Breastfeeding is part of my story. It is part of Emily’s story. From her birth to her death, I nursed her. The connection we shared for those 7 months and 6 days will forever be precious to me.
Emily and I shared a nursing relationship that was unique. I’ve nursed all my children, but by the time Emily, number 5, came along, I was a seasoned breastfeeding mama and we were good…real good. So good in fact, I managed to nurse her while climbing down into a dark, and rather treacherous, cave in South Dakota, adding to my extensive list of Places I’ve Breastfed.
When she became sick that night in December of 2007, I nursed her through the scary early morning hours in that lonely hospital room, waiting for a diagnosis…a diagnosis that would eventually bring a stall to our breastfeeding relationship for days on end as her tiny body healed from major surgery.
The day we were reunited, baby to breast, I cried. I held her close, tucking those stray wisps of fuzzy brown hair behind her ears and murmuring my affection in that secret language of mothers and babies everywhere. All the tubes and wires in the world could not keep me from her.
Life post-surgery was challenging and changed for us. Emily was fragile. She nursed every two hours around the clock. Yet, my patience held. I still look back at those weeks with fondness and an awe that I never once felt tied down or irritated by the nearly constant breastfeeding sessions. Did I know? Did I somehow sense those days were numbered and soon, much too soon, I would be left with only memories? Did I feel her tiny frame slipping from my fingers as I held her tightly and gave of myself in the only way I knew how?
In the early morning hours of February 10, 2008, I nursed my little Emily for the very last time…just 3 short hours before her death. It was just her and I in a darkened room…connecting. For weeks on end following her death, I could feel her next to me suckling as my mind climbed out of the depth of dreams and into the world of awareness. Not only did my heart ache for Emily, my body ached for her as well. In excruciating, primal pain, my body mourned her absence. Slowly, unwelcome emptiness set in and I was left with memories…beautiful memories.
Breastfeeding is not just something you do. It is something you feel. It is a connection, a bond, that spans time…eternity, if you will. It is not just a mother feeding a baby. It is a mother and a child intertwined in a dance with steps only they know, with emotions only they share. What I wouldn’t do to dance with her again.
Instead, I dance with another. A new little nursling with beauty and grace all his own. He does not replace the sister he never knew, but his presence soothes her absence. As the two of us share silent, solitary moments in the middle of the night, I am reminded of her and blessed by him.