Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Lesly Simmons, San Francisco, CA, USA
Photo: LJM Photography
How nursing helped me grieve
As a new mom of a four-month-old daughter, Mia, I needed no further convincing of the beneficial effects of nursing for my child and me. But when my family faced a tragedy, I quickly learned the therapeutic effects of breastfeeding went far beyond, giving me an intimate way to deal with grief.
Just a few weeks after hosting a huge baby shower for her first grandchild, my 59-year-old mother suffered a major stroke. At 3 am one morning I packed my baby and me up for the four-hour drive to Southern California, unsure of what was awaiting us there or when we would return home. For the first few days my family was tied to the intensive care waiting room, taking turns sitting with Mom. During my all-day visits family and friends would watch, play, and pour love on my little Mia until she got hungry, when I would emerge to nurse her. Whether my mother’s condition would improve or decline was completely out of my hands, but I could control how I managed my baby. In each day, the only constant was breastfeeding. Being a nursing mom forced me to step away from the uncertainty of each day and focus my energies on the new life that was dependent on me. It gave me the ideal opportunity to be alone several times a day with my daughter, taking time for quiet reflection as I fed and cared for her.
My daughter took it all in her stride, probably because she knew her source of food and comfort was never far away. We maintained our daily vigils in the waiting room until we both got sick, undoubtedly a symptom of constant air conditioning, hospital germs, and stress. So we spent a few days away recovering and when I felt better I began to pump my milk and leave my daughter with my aunt for a few hours each day, imagining how livid my mother would be if she knew her grandchild was in a hospital waiting room for days on end! I knew even in this situation she would ultimately want me to focus on my baby, so that’s what I did.
Breastfeeding gave me good reason to continue taking care of myself. In pre-baby days, I probably would have lived on waiting room coffee and vending machine meals while catching sleep whenever I could. Instead, I ate mostly healthy meals and snacks, drank tons of water, and stayed with family every night in comfort and care. In response, my milk supply skyrocketed. I was pumping eight ounces in five minutes and wearing breast pads to deal with leakage. I had wrongly thought the stress would reduce my supply. We kept this ritual up for nearly two weeks until we had to return home for an already-once- rescheduled well-baby appointment.
While we were back home, Mom passed away. Even in my sadness, I’ve relied heavily on the continued ritual of breastfeeding to keep me going. Nursing helped me grieve. One of the things my mother complimented me on most after my daughter’s birth was my commitment to breastfeeding. She was a La Leche League member and I went to meetings with her decades ago when she was pregnant with my younger siblings. She was very glad when I joined the organization, too. Even though Mom is no longer here, nursing Mia is one of the ways I continue to feel connected to my Mom. I think it’s a great way to honor her memory.
One of the things my mother complimented me on most after my daughter’s birth was my commitment to breastfeeding. She was a La Leche League member and I went to meetings with her decades ago when she was pregnant with my younger siblings. She was very glad when I joined the organization, too.