When You Need Space to Grieve
Two months ago I breastfed my now seventeen-month-old daughter for what I assume to be the last time. It may have been in the early hours of the morning as we laid in bed together. It might have been after she had a spill from trying to stand on the couch. Or maybe it was at a wedding reception when she saw me for the first time that day, the longest we had ever been apart. I honestly don't know the exact day or time that we last nursed, and it kills me that I don't remember. What I remember instead is the last time I tried and failed.
Around the time she turned a year old, our breastfeeding relationship began to change. I began to use sippy cups with her for the first time and I relished in the freedom this gave me. She seemed happy enough with this change, and I even noticed that she wasn't as eager to nurse anymore. Although I still offered, her interest had declined, perhaps due to a change in my milk supply from being pregnant. I decided to not push for it. But because I knew I wasn't fully ready to wean or let go of our special bond, I still made it a point to pull her into bed with me every morning for one quick nursing session. I was fine with us going the rest of the day without it, but I relied on this one morning session to keep our breastfeeding relationship alive.
But then things got busy this January and I felt tired and lazy. I came down with a cold and all I wanted was to be left alone and recuperate in peace. Instead of pulling her into bed with me in the morning, I began to send her and my husband downstairs to fend for themselves while I tried to grab an extra hour of rest. Before I knew it, over a week had gone by since we last nursed. And it appeared as though neither of us cared or even missed it.
Suddenly I had the thought that I should breastfeed her just to make sure she hadn't forgotten how. I had mentioned to my midwife the week before that we were typically only breastfeeding once a day and sometimes only every other day. She was the only person to tell me that sometimes babies forget how to breastfeed.
This was news to me and a part of me didn't really believe her. We had been breastfeeding for the past fifteen months, after all. For her entire life. How could she forget how to do something that once was the only thing that sustained her? I could understand her perhaps losing interest, but I always assumed that she would keep running to me for comfort at the breast when she needed it most -- after boo-boos or when she had missed me or when her poor gums were in pain. There's no way she'd forget this amazing thing we share, I thought to myself. And yet it appears as though that's exactly what she did.
After a week and a half of not breastfeeding at all, I pulled her into bed with me one morning just as the sun was starting to rise. I lifted my shirt as she laid by my side, but instead of her latching on, she did nothing. I caressed her hair as I asked if she wanted milk in my sweetest mommy voice, and she finally went in to latch. And that's when it became clear to me that she didn't know what she was doing. Her mouth was where it should be, but nothing was happening. I put my finger in her mouth to gently guide her off of me and I went in for a second attempt, but still nothing. As she locked eyes with me in this moment, it dawned on me that breastfeeding was no longer familiar to her. It had become a distant, hazy memory, a thing of the past.
And oh, how much that realization pained me! I pulled my shirt back down, rolled over on my back, and just sobbed and wept. A part of me was stunned and in disbelief. At one point, I turned back to face her and began repeating her name through my sobs over and over again, begging her to remember. But she didn't understand what was happening and had already moved on, leaving me broken-hearted and alone.
I cried for days after that, and I still do today. Talking about it, even thinking about it, brings a flood of heartache and tears. I'm mourning over the fact that I don't remember what breastfeeding feels like anymore and I don't think she remembers it at all. I'm feeling the loss of the unique connection she and I had that I know I won't find again. Even though I will soon be given another opportunity to breastfeed with the birth of our second child, it won't be the same.
Our breastfeeding relationship ended before I was ready and I don't know how to let that go just yet. I am still grieving.
And yet for these past couple of months, it has felt safer to shed tears behind a closed door or shower curtain than to admit it. I've been afraid of making a big deal out of nothing and so I've kept silent, only briefly confiding in the few people who have asked. But I've been realizing lately, as I still find myself feeling overcome with emotion, that this isn't nothing. At least not to me. And I haven't been properly owning my story or my grief.
It occurred to me this past week that there must be so many women mourning over similar things. Surely all moms feel in some way the sadness of realizing "babies don't keep." How many have been hiding these secret sorrows, like me, because it feels like there's not a space for them to grieve?
I'm sharing this part of my story and my grief because I want to offer every mom a space to grieve these things today, too.
So, to every mom who didn't get the birth experience she so badly wanted, to the mom whose baby is turning one this week, to the mom who just breastfed for the last time, to the mom who is dropping her child off for their first day of school, to the mom who's going back to work, to the mom who won't be there to tuck her little one into bed tonight, to the mom who longs to go back to the days of long cuddles in the rocking chair, I offer you the permission that I hope you come to realize you never really needed from anybody but yourself.
It's alright to keep on grieving, mama.
I know how seemingly small losses can bring such immense pain. Your grief is real. And contrary to what the world may say, this thing you lost matters. People may try to belittle or excuse it, but please know that nobody can take its significance away.
Take the time you need to mourn and weep. I'm right there with you. And so is the Lord.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Just as much as I want to offer you space to grieve, I also want to offer you this reminder of the hope we have in Christ. Although the loss we feel is real, so is the restoration of all things good, holy, and beautiful awaiting us in eternity.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
I'm clinging to this promise for both you and I today: Someday our heart's baby-shaped holes will be filled again.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:1-4).