I breastfed both of my daughters, my first daughter latched super easy and nursed both sides every feeding. Never burped, never spit up. Happy happy eater…happy happy mama. Then my second daughter was born and latched perfectly on my left side, but didn’t with my right. She preferred my left breast from the beginning and would skip feedings on the right side (starting in the hospital…I know… this is a no no). Which led to my right breast becoming incredibly engorged and then a stubbornly clogged duct.
After we worked through that hurdle, the year went by. I love breastfeeding my daughters, the closeness, the intimacy and I loved solving their fussiness with nursing. It was so simple, pick a spot on the couch, sit down, nurse and relax. Happy baby, happy mama.
Then we were hit with a freight train when the day after my second daughter turned one, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. (See here for post on diagnosis.) But back in April is when I knew something was wrong, a month later I finally went to my ultrasounds. And pretty quickly after that my CT scan, bone scan and chest MRI were performed. Now no one tells you this but, they inject you with radioactive liquid for the scans that inhibits you from being able to nurse. Incredibly frustrating. If I would have known this I would have pumped before each scan, but I didn’t. Then I had to wait until I got home and pump the milk, doctors said to freeze for at least two weeks and then it would be fine. My husband however, wanted me to dump the first few feedings. I finally stored the fourth one because I knew with my looming chemo I needed to store up as much as possible.
My date to start chemo was set for June 8th. And I had to stop breastfeeding by then. When a few weeks before we were still exclusively breastfeeding. I was heartbroken to stop this intimate mothering act with my last baby. Plus she was not ready to stop either, my nursing is what soothes my babies the best. I started trying to wean her as lovingly as I could. We weren’t ready to wean.
One night after a scan, was the worst. She screamed all night, the only thing she wanted was to snuggle in close to mama and nurse. Nonetheless, I couldn’t provide that for her, I felt like such a failure. That was my one job, and I wasn’t able to complete it. I tried giving her a bottle, sneaking in her wubbanub. However, she screamed. Finally, her daddy had to take her for a drive, for her to fall asleep, and give my body a chance to rest.
Thankfully that was our only unbearable night, it got easier after that. Henley seemed to take to warm goat’s milk simpler than I thought, which was as strange mix of emotions from betrayal yet also relief. Unfortunately, I did not store up as much milk as I should have because I was home with my second and nursed her on demand. I only pumped milk for date nights. Looking back, I kicked myself for not taking advantage of my pretty high milk supply. Note to breast feeding mamas: ALWAYS store up as much milk as you can, you never know what the future holds and when you’ll need it.
Of course, I am thankful that Henley reached 12 months before I had to wean her, I was looking forward to her naturally weaning herself, (her older sister did at 18 months), but this was a time that I had to force myself first. I had cancer and I needed to prepare myself to fight it with all I had so that I could be there for my babies 60+ years down the road.
Once I weaned Henley, then I had to get my boob to stop producing milk. This was no easy task, my boob was stubborn. Everyday, I would press a cold cabbage leaf to my breast and wrap myself tight in a ACE bandage to give little room for milk to produce. For a little while I had to hand express in the warm shower, because I would become engorged. Slowly but surely the milk stopped, it was quite emotional, but now it is finally gone.
My 13-month-old is happy and her mama is fighting the biggest fight of her life. Life will throw you into a dark pit when you least expect it, but it’s our job as mamas to rage that battle and overcome…for our babies.