My heart leapt into my chest when the courier truck stopped at the bottom of my driveway.
I knew the package was on its way; I had been waiting for it all week.
I’m not sure why I allowed its safe arrival such importance and gravity, but there I was, heart all aflutter, waiting to tear the box open.
Inside the layers of black and turquoise tissue paper, carefully sealed with a sticker, was a simple sterling silver ring. The silver encased a cream-coloured, oval gem that sparkled as I turned it to catch the sunlight.
The gem was made with my own breastmilk, of course.
Yes, evidently. I am one of those women.
When I first heard about breastmilk jewellery my first thought was “that is so whack?!!”
But here we are.
Because I’ve amassed a bit – just a tiny bit – of wisdom over my five years of breastfeeding and mothering, and nine years of helping other women do the same, and one thing I know is this:
A great many of the problems women experience with breastfeeding are actually symptoms of the transition to motherhood.
I see it every day, I’ve lived it, and I repeat this over and over to the doulas I train and in my prenatal classes.
When I sit on the couches of the women I support in their nursing relationships, day in and day out, my first question is “what’s your life look like right now?”
Nothing to do with milk or nipples, right?
It’s because breastfeeding is the thing, for many women, that catalyzes the shift in their identity to motherhood. A baby who needs to be breastfed every two to three hours challenges their physical and emotional autonomy, it requires long hours of nighttime wakefulness and a great many calories, which in turn require women to slow. the. fuck. down.
And so when I sit on the couches of women I support we mostly talk about motherhood. How it’s developmentally (and evolutionarily) normal for a baby to wake through the night. How it’s actually usually easier to rest and stay home while you’re getting comfortable with nursing on demand than to try to accomplish the things your old self could. How there’s an old self now, and you weren’t expecting that.
Breastfeeding, for me and for many women, was ultimately full of ease and delight, but in those early days, it was the scapegoat for the sense of loss I had as I transitioned into motherhood.
And now, here I am, with a sparkling breastmilk ring on my finger.
Because my doctor had to come into my hospital room when my daughter was a day old and actually tell me, “you know, you need to feed your baby,” and because I actually didn’t want to; it was painful for me at first.
Because I figured it out, over several weeks of trying, and it took more determination and courage, possibly, than my triumphant birth.
Because very soon after, it was actually what FREED me, what allowed me to connect to that old self again, as I nursed in the baby carrier while making risotto or hiking.
Because it was how I learned to calm and nurture my babies when I didn’t know what else to do; because it was how I learned my babies.
Because it was the second thing (after birth) that my “too-fat,” “not-beautiful,” pain-ridden body had done that was entirely PERFECT. I was too fat, not beautiful, pain-ridden, and absolutely PERFECT.
Because it was how I connected with my children during the difficult transition to leaving them in someone else’s care while I returned to work.
Because it saved me hundreds of hours of sleep.
And yes, of course, because of the milk-drunk smiles, the grin on my toddler’s face when he asks for boobas, because of the warm little bodies that snuggle in tight, because of the quiet huffing of sleeping baby breath.
Because my toddler only nurses for a few seconds now, before he’s off to play, and rarely at all at night anymore. And because I know this is it for me. It’s not just my milk drying up and my last baby growing up. Not just that nursing has been a defining element of my experience for five years now.
It’s because, for me, this is what paved the way into motherhood. Breastfeeding taught me surrender, and self-care, and humility and triumph. After my challenges nursing my daughter, it catalyzed my desire to help other women breastfeed, and soon became an integral part of my career. My breastfeeding journey has supported the journeys of hundreds of other mothers. Breastfeeding and being a breastfeeding mother has been a core piece of my identity for five years.
And soon, I’m sensing, it will be time to let go. I’m nearly as ready as my son is, and I will welcome a new level of physical autonomy that I haven’t had in a long time, but I will miss it to. Because of all that.
But I’ve got a ring on my finger. A triumphant drop of milk to honour this time in my life, and how it has truly changed me.
**note: breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt! If you’re experiencing pain while breastfeeding, it’s because something is not quite right. Be sure to seek the help of a lactation consultant, doula or other knowledgeable breastfeeding support person as soon as you can.