Every mother who has ever breastfed her baby has a few memories that really stand out from the ocean of her nursing experience. Hopefully for you those moments were truly breastfeeding-friendly. As you may know, I was motivated to start this site as a resource for others who might have had an UNfriendly breastfeeding experience, as I did, and ultimately as an aid in creating a more breastfeeding-friendly world. I’m happy to share that while that experience was a formative one for me as a breastfeeding advocate, it is
the opposite of the beautiful memory that I will share here. For me, a middle of the night nursing session just this past weekend snuck up and surprised me as what I’m betting will go down as one of my favorite breastfeeding memories of all time.
My husband, three boys, and I decided on Friday to end our self-imposed, life-is-too-complicated-to-camp status we’d held onto for the last three years and headed to Catoctin, Maryland, where we met up with friends for an eco-friendly family camp on the theme of “The Waters of Life.” The fact that I wouldn’t have to cook while camping had almost outweighed my worry that we’d wake up everyone on the mountain with my two-year-old’s recent middle of the night ritual screaming from teething pain, which can only be solved by nursing him back to sleep (yes, this is the same two-year-old who “night weaned” a few months ago). When my five-year-old overheard we might go camping and started a countdown chart covered with hearts, it pulled at my heartstrings and sealed the deal. Camping we would go.
If nursing your baby in public makes you nervous, then you can imagine my worries about breastfeeding in the middle of the night near fellow campers. Anyone who has ever been camping knows that sound carries like you wouldn’t believe in the middle of the night. My nine year old thought that someone was in our tent unzipping his sleeping bag when he heard someone up the hill unzip their tent. You get the idea.
Fast forward to the end of a wonderful day filled with swimming, kayaking, a camp fire, singing, and friends, and our family of five arrived back at our tent happily exhausted. Thankfully baby nursed quickly to sleep. All seemed off to a good start. As a light-sleeping mama of three, I didn’t exactly sleep soundly, but I enjoyed my night’s rest until the dreaded moment arrived.
Baby stirred. I awoke ready to act. Not wanting to risk “the scream,” I had already decided that I would skip all my regular tactics to encourage him to settle without nursing. He made a sweet little grunt and then popped straight up to sitting, the way a young child does when he realizes he’s not in Kansas anymore. Before he could express himself (upset? confused? what would he be feeling?), I offered to nurse him. He leaned in toward me, accepting.
I scooped him up, grabbed his blanket, and stepped lightly over to the camp chair we had set up as a nursing station in the corner of our tent. (Since being rear-ended in a car accident while pregnant with my third son, I have not been able to comfortably nurse while lying in bed. This was a reality that at first caused me some grief over lost sleep, but then turned into a life lesson in letting go and being thankful for whatever does work.) We got comfortable with some extra pillows and blankets to support us and protect us from the night’s chill and he contentedly latched on to breastfeed.
I relaxed my mind and heart, settling into the moment, thanking my lucky stars that baby had woken quietly and peacefully. And then I heard it. The most magical outdoor sound I could imagine. It took me a minute to place the trickling sound that cascaded over my tired ears. It was the brook – the babbling brook near which we pitched our tent. The stream was low and could not easily be heard during the day. But in the quiet peace of the wee hours of the morning, it filled my ears with its music, transporting me to a nature’s paradise.
For half an hour, I nursed my son and cradled him in my arms until he was deep enough asleep to transfer back to bed. And while his body went from semi-awake to a fully relaxed state, his world feeling safe and secure in my loving embrace – a true home and refuge, I lost myself in that moment of pure tranquility. Perhaps for the first time ever, I experienced something about breastfeeding that may be akin to what a baby feels. I let go of all my worries and to-do lists. My mind even transcended the prayerful state that all mothers experience when they call on the Creator to protect their beautiful babies. I felt myself connected to the universe in a way that I had never experienced before when nursing indoors or during the daytime or on hikes or lying down. And, like most breastfeeding mothers, I’ve had my share of lovely nursing moments. I felt the loving embrace of Life gather me in its arms and felt completely at peace in the world.
After a good while of just being in the moment, soaking in its every detail and losing myself in the magic of nature, my conscious thoughts began to reemerge. And this realization floated up from the wells of my being:
The car accident that left me with no option but to nurse my current baby at night sitting up, usually in the glider chair my parents gave me more than nine years ago when I first became a mother, is truly a blessing in disguise. It forces me to be more present in my night nursing sessions, because I must wake enough to haul myself and baby out of bed, and stay awake enough to prevent some pretty uncomfortable results should I fall asleep in that position, an experience I’ve had more than once. During an estimated 1,400 nursing sessions in that glider chair in the wee hours of the night, I have reflected on my experience mothering more than I ever could have during the day or would have if half-asleep while side-lie nursing my baby. And I’ve enjoyed the rare opportunity to hear my thoughts during those quiet moments and connect in with my soul – a true luxury in a homeschooling house with three boys. But none so much as while drifting along with the sounds of the babbling brook.
Which brings me to the second part of this blessing-in-disguise realization. That my “night weaned” baby is not actually night weaned yet. He gave me a blissful month or so of decent sleep before his second set of molars started disrupting his sleep. Try as we did for dada to appease him in the middle of the night, he would only soothe back to sleep by breastfeeding. So, back to breast we have gone on those nights when his pesky teeth bother him badly. Without that combination – a night nursing baby who I have to breastfeed sitting up – I would not have experienced such a treat that night.
As I write this, a final wave of understanding washes over me: I finally have a truly beautiful memory of nursing this baby that rivals the amazing first nursing sessions that I cherish from the moments following my first two sons’ births. Since my third son was born via an emergency cesarean birth due to his ending up in a rare transverse position and poking a hole in my bag of waters, I felt physically and emotionally drained when I finally got to first nurse him. It was the opposite of the amazing high I felt after my non-medicated birthing of my second son. Sure, the first-nursing pictures of my third son and me, wrapped in a web of medical paraphernalia, can’t hide my exhausted relief from anxiously waiting to hold my newborn for the two hours following his birth. But that joy was mixed with enough pain that it is not a memory I reference willingly. The serenity of our middle of the night nursing by the babbling brook this past Saturday may just have healed the pain of that unnatural first breastfeeding memory with him.
I am so grateful for the chance to have experienced the beauty of this earth alongside the beauty of breastfeeding my babe that night. I will always cherish that moment in which we were embraced by nature. Lost in the sounds of the “Waters of Life” I was given the gift of providing the water of life to my own precious child. What could be sweeter or more breastfeeding friendly?
What are some of your favorite nursing moments or life lessons learned from breastfeeding?