Since my daughter, now eight and a half months old, was delivered by C-section, I missed out on the pains and experiences associated with labor and delivery. Therefore, breastfeeding was my first major lesson in self-sacrifice as a new mother (other than what I had already learned from my not-so-easy pregnancy of course!) It is often said that the first six weeks are the hardest. Well, I say if you get through the first six days, pat yourself on the back because you are doing good! It is no mystery that breastfeeding hurts in the beginning (and in my case, still does some of the time). I was so grateful for participating with my husband in a Bradley method class ("husband coached childbirth") before the birth because we spent a lot of time just learning to relax our bodies in order to minimize pain, and I have to say, I definitely utilized those methods when learning to breastfeed! Otherwise, I would have been screaming, and that would have made the situation worse... and traumatized the poor, tiny baby who is also struggling to learn this new skill. Continuing on despite the pain is something a mother can do only through self-sacrifice. Breastfeeding is the best option for the baby (as even formula producers will tell you), and that is what has driven me to strive on. Even in those early days and weeks when I wanted so bad to give up and give her formula and maybe get her to sleep a little longer... oh, the temptation... I knew deep in my heart that I would have regrets if I stopped nursing and I just needed to continue until it got easier... and it did.
In addition, there are experiences and teachings that I could have received from no other place than my own body. Isn't is miraculous that women's bodies produce milk for babies? And it doesn't end there, women produce milk for their young, specifically engineered (by a loving Creator) to nourish that baby at this time who has these needs, and no matter how hard we try, no man-made formula will ever match this. I am by no means putting down loving mothers who choose to feed formula to their babies, and I am well aware that there are circumstances that hinder or make breastfeeding impossible. I am simply telling of my unique experience on this journey. Breast milk is miraculous, as we learned in our childbirth class, and it has pointed me further towards a miraculous G-d.
Thinking about this topic reminded me of something I believe I heard in a college Hebrew course. One of G-d's names in the Scriptures is El Shaddai (commonly translated as G-d Almighty). Strong's Concordance has this to say: "The title Shadday really indicates the fullness and riches of G-d's grace, and would remind the Hebrew reader that from G-d comes every good and perfect gift-- that He is never weary of pouring forth His mercies on His people, and that He is more than ready to give than they are to receive. (2) Bountiful expresses the sense most exactly. (3) El sets forth the might of G-d and the title Shadday points to the inexhaustible stores of His bounty." If you look just nine words earlier in Strong's, there's the word shad, which is defined as "the breast of a woman or animal." The teacher used this similarity and relationship of these Hebrew words to say that G-d is our nourishment, just as a nursing mother nourishes her child. El Shaddai is not only powerful and mighty, but El Shaddai is a G-d who nourishes and provides. I find that beautiful, and even more so now as a nursing mother myself.
Isn't it amazing how certain aspects of G-d's word come to life when you yourself experience them? For example, in Psalm 131:2-3, it says "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me." Although I've read an article that suggests this should say "suckling child" instead of "weaned child,"(you can read it: http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/525972/jewish/Mothers-Milk-Mothers-Faith.htm. It inspired me to write this) either of which would have the same effect on me because in order for a child to be weaned, he had to be nursed before this point because there were no bottles then, and the bond that is formed between mother and child due to their breastfeeding relationship is lasting. If you have never experienced that intimacy and closeness with your child, as they make noises and faces that no one else sees or hears, then this verse won't strike you as hard, but as having experienced it, I have never seen Elisheva's sweet little face (and soul) more contented, composed and more quieted than when she is nursing at my breast. Therefore, this verse now has greater meaning to me than it ever did before.
I cannot say how long I will nurse my children. I will try my best to allow them to wean themselves at the appropriate time. In Bible times, it is understood that children nursed until they were two or even three years old. The Midrash says that Sarah weaned Isaac at two, Moses was probably with his mother ('nurse') for at least two years, and Samuel must have also been a toddler when weaned, which is why he was able to be left at the Tabernacle with Eli the priest. I have seen a two year old nurse at a La Leche League meeting (http://www.llli.org/) and his mother had experienced some ridicule and comments from strangers even on him being 'too old' to be nursing. Breastfeeding is demanding, even for a stay-at-home mom, (hence, the need for support groups) and breastfeeding moms need encouragement, not ridicule. I am certainly grateful for the encouragement and support that I have received and plan to pass that on to others. So if you know a lactating woman, encourage her today. If you are a lactating woman, I hope you were encouraged by my words. Breastfeeding is healthy, natural, Biblical, and it is one of the many aspects of a woman's body that G-d has created to teach us about Himself and reflect His image... to teach us that He is our Nourisher, our miraculous Provider.
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.