It’s a balmy, buggy night in South Carolina, though there is a very pleasant breeze softly shifting the palmettos. The streetlights have been on for a couple hours already, but the parking lot in front of the General’s Building remains dark.
I feel like some strange sort of smuggler when a car pulls up next to the big government pickup truck I’ve been sitting in. I climb out of the truck and walk toward the back of the car. As I approach, the rear window rolls down.
“Mama!” calls the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard, “Mama!” As I open the door, he reaches for me and squirms against the straps of his carseat. “Buckle; Buckle,” he insists.
As draw him out of the car, his older sister chatters excitedly about all the fun she had tonight and how sorry she is I couldn’t be there. I carry Flintstone around to the front passenger seat of the car while he happily babbles “Mama, moke. Moke!” Pointing at my chest. Before I climb into the car with him, I undo all the buttons on my digital cammies and untuck my olive drab undershirt.
MacGyver and I talk about the day he’s had with the kids and the things we have to do this week, while Punky occasionally interjects. Flinstone nurses like a champ – much to my relief – but only for about 2 minutes before the buttons and knobs on the dashboard start to distract him. I repeatedly redirect his attention back to nursing, worried about having too much milk left over. I won’t be able to nurse him again for more than 12 hours, and I don’t have my pump with me.
I’m glad to have him take anything, though. I’m really glad they could make it out tonight. I hadn’t asked MacGyver to bring Flintstone out to me this time because I knew he had had a really rough day. I had been worried I was going to have to manually express some milk to relieve the pressure and keep from sending my body any signals that might slow down my milk production. Just minutes before MacGyver called to tell me he was on his way, I had been trying to decide what to express the milk into and what to do with it afterward. I was seriously considering putting it in my coffee.
I’m sure that sounds less than appetizing to some, but if you’ve ever nursed, or, even more if you’ve ever pumped, you know the pain experienced at the mere thought of letting any of that liquid gold go to waste.
It’s not long at all, only a matter of minutes, before Flintstone has nursed enough and his attention is completely given over to the dashboard and trying to reach the steering wheel. If it weren’t so buggy out, I might take the kids out to play on the grass next to the parking lot for a few minutes before they go. Tonight, I have rounds to make and MacGyver sorely needs to sleep.
As soon as Flintstone realizes that I’m walking him back around to his carseat, he throws his little arms around me and begs, “Nooo,” he says sadly, “Mama,” And he hugs me again.
I’d rather he just claw my heart out through my ribcage.
He nurses a little more before I put him in the car, and with that final comfort, he says, “Home,” and points at the car door. I buckle him back into his seat. I swear I can feel the distance between us like two magnets being pulled apart. “Bye!” He waves and smiles. Sometimes I wonder if that makes me feel better or worse than when he cries.
I kiss MacGyver and Punky goodbye, and watch the taillights disappear into the balmy night, and I am sad. Even though standing duty only lasts 33 hours, it feels like an eternity. I have been lucky enough never to have been separated from my babies by a deployment. I don’t know how I would ever survive it. I have an amazing amount of respect for those who do.
A deep breathe eases the depression. I climb back up in the GOV (pronounced guvee), and make my rounds. I take stock of all I have to be thankful for. I’m glad I am still able to nurse my son after all these months. I’m glad we worked to make it work. It certainly hasn’t been easy.
Months and months of pumping two, even three times a day, hooked up to that blasted, painful machine. With the cow sign on my door informing everyone that I am “indisposed.” At least I have my own office. Having to go to a separate room every time would have made it exponentially harder.
There are dozens upon dozens of studies by respected institutions, universities, and international health organizations emphasizing and reiterating the importance of breastfeeding for the health of babies and mothers, observing the reduced time lost and costs expended by companies and governments that encourage breastfeeding, and encouraging more widespread acceptance of a natural way of life older than our very species.
The World Health Organization, CDC, and the National Institues of Health, for starters, emphasize that breastfeeding is the best and most normal way to provide nutrition for a baby. They also all recognize that the normal weaning age for a human infant is between 2 and 7 years old.
I am not going to go into the debate about women who can’t breastfeed or who have to stop before the 2 year mark. We do what we can to be the best mothers we can. My point here isn’t to say, “this is what I did so this is what you should do.” It’s simply to provide part of my story as a full time working mom, an active duty Marine, doing the best I can to breastfeed my son.
Flintstone is 21 months old now, and the 20 months of that since I went back to work have been sprinkled with breastfeeding struggles and triumphs. But knowing the benefits to the baby have made them all more than worth it – from protecting against illness (for the entire length of the breastfeeding relationship) to huge benefits to brain and cognitive development, the list of benefits to the baby is almost unending. Don’t believe me? There are dozens of examples of evidence here (this is, by the way, one of my very favorite breastfeeding resource sites; the amount of information available here is amazing).
But there are also often overlooked, but very significant, benefits to mothers: From physiological benefits like protection from diabetes, osteoporosis, and many cancers to decreasing the occurance, severity, or longevity of postpartum depression. The hormonal responses of a woman who has recently given birth are designed for breastfeeding, as are her child’s.
And there is, of course, the whole weight loss thing…
Sometimes it’s hard. I sacrifice part of my lunch break to go nurse Flinstone every day. At least once a month, I find myself nursing him in a dark parking lot. But it is well worth it.