Thursday, August 25, 2016

on weaning one who is not my own

When Bana Mukobe and Bana Jasper walked up to my house, I knew it was time to face the music. I had taken a break from pumping milk for Jasper during our recent trip to Lusaka and despite the fact that we had been home for almost a week, I still hadn’t resumed pumping and in my heart, I knew I was done. Jasper was now definitely old enough to manage without breastmilk, and his satisfying chub and walking and talking, smart little self proved that it was ok for him to wean.

the story of all my days for a long time. it was the greatest and most exhausting thing ever
When the ladies sat and asked me what my thoughts were, and I said it was up to them and they said it was up to me, I dropped my head to my knees and began to cry. “I don’t want to disappoint you,” I said, "but I think I’m just worn out and I don’t think I can pump any more." Bana Jasper (Jasper's mama) began to cry as well. Perhaps she was crying just because I was, or maybe it was because she still remembers the painful time when she too decided to wean. “You’ve done so much for him, she said.” Having gone back to school eight months ago, she knew that she had cut off his milk too soon but had done so anyway for the sake of continuing her education. For the next several minutes Jasper's mother and grandmother shared all of the ways they knew that her child had thrived because of the milk he had received.

I blubbered some things back and forth with the family about how I was thankful for them and eventually Leonie waddled out and we watched the two babes toddle around enough other in their effortlessly cute way. Looking at those two together I saw it as the closest I may ever get to “tandem” nursing. Though the one only ever received my milk from a cup – I still reveled at watching Jasper and Leonie together, knowing how I had helped grow both of them.

My slow leak of tears continued through the evening, night and next morning until I sat down and thought things through a bit better. For the love, its just breast milk, so WHY WAS I CRYING??? It was just that day after day, every 2-4 hours, the constancy and the literal draining of all my reserves for months on end had worn me thin and I was exhausted... but that didn't mean I wanted it to end. So I decided to write a letter to Jasper’s mother, fleshing out my tears for my own sake, (and maybe a bit for hers.)

I wrote, “Bana Jasper…”

I want to thank you again for coming to my house last night. I’m sorry I fell apart crying like that. I didn’t think it would be so emotional for me to stop pumping for Jasper, but it clearly is. Jasper will always be your son, but this process of providing milk for him has made me love him like one of my own. For the last eight months, I have thought about him as much as I’ve thought about my own baby. I would wake up each morning and start the process of scheduling milk time for both babies. I would pump for Jasper and then feed Leonie, head to preschool and come home early to pump more milk for Jasper before Leonie would need me again. I would steal away from meetings and send Leonie off with kids and pray that she would sleep longer all so I could fit in a few more pumping sessions. I changed my diet to increase my milk supply, and I worried if I didn’t produce what I felt was enough. Truly, I gave of my own body, my heart of hearts, to see both of these babies grow and develop properly. When I see Jasper now, fat and happy, I’m just so blessed. I can say that being able to share my milk with your son has been one of the greatest privileges of motherhood for me so far. What an incredible gift that God gives us as mothers to feed and nourish another human. And you, Bana Jasper, gave me the chance to do that for your child and I will forever be grateful to you for allowing me into your lives in this special way.
It’s true that it has been a long, hard, eight months. Nursing one baby and pumping for another has taken a lot of mental and physical energy, and I can’t deny that I really do need this break now. My tears fell last night because I knew I needed to stop providing extra milk… but it still made me sad to do so, as if I were weaning my own child. Sometimes the hard and tiring things in life are at the same time our biggest blessings and this has been so true of my nursing/pumping relationship with you and Jasper.
I will always hold this season close to my heart, and all I can say is thank you, thank you again and again for having given me this honor.   

I sent Bana Jasper my letter and dried those remaining tears and said much of the same thing to God as I had to my young friend. “Thanks for the privilege of being a woman and a mother and a milk maker. What a sweet, sweet gift." 

I may be given this gift again – in fact, I pray for it often. But in the mean time, I’ll continue to treasure these fearfully and wonderfully made moments I still have as I anticipate a new season to come; after all, there’s more than one way to nourish another human…