He would scratch his head all the time. His tiny little fingers would burrow in. But pediatricians kept telling me he was too young in his infancy to localize an itch. Cradle cap they all said.
I drank all the milk they told me to. I would hold my boy in my arms and suck down the cashews. Cats and dogs lived in every place we went. They slept in every room.
I introduced applesauces and pureed peas. I gave him a taste of cream of wheat. All the time keeping my own diet rich in dairy proteins and about a bucket or two of tree nuts per week. All while I nursed him at my breast.
The day I smeared a thin coat of peanut butter on a Ritz cracker, all that changed. We were in the ER in less than 10 minutes. My child was not even recognizable by the time we got there.
This time, the doctors said something different.
Blood work came back that showed allergies to cow’s milk protein, peanuts, tree nuts, cats and dander of various pets. He needed bleach baths and steroids and the elimination diet in his nursing mother began.
I have not had a nut in over four years.*
Skin graphs since have brought cheese and chocolate milk into our world again. Along with the twenty pounds I lost by getting rid of them. Alas.
There won’t be a puppy growing up along side my son.
And now, my milk is gone and his latch has left and my little lad is a high strung boy more interested in popsicles than my breasts.*
It’s been five years I will never forget.
Today, he reminded me we were both allergic to things. I told him that wasn’t it. He was sad. He knows I chose to journey with him and to make his milk myself, but he also knows more than ever that he’s in it by himself.
Yes, of course, there won’t ever be a tree nut in our home and it goes without saying (but I will) that there won’t ever be remnants of the salty legume on my hands or breath.
And, I still don’t know when (or if) I’ll have the taste of butter pecan again. There’s something about taking this journey with him I can’t seem to put aside just yet.
Not every woman would give up a nut just to keep lactating. Not every woman should. Not every woman wants to. Not any woman needs to. But it was my autonomy, so I chose to. And for me, it was worth it.
Seems such a silly, trite sacrifice in retrospect.
But damn if I can’t already taste the walnuts in the banana bread. Or the sip of smooth Amaretto or the luxury of a silky crunchy hazelnut.
I love you baby boy. Nursing you was an experience I will never forget.
This piece dedicated to the women who carried our journey. Without them, I could never have learned what I needed to. It is their advocacy and support that my son and I owe these years to. Thank you feels so very inadequate. You can never know the heart swell that rises or the tears that fall in gratitude, for you:
- Jamie Lynne Grumet. Who pulled me out of isolation and into empowerment. Who changed the course of my direction. Who changed my world.
- Tracey Cassels. Who taught me techniques and tools — and how to handle the haters who would thwart my own goals.
- Jessica Martin Weber. Who through a vast following of solidarity, let me peak into the stories of so many women who felt like I did and could.
- Abby Theuring. Whose brave, bold stance spilled into my own advocacy for multitudes of others.
- Bettina Forbes. Who provided an exhaustive knowledge base of information and resource and outreach against discrimination in spite of laws.
- Denene Millner. Who reminds me every day with her shared stories about diversity and differences that I’m a privileged white breastfeeding woman.
And my mother. The strongest woman I know. Who journeyed along with me into this new territory that was foreign in society when it was her turn.
This piece concludes a series written for National Breastfeeding Month. A time devoted to postpartum women making the autonomous decision to feed their children with their own bodies. A time set aside for normalizing human mammals and milk production in society again. Regardless of stigmas and set backs. Every August since 2011, the year my son was born, a time has been set aside for awareness and advocacy, but support for women is encouraged year round.
*Human mammals typically begin wean at 6–12 months of age, once any other nutritional source apart from milk is introduced. By the age of 8, most all humans are intolerant to lactose and no longer require milk for brain development. A mutation in our species allows some humans to continue to consume milk beyond this full wean. The range of weaning is a spectrum in our species which aligns with the altering of the jaw, diminishing of cheek fat and drop of “milk” teeth, among other anatomical developments in growth. Usually, this wean occurs between the age of 2.5 and 7 years, with some exceptions. The age to wean a child from the breast should primarily consider simply the requirement for milk or milk substitute for the child and full right to autonomy of the provider — always.