A few months after I had Ishmael, I read Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions", a journal of her first year with her son. You all know by now that I'm an Anne Lamott fan, and not above applying her phrases to my life as if I made them up. I do give her credit, but somehow I feel like they could be about me and my life sometimes too. She kept talking about how her aspirations for her son, Sam, included him being the "Leader of the Rebel Forces" and somehow that totally appealed to me, and I thought of Ishmael similarly, for a while. I didn't think that through very well. While I still love the idea of my son taking a stand, being a leader, being full of passion and big ideas, etc., it didn't occur to me that his strength of will can, will, and has easily turned against me.
On Friday morning, I nursed him around 6am, as usual, and everything was fine. We both fell back asleep in bed. When I tried to feed him again at 10am, he seemed uninterested and was kind of whiny. I didn't worry about it too much because I've been wondering if it's time to lengthen the period between feedings again anyway. His grandma Tucker stopped by and took him on an impromptu date to see the puppies in the mall, and I was a little worried he'd fall apart on her from being hungry, but of course he was happy as a clam to be out and about. When 2pm rolled around and he still wasn't eating, I started to get frustrated, but Jonas and I took him to his Welch grandparents while we went on a date, and upon our return, there were still reports of a happy disposition and he was eating plenty of solids.
He continued to refuse milk at bedtime, so we fed him more sweet potato, as well as water in a sippy cup, which he was suddenly really good at drinking (compared to a nonchalant interest in previous days). I decided I would call the pediatrician the next morning if he still wouldn't breastfeed, especially since they'd decided to keep an eye on his weight at the last appointment. In my concern, I looked through the index of Dr. Sear's "Baby Book" and the first page I flipped to on breastfeeding was about "the breastfeeding strike."
Up until now, Ishmael has been a dream baby when it comes to nursing. He's had his quirks along the way, most recently crawling all over my lap while nursing, and nipping me with his brand new pearly whites, but I've had very few complications from the moment he was born until now (8 months). I'd been flicking him on the cheek (not hard) when he bit me and delivering a sturdy, "NO! No biting. That hurts mommy," as I look at him sternly. He hates this, of course, and cries bitterly. However, he kept nursing, and biting, until Friday.
According to Dr. Sears, babies rarely wean themselves before 9 months. However, they will go on "strike" for several days if they are upset emotionally or physically, with teething and flicking both as possible triggers. Sears suggests "wooing" the baby back to the breast by holding him skin-to-skin all day and co-sleeping continuously (in hopes that they will latch on in sleep during a "milky dream"). I decided not to go to those lengths because it backpedaled against all the other things we've so carefully taught him (which boil down to "mommy and daddy run this house, not you"). As much as nursing can be a hassle, I was suddenly not ready to give up that time each day with Ishmael.
On Saturday morning, I tried again, but as usual, he refused to lay across my lap, instead struggling to sit up against the strength of my arms and started balling piteously, with real tears, which he kept up until I walked around with him. Again, it was 6am, but I packed up everything I needed for the day, and headed to my mom's. The last two days have been amazing, as my parents have kept me company and watched Ishmael while I sleep, and help me cook mexican mole.
I have neglected to mention thus far that by this point in the strike, I was so full of milk that a touch anywhere on my chest was near-excruciating. Ishmael loves to use me as a rock-climbing wall, of course, so I knew immediately that I was going to need help that day. He was continuing to eat solids like a ravenous little wolf, and I was giving him as much water as he would take to keep him hydrated.
I had been so relieved, excited, and privileged to have been able to avoid pumping milk even once since Ishmael was born. I work close enough to home that Jonas (and occasionally other family members) have been able to bring Ishmael to work every 3 (now 4) hours for me to nurse him in the car. Not pumping made kid-free nights out hard to come by, but I loved being able to nurse him fully naturally, plus I was terrified of the pump and the horror stories that I'd heard from some people about using it. I returned the pump I'd borrowed and never used from my friend Kenna several months ago.
On Saturday morning, Kenna was having a garage sale, so I knew she was up early, and I rushed over there to borrow the pump back. Alas, she was at work and though her husband Shawn let me rummage through their closets to find the pump, I needed Kenna to explain to me how to use it, because it had a few quirks. So, back to my mom's house I went, where we were giving Ishmael as much juicy fruit as we could find (the boy LOVES watermelon) and letting him drink (and spill) water out of a big boy cup (no sippy) to get the maximum amount in him. He was seriously eating for most of the day, and loving it. We're calling him a "fruit bat" now.
So, he was doing pretty good without me, but I was about to die. Enter, Mrs. Sears. That's right. We have Dr. Sear's personal phone number. As it turns out, my sister Annelise is dating his son, so I'm kind of a celebrity by association in the mom-world now. Mrs. Sears happens to be a breastfeeding guru and gave us so many good tips for how to handle my little Striker. When I was able to go see Kenna in the evening, I got the low-down on the pump(s), and got 36 hours worth of milk out of me and into bottles. HALLELUJAH! After all my worrying, it was a pain-free experience for me, and after being so painfully full, any head-games about it just "being weird" or something were totally out the window. I started to really feel for the victims of foie gras.
Thankfully, Ishmael did drink breast milk out of a cup, so he can continue to get the nutrients he needs from that. Although I really doubted it, I knew that if I were pregnant, the taste of my milk could have changed and maybe that was why Ishmael refused to nurse. However, I took a test, just to be safe (and after a whole day of putting it off after I got psyched out about the possibility), and there was only one line (first time I've ever seen that!). PHEW. I was already feeling cry-y that my son was "rebelling" and though everyone but me would be completely thrilled for a new baby, I feel like I'm still recovering from the first.
All this time, I was having a hard time believing he was really on strike. He'd continued nursing after being flicked before (and he didn't even get flicked the last time he nursed). He has been teething, but he's still in a good mood a lot of the time and he's been teething for several weeks and had continued to nurse through it. I was pretty sure my milk tasted fine (confirmed by the fact that he'll drink it from a cup and I'm not pregnant).
So... it really is a strike? I'm surprised that I'm not really upset with him, and also that I don't feel all that guilty, but it is a little sad (and scary) to think that he could be that traumatized by discipline and that maybe he doesn't trust me? Will he ever go back to breastfeeding? He seems so sweet about the whole thing and not really like he's mad at me, but could he really just be that stubborn? Wouldn't the allure of milk overcome the possibility of being flicked (and wouldn't he quit biting me if he knew he was going to get flicked?)? The past few days, he's no longer been his most-happy self first thing in the morning, which is sad for me too.
I must say, I'm excited to have the option of wearing a dress to church that doesn't have nursing access, but in the end, I'd rather win back my baby than wear the stupid dress. And as nice as the prospect of an evening (or perhaps even a weekend??) away is, now that it appears he no longer requires my presence close by, I'll miss those close (and sometimes silly) times.
My Leader of the Rebel forces is doing a fine job living up to his destiny. We're only 3 days in to "Occupy Anything but Mom's Arm's", so I guess things could still turn around, but I have a feeling he's just an independent little fruit bat now. I just hope that his next mission is one I can get behind.