Earlier this week, I posted about my initial journey into breastfeeding my son with a dairy allergy. It was a struggle for a few months, but I eventually got my rhythm in the new dairy-free lifestyle. I wasn’t immune to the ups and downs of breastfeeding though. I learned the hard way that mint tea is not conducive to producing plenty of milk. Thankfully Fenugreek came to my rescue. As he got older I struggled to keep up with his appetite, producing barely enough each day. Adding to my stash didn’t seem to be an option anymore, but my deep freezer was stocked so I was content.
The busy holiday season came, and I got my annual cold. It wasn’t a concern until a week later when I was suddenly hit with fever, chills and aches. The flu. This was uncharted territory for me, and to say it knocked me on my butt was an understatement. I attempted to nurse through it, hoping I could prevent passing it on to my son, even after a doctor said I could not nurse*. Dehydration turned my milk production to drops and made for a frustrated nursing little boy and a suddenly dwindling stash. I tried pumping in hopes of not permanently drying up, but there was nothing and I was exhausted. And still I wasn’t getting any better. Another trip to the doctor to find out it had advanced to Pneumonia. It was evident that keeping my milk supply up didn’t need to be my top priority right now. I needed to focus on getting myself better, for all of us. Reluctantly, I let it go.
Bittersweet doesn’t begin to describe what I felt as I came to terms with drying up. I was set to begin a new job in a week (with that nasty Pneumonia cough and all), and there was a bit of me that was relieved I didn’t have to spend my breaks pumping while navigating a new office. Mostly I was heartbroken, scared and defeated. Not knowing where he was with his dairy allergy scared me, and I feared seeing him in pain from reacting to whatever would replace breastmilk once the freezer stash was gone. I was heartbroken and defeated because I had worked so hard to ensure I was providing for him and his allergy. All that work was instantly stolen from me.
Maybe I put too much meaning on the act of nursing, but it felt like the loss of something more. Those moments quietly nursing him before bed. Knowing his mannerisms in a way others couldn’t. And not feeling like I could protect him from his allergy. The heaviness of those perceived losses carried on for weeks.
A lot of children outgrow their dairy allergy by the age of one. Around 10 months we started mixing in a little formula with the breastmilk to test for any reactions. Slowly we added more, eventually progressing to milk around 1 year. With no adverse effects it appeared he had outgrown the allergy. That relief lightened the load on me immensely, and I began to feel more like myself. I began to realize that maybe it actually ended how it was supposed to. Maybe I would have struggled with deciding when to wean. Maybe I would have felt guilt for choosing when to wean, instead of my son or my body deciding. It seems my body knew before I could that it was time to take care of myself, not just my son.
And I learned not all of those things I thought I lost were really gone. I still know his mannerisms better that anyone else. We still have our own mom & son time, which is always evolving. But the biggest thing I learned was that many of these struggles are phases, but the internal battle between the desire to protect our little ones or to let them fly will always be there. Probably for the rest of my life. Hopefully I can remember that next time the heaviness takes hold.
* My research told me otherwise and I chose to follow my instinct. My son had his flu shot and thankfully he never got sick.