weaning belong only to the people who have been breastfeeding for over two years? Am I by virtue of having breastfed for six months ineligible to celebrate and be sad? Still there were helpful ideas. Tell the story of the child’s birth as you nurse them for the last time. Say a blessing. Plant a tree. Good ideas all.
So after work today I bought E a little plant that, if tended well, can live as long as she will. I came home and we had a little dance party (aka E plays the Casio keyboard while I do interpretive dance). I showed her her new plant and explained that I will be watering it and tending it as I nourish and tend her, with all my love, that it will be hers when she leaves to begin her adult life (but never really leaves, right??). She looked at it, agape with curiosity and skepticism, and then turned to play with her blocks. When she was ready for her nap, I put the last three ounces of my breastmilk in a bottle and took her up to bed. While she was eating lazily, I thought in a way that was both ode and prayer:
Your life is a double gift: our gift to you and your gift to us.
Thank you so much and you are so welcome.
In Judiasm, there is a prayer that is said over the child, so I said that too: Ye’varech’echa Adonoy ve’yish’merecha. Ya’ir Adonoy panav eilecha viy-chuneka. Yisa Adonoy panav eilecha, ve’yasim lecha shalom. May God bless you and keep you safe. May the light of God shine upon you, and may God be gracious to you. May the presence of God be with you and give you peace.
I don’t believe in a someone in the sky, but I want all these things for E — blessings and safety and light and peace — especially the safety part. Please, universe, keep her safe!
E left half an ounce in the bottom of the bottle and so my last act as her breastmilk-making mother was to pour it down the drain. I like to think it was an offering.