09/18/2014 02:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I Cried and Nursed My Daughter

Three years ago on the day my third child was born, I fought to live. From my vantage point I could clearly see the kitten outfit my mother in law had brought for the new baby, envisioning my husband clumsily putting her in it instead.

I had a quiet foreboding that I wouldn't be there to do it.


As the anesthesiologist tried everything he knew of to slow my heart from its 212 beats per minute, I watched her hands waving at me from her tiny bassinnett at the end of my bed. I felt my end coming.

The doctors frantically worked on me, Code Blue button pushed and my husband silently sobbing over my legs.

I thought of so many things I was going to miss.

first smile.
first sitting up.
first tenuous steps out into an unsteady world.
oh, God. first day of kindergarten. her dad will probably buy her an ugly backpack just because it's on sale.

Six years earlier I had nursed my first baby, born with many birth defects, for exactly a year. I felt pressure from others: the raised eyebrows, the looks that meant that nursing even a day after 12 months would damage my daughter forever psychologically.

She would become a woman obsessed with breasts, or unhealthily attached to me, forming in her head some sort of reverse Oedipal complex it would take years of therapy to undo. We stopped nursing before I was ready. Before she was.

So, back to the present. I lived. I lost my uterus, but I lived.

Yeah. That losing the uterus bit. That's a lot for a woman.

I felt so sad and fragile.


During my recuperation with my daughter, which took no less than six months, I cried.

A lot.

I couldn't clean my house, so I cried and nursed my daughter.

I couldn't lift her for diaper changes, so I cried and nursed my daughter.

I couldn't care for my older children, ages 4 and 6, so I cried and tried to nurse them as well. (Just kidding.) I nursed my daughter instead.

Our foster son whom we had brought home from the hospital just nine months earlier was moved to an adoptive home because of my inability to care for both babies at the same time.

Loss surrounded me.

I cried and nursed my daughter.

In some large unspoken way I felt that no one had the courage to voice, I had failed at everything a woman is supposed to be able to do. I scoured natural birth websites for hours, trying to figure out what I had done wrong.

I should have known I was bleeding internally before she was born.
I should have known that that much pain isn't normal.
I should have been more insistent to the nurse about it.

These questions haunted me in the day, and at night, and every minute in between. I couldn't change the past.

But I could nurse my daughter.


The only connection I had anymore to the mothering part of my body was holding her while she nursed, my arms forever at work memorizing her steadily increasing weight in the wee hours of the morning or the witching hours of the night.

Others came and cleaned my house, paced the floors to get her to sleep, swaddled her tiny form tightly.

Still, I was the only one who could sustain her life.

There's something incredibly healing about knowing that the body that nearly killed your body, despite its flaws, is still capable of sustaining your baby's tiny one.

My body was making amends, I think.

I still cry at the memories of loss, palpable beneath my heart as a mother's breast under the tiny starfish hands of a newborn, tugging milk and lulling himself to sleep.

I did indeed lose my ability to carry more children. I had a hysterectomy at the age of 32. My breasts are saggy and full of stretch lines.

I may have lost my fertility, but nursing my daughter all of those 32 months, not caring one whit what anyone thought about it, helped me to find an incredible amount of healing.

Even in the midst of searing loss, nursing my daughter helped me to find my voice and my confidence in myself. She fully believed, despite all of my own failings, that my body would be able to provide for her what she needed.

I will be forever grateful to her for it.


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