Thursday, August 01, 2013

Nursing Jude

As of the writing of this post, I have nursed for a total of 10 years and give or take a couple of months. I suspect I have another couple of years nursing to go. I'm a pro, I suppose you could say. My friends in Charlotte joked that there's not a one of them who hasn't seen my boobs. I have nursed in cars, on planes, in more Barnes and Nobles than I can count, in various coffee shops, all up and down the East coast from Maine to Georgia. I've nursed in another country. I'm hoping I'll get to nurse in Cuba next summer. One could say that nursing has become a way of life, a way of marking time, of remembrance. Indeed as I flip through my pictures, I find a picture of me nursing each new baby. All except for Jude. I am not sure why this picture does not exist. I suspect because she came so fast, and H and I were both concerned about other things...she did nurse though. Right away. Right after they laid her on my belly and our eyes meet, I nursed quickly before she was whisked off to be examined. And that bit of nursing was an important piece in what was to come.

When we found out Jude had Down syndrome, I worried that I wasn't going be able to nurse. It became a kind of focal point for me. It held all my hopes and fears. If I could just nurse, Jude, I would feel close to her, I would love her, she and I would be okay. I know it sounds silly but breastfeeding has always held a special intimacy for me. Lying next to a baby, wee or big, and having them so close to your body, feeding them with your own body, the smell of their hair in your nostrils, the feel of tiny hands, and then the soft weight of slumber against you is one of the greatest pleasures in life, I think. I feel during those moments that once again these babies are connected directly to me as I felt when I carried them in my womb. The thought of not having that with Jude weighed on me because I already feared that she would be too different from me (silly thought I know). I kept thinking "If I can just nurse her, it will be a sign that all is going to be okay."

There were of course the many benefits of breastfeeding that I wanted for Jude as well. And it seemed like these benefits were even more vital for Jude. My milk would give her extra protection against infection something she was more prone to because of the Ds. It would be easier for her to digest again important for a baby who might have digestive issues. It would train her mouth, jaw, and tongue making them stronger which would help her with speech as she grew older. And these things were important of course but for me it was really about having to create this intimacy between us. An intimacy I so feared we would not have.

Jude's latching on right after birth was a bridge. Seeing her latch on, feeling that warm, new body against me made it very clear that Jude was not really that different from any of my babies. When they finally brought Jude back to me, I immediately latched her back on and started to cry as she hungrily nursed, looking up at me with those beautiful eyes. Jude was mine, and her feel on my body was a brand. We belonged together she and I. 

When we had some troubles, I started to panic. There was no way I could let go of this lovely bond. The nurses were freaking out about her weight, telling me that babies with Ds usually couldn't nurse, but I knew better. And thankfully, the support staff at the hospital knew better. A feeding specialist and a lactation consultant fought for us. They showed me how Jude's palate was higher than a "typical" newborns, and gave me some tips for getting to latch on properly. Later our crusty old Pediatrician championed me through a down turn in weight loss. My husband encouraged me gently to not give up. My friends sent me messages of support. A lot of people believed in us and kept me afloat despite my doubt.

And now here we are nearly 8 months later. Still nursing because a baby with Down syndrome can nurse. Not always but for us, yes. I fall in love with Jude over and over everyday. I love to lay down and nurse her. I love the way her tiny hand reaches up to touch my face. I adore the feel of her plump body molded against mine. I love how she giggles with a mouthful of milk if I smile at her during a feeding. Jude is indubitably mine and when I breastfeed her that is clear to me. There is no great difference between us. We are flesh of flesh and bone of bone. I am hers as much as she is mine. Having this link, the same link that I held with each of the other beasties, is important because it marks Jude as us. 

My love for Jude is in the act of each nursing session. It is in the intimacy of one body feeding another body. 


TUC said...

Reading this brings back memories and makes me ache for my babies.

Margo Kim said...

My little warrior is approaching 14 months and I have no plans to wean in the near future. I was justifying it because he's my last babe or because he's still so small or it's good for his oral/speech development but after reading your blog I realized that I too just love to bf this little guy. He is so cuddly and looks at me with such love and adoration when he nurses. I don't need to justify what some might call extended breastfeeding, I just need to enjoy it while it lasts.
He needs me but more importantly, I need him.

Ginger Stickney said...

I hear you Margo. I love nursing Jude, and I love how close it makes me feel to her. No excuses needed, just love.

Ginger Stickney said...

TUC: I am already feeling a little sad about my nursing relationship with Jude ending. She's my last baby (I do hope to adopt at some point)that I will nurse. It's a bittersweet time.

barbara morgan said...

My 'baby' is now 22. And unfortunately with all my efforts, he was not able to nurse. It broke my heart. I pumped for about 2 months but stopped because I just couldn't keep my emotions in check enough to keep the milk flowing. Maybe if there had been a specialist to help, maybe he had been stronger, maybe if I didn't have boobs like Dolly Parton that would scare the bejesus out of ANY kid.....

Ginger Stickney said...

Oh Barbara that comment made me LMAO. Seriously. My poor first baby had to contend with boobs bigger than his little head. Two months of pumping makes you a hero in my book.

I hope though that no one feels judged by this post. We were able to breastfeed and it meant a lot tome because of my emotions at the time. And I wanted to write it because I think a lot of people hear that you can't nurse a baby with Ds and that makes me sad. It's worth a try for sure because there is NO failure. We all feed our babies the best we can:)

DownsSideUp said...

So wonderful and so closely precious. Oddly, a nurse saying my milk would dry up onthe day N was born because of the shock, kickstarted me into being determined to do it. It took 3 months for her to learn, during which time I expressed for the NGTube but it gave me a purpose while she lay in that NICU and I believe it helped me bond.
H x