I breastfed my daughter until she was two years old. Not because I had a long goal in mind when we started and not because of the fed is best messaging that is all over Instagram.
While pregnant, my goal was to attempt to breastfeed during my 11 week maternity leave. Once I went back to work I would wait and see from there.
Nursing did not come natural to myself or my daughter. Between her latching troubles, trying to figure out how to pump and store milk, a screaming baby, sore nipples, no sleep and cluster feeding it took us 11 excruciating weeks to get the hang of it. So after all of that hard work, I decided to keep going.
Two weeks into becoming a full-time working single mom, I was exhausted. Nursing forced me to slow down, rest and be with my daughter. That hour was wonderful, serene and calm every time.
Three months into motherhood and my daughter and I both were in full survival mode. No amount of coffee could help me get through those long first months just the two of us. Nursing happen to also be the only way my daughter would fall asleep and it seemed to be my only escape. So we kept at it.
It’s Sunday during football season, which means my daughter, her dad and I are headed to my daughter’s aunt’s house to watch the Cowboys play. Going there had become our family time tradition. Their house was an hour away so my daughter always took a nap on the way over. We pulled up just as she was waking up. We walked into a house full of family; aunts, uncles, Abuelita, cousins and more cousins. Everywhere I looked, there was someone standing, sitting or eating. I’d always dreamed of a big family so this scene made my heart full. To my daughter on the other hand, the second we walked into the house her hands clenched onto me as if I was going to drop her off and never come back.
She wanted no one other than me or her dad. If anyone else tried to hold her, she would scream at the top of her lungs until she was back in my arms.
“It’s because she never sees us.” one family member barks out at me.
I sit confused, because the Cowboys play almost every weekend.
“She needs to come around more without you.” says another family member.
“You’re still breastfeeding her, that is why she is so attached.” pipes up a third family member.
Apparently, the family had all the answers. I kept my tongue quiet, but I knew deep in my gut there was more to my daughter's behavior: separation anxiety. I assumed she would eventually grow out of it. She was my first though so I couldn’t help but let their words ring doubt into my head. I had made the conscious decision to keep breastfeeding my daughter, she was only 8 months at this point. Our bond was strong yes, but wasn’t that how it was meant to be?
A little over a year into our breastfeeding journey, her dad asks if he could have her spend the night once a week. My heart stops. I had spent the whole last year learning how to survive with a baby by myself, that I had forgot to begin to try and heal from our damaging breakup.
There was no way I could survive a night without my baby. Let alone with him being the one taking care of her. Her and I felt as if we were still one person, tied together in many ways. Bedtime being the most interwoven time of the day for us.
Fortunately, he understood and patiently waited for her to wean.
So we kept at it.
Eventually, two years passed and it hit me, our time was up. I no longer felt the need to be attached to my daughter in this capacity and she no longer felt it either. We had both grown, and found new ways of bonding and making time slow down. Our breastfeeding journey ended much faster than our journey had started.
Three years into motherhood and the separation anxiety hadn’t improved, it had only gotten worse. I knew the family had been wrong. I knew deep down there was more to my daughter’s behavior.
I’ll never forget the day I realized my daughter’s anxiety was progressing. I walked into her school for the 547th time juggling what felt like our entire house in my hands. Between her backpack, Elsa doll, cat blanket and cowgirl pillow what could we have possibly forgot?
As we approached her classroom, the excuses began.
“Mommy, I don’t want to go to school. My tummy hurts. My ear hurts. I’m hungry.” my daughter exclaimed.
She stopped with a halt right in the middle of the doorway. Refusing to go into the classroom, her hands in her mouth and tears on the verge of her eyes, she starts to scream. Just as quick as the anxiety hit, she bolts from the doorway back out into the hall. I try and grab her arm, but I wasn’t successful. Now we are playing a game of cat and mouse, I chase her and she runs away every time I get closer to her. At this point, she’s made her way back to the front doors of the school.
Thank God they are too heavy for her to be able to open. I think to myself.
The worker at the front desk offers her assistance so I can go on to work. I glance over as my daughter is kicking and wailing and realize the worker is pregnant. At first I feel awful, but then I feel a similarity. Her face is calm, her tone is sweet. All of a sudden it clicks, she offered to help because she understands, she has been in my shoes before. Our eyes meet and it is as if we both understand the situation without any exchange of words. I leave feeling united, instead of defeated and grateful I can trust the teachers at her school to take care of my baby.
As I open the door to the doctor’s office, my daughter runs in and immediately finds the toys.
“Mama, play with me please! You can be the zebra and I will be the alligator.” she shouts.
I sit down next to her. On the outside I seem calm, but on the inside I am a nervous wreck. I’m waiting apprehensively for the meltdown to come when it is time for her to go into the playroom without me.
We’ve been in this position many times before. Four years into the journey of parenting and this is our 3rd play therapist. We’ve yet to find one that my daughter will warm up too. One that is worth the out-of-pocket expense.
Strangers love to chime in during or after her meltdowns to tell me that she’ll grow out of it. But the reality is we’re running out of time for her to “grow out of it”. She starts Kindergarten in the fall and at 4.5, the separation anxiety is worse than it ever has been. My daughter can’t go to birthday parties without me being by her side the entire time. Gymnastics class has been a brutal adjustment, but she loves it so much once she does finally warm up. Forty minutes into class though and that only leave 20 minutes left for her to participate.
Maybe this therapist is the key, third time's a charm right? I think to myself even though a fog of doubt fills my head.
An hour later and my daughter is showing all of her big emotions because she doesn’t want to leave. This is a first, I don’t even know how to react. I thank God as I bend down to pick her up, explaining to her we’ll be back next week.
Later that day, I’m sitting at my work computer and an email comes in. It is from the therapist. She is bragging about my daughter and how brilliant she is. But the part that filled my eyes with tears was the way she ended the email.
“I am so blessed that you chose me to work with you both.”
Both. There it was. Both my daughter and I. Even though we were two separate people now, I still felt as if we were connected as one. When she hurts, I hurt. When she can’t explain to me what she needs, I find myself just as frustrated and overwhelmed.
Motherhood is about living in the balance of being one, but also two, being an advocate for your heart walking outside of your body, and following your gut and ignoring all the outside noises. Because no one knows their child better than a present mother.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on "Rewriting the Script."