On Friday we stopped breastfeeding.
31 months and 1 day.
2 years and 7 months and 1 day.
One of the longest, most rewarding, and most fulfilling jobs I have ever had. Yes : I said “jobs” – because whilst it was wonderful and tender and wrought with hormones and body doubt and body gratitude and self doubt and self care and self neglect and ideological ambition and realistic set backs and unwaivering perseverance and effortless ease and sublime miraculous grace : it was work. Holy work. I do see it as me having chosen to take on a job to nourish you, my child. A job commissioned by nature to fulfill as long as we both enjoyed the process and relationship of nourishing and nurturing / drinking and receiving. It was nourishment and nurturing of a complex and multifaceted nature. A journey and a relationship shrouded in blissful connection and sometimes underpinned by deep struggle. A journey that has naturally ended at the perfect moment; for both of us.
I still can’t quite believe that it is over; and to be honest it isn’t quite “over” as we are still talking about it between us: still touching Ninnie and feeling together how Ninnie is changing, laughing together at the incredulity of there being no more milk drinking. Ninnie is your name for my milky breasts – you know the word “breasts” but refer to my breasts (still now a few days later) as Ninnie.
If anyone would have told me when I was a few weeks pregnant that I would breastfeed you for this long I would have laughed in their face(!!!) I thought I would breastfeed for 9-12 months until you transitioned into food, and didn’t need the calories anymore….but then there you were, and my natural instincts blossomed and my rational mind was convinced after doing the research….and there you were: relishing the milk. Loving your safe haven from the exciting world, your body growing and flourishing so powerfully, your immunity and your health so strong – your desire to continue so palpable as each and every time you arrived at the breast your body relaxed and your nervous system reset.
We breastfed through a lot. We breastfed through our mutual recovery from a Caesarean birth after a long labour; for a few days we supplemented here and there as my milk supply came through – and despite the gruelling pumping schedule we breastfed through it. We breastfed through your Upper Lip Tie and for 9 weeks we breastfed with a nipple shield. We breastfed through the protracted death of my granny; your great grandmother. We breastfed through your first teeth, and your first mild fever. We breastfed through the arrival of each and every tooth that arrived – and at 12 months you had 14 teeth…each one bringing fresh chafing for my resilient nipples. we breastfed through the second level three day doula training I attended when you were 12 weeks old – your loving aunty bringing you at breaks and lunchtime. We breastfed through the flashbacks I started to have as part of the PTSD that was triggered in those first few months post partum; we breastfed through the ensuing migraines. We breastfed through a move to the UK for a few months; through the emotional rollercoasted that turned out to be. We breastfed through our happy return to Amsterdam. We breastfed through the first student births I attended, we breastfed through the “interuption to service” that the births and the hospital internships brought. You even had the privilege of breastfeeding from a friend whilst I was at the first full overnight birth. We breastfed through your first virus and your salmonella. We breastfed through your learning to walk and your increased sleep talking – thankfully no sleepwalking yet. We breastfed through the uncertain months of the beginning of self employment; me often reassured that whilst I wasn’t able to afford to put organic food and line caught salmon on our table as I had wanted – at least I could still offer you the breast -and that was as close to organic as it gets right?! We breastfed through your start at nursery, we breastfed through your decision to use the potty and the toilet. We breastfed though 2 years and 7 months of single parenting; and whilst a lot of parents in partnerships may not understand that there is a difference…that is no mean feat!
So how did it all come to an end?
On Friday night as we went about settling down for sleep after stories and tooth brushing; you said “Big Ninnie first” and out of nowhere I heard myself say “It is almost time to stop breastfeeding Jasper. You are a really big boy now, you can do so much for yourself, and Ninnie’s job is done – you don’t need to drink Ninnie anymore.” Your concern was initially mainly if you could drink from Ninnie tonight – naturally – your primary concern at 2y 7m is the present and immediate moment and the moment playing out in such a way that pleases you!!!
I cherished you as much as you would let me whilst you drank. I stroked your toddler head, your long blonde hair – totally different from the dark dark brown head of hair you were born with. I felt the size of your head; the solidity of it. I reminisced back to the first days of our journey when despite weighing 4.448kg at birth; you felt so tiny and fragile in my arms next to my blossoming bouncing balloon like breasts. I felt the full length of your little but solid toddler body next to mine and realised happily that you too will probably remember our breastfeeding journey in the longer term. This makes me so happy.
I have whispered into your ears at various points in the days since with tears in my eyes and my throat choked; “Ninnie will always love you – even though there is no more milk for you to drink; you can still put your head on the soft roundness and remember all the lovely milk you have enjoyed.”
The next night as we turned out the light after stories I invited you into my arm for a cuddle and you said; “Can I have Ninnie?” I smile in the half light (expecting the worst) and say “Oh no – we have stopped drinking Ninnie remember?” Tired after a lovely long day you say; “Oh yeah!” and lie back in your sheepskin.
Falling asleep the next afternoon; you are fidgetty and can’t get comfortable. You lie vertically on my body, your head over my heart, your arm outstretched over “Big Ninnie” (my right one) and fall asleep like that. I cherish the closeness; my heart hurting for you a little. Is it my projection or is this you searching for reassurance?
Last night you tried again – with a knowing and cheeky grin as you ask; “Can I have a little drink?” I laugh and say “Noooooo – the milk is gone now….”
“A tiny drink? A really really short drink?” you venture.
I reply with a clear voice defying my mental uncertainty; “Oh that would be so nice wouldn’t it; but Ninnie doesn’t have milk anymore – feel how wobbly they are now! They are very different now….” I’m half wondering if I should actually offer you some but the dread of the feeling of the dwindling milk being drawn up through the already very different feeling ducts persuades me not to(!)
I am so PROUD of you that you seem able to navigate this change with such confidence. Seeking out affirmations of our love and attachment, yes, but in what seems to be a secure manner. Our relationship is changing again – again! Oh how the wonderous journey of parenthood embodies the only certainhood we have in life: that nothing is certain – that nothing lasts forever.
In these last days of our breastfeeding journey (is it appropriate to say “The Wrap Up”?!?! Too soon maybe?!?!) I have laughed, I have cried, I have massaged and soothed my breasts in deep loving gratitude, I have reflected a lot on what the breastfeeding journey has meant for me, what I hope it has meant for you, and what it has meant for us as a mother and son. There are so many memories – some fleeting and funny, some raw and intense, some euphoric, some I have shared with others, some that will simply remain between you and I; and some that I hold close in my own heart just for me. It is also incredibly beautiful; that on the day that our journey stopped – the breastfeeding journey of a dear dear friend and her absolutely scrumptious newborn daughter began. The cycle continues!
I want to end with gratitude. Gratitude for you and your unwaivering determination from just minutes old, gratitude for your grunting and sucking and stroking and patting and burping and slurping, gratitude for my breasts and my body, gratitude for the healing nature of our “successful” breastfeeding journey after a birth journey that wasn’t what I had hoped for us, and last but not least – deep gratitude for all the people around us. The women, the dearest friends and family, the birthworkers and teachers, and the supporters who made our journey possible with their glasses of water, the delicious nibbles and snacks, the warming tea, the hand on the shoulder, the gentle reminders about techniques in those early days. Gratitude for their understanding when everything stopped so that I could sit down and nourish you; the knowing loving glances in cafes; the spoken words of tenderness, encouragement and support on the days when I was hollow eyed and “over it”; and everybody and every act of support in little and big ways since: THANK YOU.
image credit: chainimage.com
As I mentioned in a blog post on my professional Facebook page a couple of months ago; I heard myself referred to as “The Trauma Doula”. This is not because I inflict trauma upon my clients you understand (!) but more because I have chosen to specialise in supporting women (& their partners) in unravelling traumatic experiences and their impact on the journey of pregnancy, childbirth and the post partum period. So around and about Amsterdam I speak a lot about Birth Trauma, about VBAC, about Caesarean Birth, about sexual abuse, about domestic abuse and about the ways and means we have at our finger tips to support our hearts, bodies and minds in unpicking the thread that these types of trauma can weave through our experiences of these special moments in our lives.
Anyhow, I digress! Never having really had a “nickname” because Ilena doesn’t really rhyme so easily with other words; (someone did unsuccessfully attempt to spread “Ilena the Painer” some 22 years ago) I decided that “The Trauma Doula” was also not really one I was keen to perpetuate within the Amsterdam Birth Network or the wider network of families and parents-to-be.
So it got me thinking….what would I like to have as my nickname or “trademark”? To mention but a few fabulous doulas in Amsterdam with nicknames; the wonderful Maartje de Bruijn-Bruning from MotherMe is referred to as “The Duracell Doula” due to her unwavering high energy support, my beloved and multi-talented mentor Jennifer Walker has recently become “The Spinning Babies Doula” due to being one of seven approved Spinning Babies trainers, and the lovely Wendy van der Zijden IS “Holistic Doula”,due to her passion for all things natural and holistic, so what would I (or others) coin as a nickname for myself?
Well after waiting a few months for an answer, earlier this evening it struck me:
Am I “The Chameleon Doula”???
Now in other contexts of life, the notion of being a chameleon might not work so well: who would want a dentist come gynaecologist come antiques dealer to fill in a root canal? Who would trust a baker come plasterer come politician? What about a chemist come footballer come gardener? Maybe not….(!)
In the world of birth keeping however, I believe passionately in the value and significance of this ability to camouflage into the surroundings, and shape shift as appropriate. For me it is important that as a doula I can support you in a homebirth setting, in a hospital induction, in a water birth at a birth centre, or in a planned caesarean birth – all equally.
Now what does that actually translate into in terms of what I actually do during birth support? Let me be clear and tangible :
- I love space clearing with sage, palo santo or incense
- I love to offer insight into herbal teas and mineral supplements
- I love to sit with you as you learn about the physiology and chemistry of birth
- I love to use yoga principles to help you stretch out the body
- I love to hear your feedback after having reviewed the lastest scientific research on Vitamin K
- I love to sit with your midwife as you present your preferences for your care
- I love to help you pack your birth centre bag
- I love the curious and sometimes intense taxi ride to the hospital
- I love to coach you through the fears and doubts that arise as you navigate those final cms in your living room
- I love to bust out the essential oils for you as you’re hooked up to the CTG
- I love brushing your hair and applying make up as you enjoy the relief of the epidural
- I love to heat up your body with my warm hands as I channel the healing and rejuvenating energy of Reiki through your body
- I love to talk you through what I can see as you lie back on the operating table ready to meet your baby
- I love chanting with you as you prepare to bear down and push
- I love to coach you through the mental blocks like a hockey coach as you continue to push like you never did before
- I love to capture your incredulous awestruck face as you take in the face of your baby in person
- …and I love everything in between! I have to shape shift pretty dramatically in one birth between all of these tasks.
My clients reflect this chameleon like appearance; I serve artists and corporate lawyers, recruitment consultants and managing directors, performance coaches and stay at home parents….and every professional and non professional parent in between. Religious parents, atheists; trilingual expat parents, parents fluent in the local dialect; parents who prefer allopathic medicine to parents who utilise holistic medicine; etcetera. All of these individuals have sought support in pregnancy, birth and postpartum parenting….none of them can be labelled in any one way – and here their “job titles” and some “parenting choices” are just a couple of reflections of who they are or what is important to them.
Surely I have to be a chameleon then?!
I was incredibly lucky to have experienced a shape shifting or chameleon like birth story for my first child…it was like a four part story: through a home birth, an undisturbed hospital water birth, a full working day of the full casacade of interventions, culminating in a beautiful if unexpected Caesarean birth. Being a chameleon as a professional doula in Amsterdam means that I can support you in any birth setting, through any change of plan, through any and every choice you make, and through any outcome – always unconditionally and non-judgementally.
I realised through my own personal experience the true value of having birth support who can comfortably switch birth settings, who can effortlessly adjust to the mood and atmosphere as birth unfolds and everything shifts dynamically. For me the ability to be a chameleon seems intrinsic to the nature of a birth keeper…to be a professional who can shape shift easily and effortlessly and yet hold true to the core essence of their values and beliefs.
What does the core essence of my professional pledge look like?
Unconditional and continuous support
Non-judgemental support; I have no agenda
An open mind, an open heart and open hands
Respect and reverence for the uncertainty and miracle of the journey of birth
Positive and empowering communication
No protocol or prescription for care; on the proviso that it is clear that my support is non medical by definition
Whatever my personal choices might be in my pregnancy, during the unfolding of my birth stories, and as a parent I hope they don’t influence whether or not you decide to hire me…I would like to think that I have a successful and demonstrable track record in providing support as outlined above to all families who hire me; whatever their choices.
If you would like to enquire about the flexible and interchangeable services of The Chamelon Doula (!!!) then please email me to organise an introductory meeting where we can explore what doula support could look like for your family.
In this room; I dreamt of you.
In this room; I prayed for you.
In this room; I chanted to you.
In this room; I imagined you.
In this room; my hands traced your protruding limbs.
In this room; I grew you, you grew me.
In this room; I giggled at your hiccups, I prodded you with light/sound/cold water then filmed your wriggles.
In this room; I wept – laughing and crying – for all that you came from, for all that you inspired, for all that you would yet transform.
In this room; I rested and cuddled The Pig as I waited for you and my body to symbiotically ready yourselves.
In this room; I awoke to the first signs that finally, you were coming.
In this room; we journeyed a little that day – waves rising and falling, a deep descent following each tidal surge.
In this room; it was decided that in fact you would not arrive earthside here; in this room.
I imagine the stillness in this room the moment my heart stopped as I saw you emerge in that room.
That room and all it’s vivid shades of blue, smooth hard shiny surfaced; sterile…yet bringing forth a life so vital, so precious, so warm.
I imagine the stillness in this room as you cried and my heart burst open wider than ever before, then exploded again as I said your name and you silenced your cries, opened your eyes, and looked for me in that room.
In this room; we were finally left alone together – the moment I had feared and yet a moment of many that I relished; just us two.
In this room; we got slowly acquainted with each-other and our new pace of life as our wound healed over.
In this room; we learnt how to breastfeed: you latched, you drank, you burped, you snoozed – I pumped – the room scented a milky sweet sour.
In this room; I changed your nappy for the first time.
In this room; your auntie swept you up in her arms for the first time.
In this room; we looked at each-other, we laughed at each-other, we cried at each-other, we sang to each-other, we slept next to each-other, we awoke next to each-other.
In this room; still now all these months on, it feels like our cocoon. Our place, safe from the outside, suspended from time, blanketed in love, ringing with laughter.
In my memory, this room shall forever be etched in crystal clear clarity and gratitude.
“Doula Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula” “Doula in Amsterdam” “Holistic Doula Amsterdam” “Holistic Doula” “Doula services Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula Support” “Birth Support Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Birth Support” “Doula Support Amsterdam” “Doula Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula” “Ilena Doula” “Doula Ilena” “Ilena Standring”
Have I held you enough? Stroked you enough?
Did I smell you enough? Taste you enough?
Did I kiss you enough? Hold your eyes in mine enough?
Did I laugh with you enough? Did I cry over you enough?
Did I guard you enough? Release you enough?
Did I buy you enough? Shield you from consumerism enough?
Did I feed you enough? Weigh you enough?
Did I hear you enough? Speak to you enough?
Did I document you enough? Email you enough?
Did I share you enough? Spend time alone with you enough?
Did I watch you enough? Did I let you roam enough?
These are just a fraction of the questions that plague me as a new parent daily it seems. Fortunately when you are awake I don’t have time to think – you get everywhere; your hands in the butter, your feet in the cat food, your whole body underneath the dog….climbing the step ladder, coasting from sofa to sofa. My mind is glad of the break as it focuses on the development of eyes in the back of my head to make sure the sockets are protected and the radiator pipe isnt too hot for your little paddle hands as they curl around it anyway and you look up and ask “Whaaaaash da?”
We are approaching your first birthday so I’m not really sure I can class myself as a new parent anymore?! Yet every day I wake up with you it seems like I meet you again for the first time, or maybe thats just right now as the Wonder Weeks ap tells me you’re going through a very significant leap.
Here we are in bed. You asleep alongside me. Starfished between me, the sheepskin, the duvet discarded and your chunky little thighs resting akimbo. Your breath calm and shallow. A half smile on your face; the remainder of the “tickle tickle giggle giggle” call you were making as you slowly surrendered to sleep. Moments later you whimper, heart breakingly heart broken….a memory from today?
It passes and you sigh. So do I.
I take in your curls, they were dark, they have lightened in the sun – you adore the great outdoors. Your perfect button nose, your long curled lashes framing those eyes of yours. Your wonderful, deep, soulful and opalescent blue lagoon eyes. Your skin a shade darker, bronzed slightly in the sun.
And my mind whirs into action again. Did I offer shade and protection enough from the elements today?
Just as I tell you nightly:
“You are, you have always been, you shall always be – enough – just as you are. For you are you, perfectly imperfectly you; and that is enough, more than enough for me. There is nothing you could ever do to stop me loving you.”
Tonight I might tell myself the same.