Last night was the worst night to date, and I think that’s saying a lot. The baby was simply inconsolable, in a way that was beyond even colic. She had a hair-trigger reaction to any minor frustration and would scream and thrash around and throw things. Last night was New Year’s Eve, and when midnight struck, we congratulated each other on staying up so late and wishing a happy new year. The neighbors started hollering and shooting off fireworks and about ten seconds later, the baby was screaming, so we went to bed and I took her in my arms to feed her. She was agitated after a minute and began crying. We will never know for sure what is bothering her, since she can’t tell us. All I can do is make my best guess and operate on my mother’s intuition.
I have a theory… the last few days, when she gets bored and distracted, she bites me. And I jump and kind of push her off, I can’t help it. It’s a reflex to pain. Usually she just laughs and doesn’t seem bothered, but last night it happened a couple of times and then she wouldn’t go back on at all. She would stare at my chest, paw at it, and just scream. I knew she was hungry, tired, and needed comfort, but it was like she wouldn’t allow herself to take it. Or she thought she wasn’t allowed, or that I would take it away from her? And she just wailed in my arms. Essentially, I have conditioned her to be afraid of the b00b, because when she bites me, I jump, tense up and take it away from her. And her biting has conditioned me to be afraid and have anxiety and tense up when I latch her on. Classic Psychology 101… Conditioned Response. I imagine there is a two-way mirror in the room, and Pavlov is sitting behind it and laughing at us.
We passed her back and forth, walked her, rocked her, and she wailed. I continually tried to offer her the b00b but she wouldn’t take it, and began to take my shirt and pull it over my chest to hide it! I got really concerned. Was this it? The End? The end of our breastfeeding relationship? It can’t be! I wasn’t prepared for this to happen right now! But she wouldn’t take it and wailed with grief when she saw it. I wasn’t too concerned for the short term effects, the worst that would happen is she would be hungry for a few hours. So I focused on getting her to fall asleep, hoping that we could resume normally in the morning. But she wouldn’t sleep… she just screamed and thrashed. It broke my heart. I lost my ability to soothe and comfort her. That was kind of devastating. So I started crying. And feeling overwhelming guilt. Even though I can’t say for sure if I even did anything wrong.
As I was sitting in that rocking chair in the dark, holding her impotently, it occurred to me that it had been a very long time since I had experienced the grief of heartache. Now that I have arrived at a time in my life where I have an exemplary spouse and a healthy child, I’ve been able to relax a little and not live in fear of heartache. It’s one of the great benefits of being committed to someone you trust, letting go of that fear. Of course I know that I am not immune to loss. I have just chosen to live in the present and not waste energy on the awful “what-ifs” in this world. That worry never served me well in the past.
It also occurred to me then that I believe the longer you go without heartache, the harder it hits you when it does come. Not that it’s easy to have frequent heartache, but I do think the coping mechanisms are in place, and right now, if heartache found me, I would be caught with my pants down and it would be like a shovel to the face. It’s scary to think about.
So I was gazing down at Lucy in my arms and I felt the heartache creep up. The pain of not being able to help her. And the fear that I might be witnessing, in horrible slow motion, our involuntary breastfeeding breakup. My eyes burned with tears and my mind raced. What can I do to stop this from happening? I pinged through the 5 Stages of Grief, bouncing from denial, to depression and back to bargaining. I pulled out all my cards and hoped to make a deal. I could save this. I could stay up all night holding her and hope to slip her back on while she’s groggy and unaware. I could wait until morning and hope this was all a bad dream to her and maybe she will forget about it and be happy to nurse again. But what if this is IT? What if she denies me? She is so utterly strong and stubborn, I am fairly certain she could “break up” with me if she set her mind to it. It’s only then that I come to the realization that I am deeply invested in our breastfeeding relationship, and while I always knew that I enjoyed it, I now know that I am attached to it. No pun intended. I need her as much as she needs me.
And the loss of this relationship is just one part of my fear. The other is the legitimate concern that if she weans overnight, I will be unable to properly meet her nutritional needs in other ways. She refuses all bottles, both formula and breast milk. Her solid food intake is sporadic and not as varied nutritionally as it needs to be for her to wean. I envision the next day: her refusing the breast and also anything in a bottle and not understanding the concept of drinking water for hydration. Is that my fault? Maybe I dropped the ball in getting her used to other ways of drinking, though it’s not for lack of effort. We have tried countless times for the last 9 months. I worry about how I am going to stuff enough food into her to replace the breast milk. I’m not sure it’s possible to do in a short time. I am feeling desperate to keep her on the b00b, even if it’s only a few times a day, until I can sort this out. I need to woo her back on!
Maybe it was delirium of fatigue or maybe it was hormonal, but I started thinking like an insecure, desperate 7th grader: “Please don’t break up with me!”
I ended up holding her and rocking her for a few hours, she faded in and out, and eventually she was so exhausted, when I put the b00b in front of her it was like she was meeting it for the first time and she cautiously took it. That wasn’t the end though. As soon as she was awake, she was weary again. We have been going back and forth with each other and can’t seem to stop the cycle.
I have a few back up plans: pumping, new foods, and a long overdue visit to a Le Lech League meeting. If anyone has advice on biting, it will be those ladies. Deep down, I believe that the baby isn’t ready to quit this either. Don’t you quit me! Fingers crossed.