Conceiving & Grieving: Why I’ll Be Breastfeeding This Father’s Day

Breastfeeding and Father’s Day: The two may not be linked for most people, but for me, they are two equal and opposite parts that equal the same whole.I started writing this post even before bringing getting banned from Facebook for posting a breastfeeding photo over Memorial Day weekend, which gave me even more time, opportunity and drive to examine my thoughts on the subjects at hand.

This post has been a weeks-long battle to continue writing. However, it is important for me personally and maybe, somewhere along the way I can help others by sharing, too. So, despite the sometimes occasional time-stopping pain and the sheer challenge, just like birthing, breastfeeding and so many other maternal rites of passage, I am pushing forward, pushing through. Progress comes; sometimes in painful, helpful spurts, sometimes in slow, stretched out mental periods where it feels like everything is for nothing, that there’s no way out and there is too, too much for a single person to deal with, and always at its own pace. It’s trusting in the process that takes work to not only survive, but thrive.

If you’ve felt like that about birthing, about breastfeeding, about simply getting through the day, then I am writing this for you. Feeling alone, scared, overwhelmed and unsupported are the exact stumbling blocks, or “booby traps”, if you will, that create a downward spiral that damage and hinder the delicate balance in those very processes. I struggle with those feelings all the time. Birthing and breastfeeding are at the forefront of my mind, having given birth last December. However, this being my fourth pregnancy, those particular processes aren’t new to me- the familiarity of the course helps a bit in running it. The process I am having trouble accepting, nevermind trusting, is grief, and the depression that can follow if it goes unchecked.

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ve probably picked up along the way that I lost my father to Melanoma a year, nine months and two weeks ago, exactly. Not that I’m counting. This was especially difficult timing, as I experienced a sudden and (arguably) unforseen end to my marriage of almost 7 years (something about that itch, I guess?) almost exactly a year prior to that. You could say I’ve had a bit of a rough stretch… and that I have a lot to grieve the loss of.

Let me catch you up a bit:

The timing of the divorce was especially sour, considering I had just moved my entire life and belongings across the country for my (now ex) husband’s job in the Coast Guard. Aside from the shock and grief in suddenly losing a husband and life as I knew it, I lost everything I’ve ever owned- and so did my three children- save a suitcase each. At that, the suitcases were hastily packed for a vacation that was moved up suddenly; my locker-mate and close friend from high school had been stabbed to death (R.I.P Mickey Vandi) and I wanted to attend his memorial service that was only a few days prior to my originally planned date of arrival. That was the summer right before my 29th birthday in 2009. I felt like life had pulled the rug out from under me. I was forced to move back in with my parents and share their extra bedroom with all three of the kids. I had to go from being a SAHM to finding work and childcare. I had to deal with jumping through hoops and sifting through stacks of forms and phone calls to every state aid I could find. I had to try, harder than I’ve ever tried at anything before in my life not cry myself to sleep next to my kids every night and put on my best face for theirs every morning as we practiced a crash course in cosleeping.

Little did I know what a blessing in disguise it would be to be thrown back into my parents’ home. It was hard on everyone. But, we had dinner with my parents every night for 6 months until I got back on my feet again. My kids crawled into bed with my parents when they read the paper weekend mornings. We fell into familiarity with each others’ routines. We ate the comfort foods of my own childhood and heard the keys on my dad’s belt and his heavy shoes hit the hardwood floor followed by the general permeating aroma of grease from his auto repair shop each night when he walked through the door.

My children developed very close knit relationships to both of my parents during that time. There is no other way that we could have forged those same bonds with such strength. It was an immersion program in finding Zen. It was a HUGE ‘reset’ button on life. Difficult doesn’t begin to describe it. Neither does gut-wrenching-knee-crippling heartache. However, The Universe, The World, God, Man in the Moon, Bob… whatever you call that big, cosmicness… certainly works in mysterious ways. 

My father was diagnosed with Metastatic Melanoma in January, just a week after what we didn’t know would be his last Christmas. To honor our old family tradition, we cut a tree down that year, despite my parents’ having bought a fake one years before. I took some of my favorite pictures ever that day.

My parents were happily married for 33 years.

I started a blog about it here, but it died and a grandiose writer’s block was born on the same sunny day: I thought  he was going to live. I thought that after a traumatic and early birth, living with Cerebral Palsy and Diabetes and through some seriously amazing events, he was owed a happily ever after. Hell, my dad is still in MY happily ever after. I’m writing to try and gently lead myself down a path I do not want to take… and somehow create a happily ever after that includes my sweet, silly daddy only in spirit.

“Adult children are intellectually aware of the real possibility of their parent’s death. Yet, deep down we can’t shake the assumption that perhaps in our case, an exception will be made.” — Dr. Earl A. Grollman 

He left this earth just after 6pm on September 2, 2010. (90210 will NEVER mean Beverly Hills to me, no matter how hard I crushed on Dylan) It was a Thursday, the day after his parents’ 60th anniversary, three days before his mother’s birthday. I was holding his hand.

The following Sunday, after a long-term hiatus, I went to church of my childhood with my mom & sisters- if only because my dad would have gone and I wanted to be with my family. There, I reunited with a childhood crush I had known through the same church since I was 6 years old, tripped and fell head over heels in love… and tried REALLY hard not to be devastated at the same time. Talk about maintaining balance! Our reunion became an official Union when 6 months later, we found out we were expecting a child. (Our response? High-5!) Life has been busy ever since.

I, especially as a practiced gentle parent (or Attachment Parent as I guess it’s called) who has always tried to keep the discipline positive, peaceful and constructive, have to find a way to keep myself and my grief disciplined in the same manner. It is red-hot, flaming, fearful, reactive, protective, angry, and so, so sad… not qualities sought out in relationship building with anyone of any age. Those are key ingredients to DE-tachment parenting, if there exists such a terrible, damaging thing. I have lashed out at those close to me and completely withdrawn from those who aren’t. Now, instead of feeling like a caged and wounded lion all the time, I am trying to tame the beast within so I can heal from the shock and the loss and move on with my life, be it as it may.

Grief, like intense pain, occurs for a reason- both which indicate a need for attention and healing. I didn’t feel like there was even a point to try and heal, knowing there will always be a chasm in my heart and at the Thanksgiving table every year. Recently, I came across a quote from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. Her words spoke to me in a simple way that I finally felt acknowledged the rift in my insides, while allowing me to move forward… it is my dream to have my own writing heal and free people from themselves as much as she has done for me over the years.

She says,

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

Reading this almost brought me to tears in and of itself– my dad literally danced with a limp, having been born with Cerebral Palsy. (I wrote a little about it in my healing salve post and plan to write more in the future) My grief is overwhelming at times. If I didn’t have children, it may well have consumed me at first. Not because of my love for them, which I wish I could say is enough to balance the scales; but my sadness is heavy. It can be numbing and unfortunately detaching. They keep me busy, though… which I’ve found is the key to not, say, driving off of a cliff or crying hysterically in bed for hours on end. This is one time where Attachment Parenting- and specifically, breastfeeding, play a major role.I read an article recently about how choosing not to breastfeed mimics mourning in the body.

Transversely, choosing to breastfeed helps fight depression, thanks to oxytocin: otherwise known as “The Love Hormone” (and the hormone released during orgasm! 😉 When you’re wearing a baby who nurses on demand, it’s like getting shots of love throughout the day. Of course, during low points, I’ve felt like I don’t want to be wanted. I want to be left alone in my sadness. I just want my dad. But as much as I want my dad, I am 31 years old. My son is in his first year and needs me to do the things that I want done for myself. This is where breastfeeding comes in: We both need to be rocked, to feel not alone and loved. We both need to surrender to the moment and come together to meet each other’s needs, especially when my heart feels as empty as his stomach.

There have been many times my son needing comfort or nourishment has given me an excuse during my most overwhelmed, exhausted and hopeless moments to take a break from the world, sit and do nothing but bask in the beauty and the wonderment of the new life I’ve just helped to create.I’m not saying it’s easy. There have been times I have had to leave him to cry (for a limited time) because I needed to cry and I didn’t want him absorbing my negative energy. I don’t like it now and I didn’t then, but they tell you to save yourself before your kids when an airplane is going down for a reason. If the parent loses it, the child has no (or very little) hope. There have been times that I have just had to trust the robot process of planting baby-face to boob and staring at the wall, trying not to feel a thing and wait… just trusting that those horrible, dark moments will indeed pass, like everything else in life. And, like clouds over the sun, they do.

The Big Nipple in the Sky?

Grief is a tricky monster that I deal with every day. Looking at Father’s Day cards might always leave a pit in my stomach, although hopefully it will eventually cease locking my body into numbness so that I can buy toilet paper and peanut butter without feeling like there’s in ice pick lodged in my chest. This Father’s Day and every day, I am grateful he lived at all- if only half of the time one generally regards as a human lifespan. I will always be angry that there was a cure down the fucking hallway from where he was getting treated at UCSF, but he didn’t make the “lottery”. There wasn’t enough money behind the clinical trial to get the drug manufactured at an effective rate, even for the trial it was dependent on. Now, anyone can just Google “Metastatic Melanoma BRAF mutation” and find a mass produced drug, so everyone that made it 6 months longer than my dad did has access to treatment. I want to be happy about that. I really, really do. Good for those people.

I will always regret not saying, “Thank you” and “I love you, Daddy.” one more time, or apologizing for my teenage self. I know I needn’t have done any of those things. I will always have canyon in my heart that can’t be touched by anyone, anywhere, ever. I will keep pictures of my dad around the house, tell stories to my kids, make memory books with pictures and talk about every piece of him that comes forward in my head with my mom & sisters, who do the same for me. “Do you remember Dad’s long eyebrow hair? I wanted to pluck it SO BAD!” she says. I do remember… and as strange as it may be, I always want to. He will always be in the smell of car grease, French Roast coffee and Vanilla Cavendish pipe tobacco, be smiling with the wind in his hair on a boat and down on the floor, laughing and playing with my kids.

We are the things we love, and those things don’t disappear when 21 grams of body weight does. I will always be the 6 year old flying by on my bike, the 10 year old winning the spelling bee, the 15 year old learning to drive, the 21 year old new mother, the 31 year old writing a blog post, looking up after I’m through to think, “Do you see me, Daddy? Are you proud?” He cried every time I did practically anything, the old softy. I know it’s because he was. My eyes full of tears and breasts full of milk, I go now to let them let both flow unhindered; my solace in my greatest times of sorrow, to rock my baby and my own grown-up-child’s heart to sleep.

“I took her into bed with me and propped myself up with pillows against the headboard to let her nurse. As she nursed and the milk came, she began a little low contented sort of singing. I would feel milk and love flowing from me to her as once it had flowed to me. It emptied me. As the baby fed, I seemed slowly to grow empty of myself, as if in the presence of that long flow of love even grief could not stand.” – Wendell Berry

[Update: Fri 6/15/12 Check out this post on the Editor’s Pick list at Open Salon here!]
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7 thoughts on “Conceiving & Grieving: Why I’ll Be Breastfeeding This Father’s Day

  1. Having lost my mom, I have some true sense of every word you wrote here. Just discovered your blog today and read a bit. I so admire your strength, grit, and fire…and your dedication to your babies and the experience of motherhood. If I could, I would make you a cup of tea, cry with you, laugh a little and call you friend. Stay strong…keep roaring! @melyssab79

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  2. Wow.I am not sure how to express myself after reading that, so emotional, so raw and beautiful.I am so glad you wrote this. My heart goes out to you and your family. I am so glad your babies got to bond with him before his passing. My father just got his gallbladder removed and has heart problems, and has never met any of the 3 grand kids, so I relate to your sentiment. We are moving him in from Kansas, and hope to see improvement in his life. I know this piece will touch many women for a long time to come as it is so elegant yet showing vulnerability at the same time.

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