I've written a lot about my (mostly successful) struggle to breastfeed my twins. But I've never told you this story.
When I was in the middle of it, I was all tangled up in logistics. Breastfeeding twins can be relatively simple - 2x the demand => 2x the supply, right? - but it can also be anything but. My boys had a lot of things working against them, and so did I. Figuring out what was helping our efforts, and what was hurting them, took most of the concentration I had.
The first few weeks was probably the only time I thought not just about 'how', but 'whether' and 'why'. How important was this to me? How hard was I going to fight for it, how long, and at what cost? (Answers: very; very; very; and possibly too much.) After that, my mind was made up. Everything else had to get out of the way.
So when I wrote about breastfeeding while it was happening, and probably for a while after weaning, too, I think I was primarily hoping to teach. If someone else out there was fighting for the same thing I was, I didn't want them to have to make the same mistakes, too. It's hard enough figuring it out on your own with one baby; when you have two babies or more, other people's experience can be invaluable.
But my babies are four years old, now. They've been weaned since they were two. The 'how' has faded; so, obviously, has the 'whether.' What I think about now, when I look back, is why. Why was this so important to me? Why did I fight so hard?
I thought, at the time, it was because of years of infertility. My body had come to seem like a black hole: utterly unable to sustain life. Pregnancy after IVF was healing, to some extent, but not as much as I'd hoped. It was a dream come true, yes. But…it still felt impossible. Do you know what I mean? Like something out of science fiction. So for me, breastfeeding felt like my last chance to nurture my babies with my body. I wanted to prove something to myself, I suppose. I wanted to feel, finally, like my body could do something natural. But I also just wanted it.
See, there's someone else in this story.
Not just in the story. She was in the room. My sister.
My sister, who was diagnosed with breast cancer as a young mother, before I ever had children. Who had a double mastectomy, in hopes of preventing it from ever coming back. Who'd been so happy breastfeeding her first baby. Who had to decide what would break her heart more: to breastfeed her second baby for just a few weeks, then wean in order to start cancer treatment - or not to breastfeed at all. Who would never have the chance to breastfeed a baby again.
In my memory, it seems like my sister is with me in the hospital for my entire five-day stay, though I know she didn't sleep there and of course she must have taken breaks. She was just there a lot. I didn't realize what that would mean beforehand; I don't know if she did, either. Because I spent most of those days topless. Attached to one baby, attached to the other baby, attached to the pump, or just plain too sore to put on my bra. It was All Breasts, All The Time in that room.
And I don't remember ever seeing pain or grief on her face. All I ever saw was support. Enthusiastic, all-out, eye of the tiger support. She hadn't offered an opinion on whether I should try to breastfeed; I don't know if we even talked about it, before I delivered. She just showed up when the babies were born, to give me whatever kind of support I needed. And stayed. And became, whether she realized it or not, my quietest and biggest cheerleader.
I didn't tell her until years later what that meant to me. How mind-boggling it was, when I had enough distance to think about it. We didn't talk about it at all in the moment. We didn't need to say it, I guess. It was there for both of us the whole time: this is precious. this is worth fighting for.
This is for you, sister of mine. Thank you. Thank you.