It's Okay to Grieve Over the "Little Things"
I can close my eyes and feel his little chubby body curled around mine, tummy against my tummy, as he nursed himself to sleep. My firstborn loved to nurse. Right after birth, he latched on and start gulping like a pro. He handled my oversupply in stride and grew into the chunkiest little squish, topping the charts in the highest percentile for weight. He was (and still is) such an independent child – he didn’t want to snuggle or co sleep or rest his head on my shoulder or sit contentedly in my arms. The only time he would cuddle close for longer than half a minute was when he was breastfeeding.
How I treasured those snuggles! Even in the middle of the night, when he was ten months old and still nursing every two hours around the clock. I loved stroking his wispy brown hair and holding his soft hand that wrapped around my finger, pulling it down against his cheek for extra comfort as he nursed. As he grew, he showed zero interest in trying food. He would play with it and maybe put a tiny something in his mouth before spitting it out, but he would always come to me, head sideways, as the hunger pangs would start in his round tum tum. Holding him in my arms as my body nurtured his exhausted and fulfilled me. Knowing that I was the one he came to when he was tired, hungry, hurt, sad, scared – and that I could provide the comfort he needed to know all was well with the world … brought me indescribable joy.
Then the thing I most dreaded happened. It blindsided me, though looking back I should have seen it coming. It was August, 2017, when I noticed a change. My son’s feeding scheduled went from every four hours or so back to every two. It was as though he couldn’t get enough – and that was in fact exactly the case. My supply was dwindling due to my pregnancy with our second child. I hit 20 weeks in August, and didn’t realize until too late that my firstborn was not gaining anymore. His cheeks began to lose their chub. His thunder thighs thinned out. His eyes got bigger as his face got smaller. I put it down to him learning to crawl – the extra exercise was thinning him out. The increased feeding I put down to a growth spurt. It wasn’t until he went over a week with barely any wet diapers and no poopy ones that I knew something was horribly wrong.
So we tried to supplement. There was one huge problem. He wouldn’t eat anything. All he wanted was “moo-moos”. We tried everything, as his weight continued to drop. I became obsessed with feeding him whatever concoction I could think up. His gag reflex was still so strong, it wasn’t until a couple weeks of trying anything and everything that he finally began to accept smoothies and little peanut butter balls. I remember heaving a huge sigh of relief – he was still so skinny, and had lost a couple precious pounds, but at least he was eating now. He would be okay.
Then the virus hit. His already weakened body succumbed drastically to the assault. All the progress was lost in a matter of days as he lost all appetite and strength and only wanted to be held in our arms or set in his swing for hours. Our once healthy active always-on-the-move boy had disappeared. The pain I felt holding him in the shower, feeling his backbone jutting out and his scrawny legs so weak they weren’t able to hold himself up – I can’t express the aching gnawing emotion that tore relentlessly at my heart. My little boy needed me, he needed the nourishment he had relied on since birth, and I couldn’t give it to him. The guilt and regret was overwhelming. The tears were unending as I held him to my empty breast, his eyes sunken and rimmed with dark circles that stood out against sickly pale skin.
He went from being a 20 lb. 11 month old, on the verge of walking, to a 14 lb. skeletal child, too weak to even crawl. Yes, he was monitored by his doctor. No, he didn’t reach the point where he needed an IV or a hospital stay (though he came close). We were almost at that point when the virus finally ended and he began to mend. It took him a good month or so to regain the lost weight and normal function. His one year old pictures are still very painful to look at, as his face had not yet filled back in and he was still very skinny compared to before. He didn’t start to walk until 14 months, delayed by his illness. But he was okay, and he was eating and drinking again.
My supply gradually came back, and I had a few more precious months of nursing my firstborn before the second made his entrance. But nursing aversion had set in, and though he wanted it just as much as before, it was all I could do to give him ten minutes before my skin would crawl and I would have to end the nursing session, whether he was ready or not. But I kept it up, treasuring the bond we shared and unwilling to cut it off after all we had been through in the previous months.
The baby was born three months after his older brother’s health scare, and I have sweet pictures of them tandem nursing that I will treasure forever. But the ugly nursing aversion reared its head even higher and I experienced overwhelming discomfort when I nursed my little one year old, to the point of tears and twitching muscles and literal agony. I tried everything in the book to keep my sanity and continue the nursing relationship with my boy who loved his moo-moos. But gradually, it tapered off.
The last time I nursed him was a month after his second birthday. We were on vacation at the Oregon coast, and he had fallen and bitten his lip pretty bad. He was in so much pain and as I tried to comfort him, he asked for moo-moos and laid himself sideways in my lap, in the familiar position that he knew would bring him warmth and comfort. It had been two weeks since we last nursed, but I couldn’t tell him no. He tried to latch on, but found that he had forgotten the old drill. He awkwardly lay there in my lap, unsure of what to do, before finally rolling off and going to play with toys, his pain forgotten. The tears filled my eyes as I watched him toddle away. My heart ached as I realized that was goodbye to our beautiful nursing journey. I wasn’t ready, and he wasn’t ready, but it was over. That realization was a bitter and painful pill to swallow.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had waited longer to get pregnant again – given my oldest a longer milk supply to enjoy. Avoided that dreadful nursing aversion. Letting him self wean when he was ready. I know he would still be enjoying moo-moos to this day, if that were the case!
But those questions will never be answered. God chose to allow things to happen as they did, and who am I to say I know better than my Creator? To some, breastfeeding babies may seem a silly thing to cry over. I mean, look at my firstborn today. He is a chubby, healthy, voracious eater who has a sweet bond with both his parents. He isn’t suffering from having to stop breastfeeding earlier than desired.
But for me, nursing was a way to keep him little for a tiny bit longer. He could walk and start to talk and shake his head no and resist cuddles, but when he was tired or hurt or scared or hungry, he would turn into that tiny baby I brought home from the hospital, September 6th, 2016. Needing only his mother to grow and develop. Letting that go so soon left an ache that will take some time to fade away. And that’s okay. Right, even.
I think we are surrounded by a culture that doesn’t feel comfortable with grief. It isn’t okay to “bring the mood down”. We pursue happiness to the point where we don’t know how to handle sorrow.
Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record? Psalm 56:8
I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble. Psalm 142:2
A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:4
Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15
Sorrow is throughout the Bible. I love how Ray Comfort says in his book, “God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life: the Myth of the Modern Message”:
The preacher promises a bed of roses for those who come to Christ, but those who are in Christ are evidently sitting on a painful bed of thorns. He assures a smooth flight, but those who are already on board are suffering terrible turbulence – and no one seems to notice the paradox.
He goes on to share stories of extreme tragedy that loved ones close to him have endured – death of children, cancer diagnosis, adultery, natural disasters that have completely changed the course of life as they knew it. All happening to followers of Jesus.
God never promised an easy life for His people. What does He say about grief and suffering?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2
God never says we won’t pass through the waters, or enter the valleys, or walk through the fire. He says He will be with us – He will see us through. He will strengthen us. He will not allow us to be destroyed. He will sustain us, hold us, revive us. He will fill us with unbelievable joy and peace and hope. He will comfort us in our afflictions, so that we in turn can comfort others who are experiencing similar pain and sorrow with the divine comfort that we have been given.
The grief my husband and I went through watching our little one waste away before us was not something I would wish on anyone, ever. But God has used it to draw us closer to Him – to refine us more into His image.
Leaning in to the sorrow and allowing myself a mourning period has not taken away from the valuable lessons learned. Rather, it has given me the opportunity to receive comfort from the best Comforter, my Heavenly Father. That special communion with my Savior is something I treasure deep in my soul.
So. To wrap this all up. Life isn’t easy, it’s okay to grieve, God is the best Comforter, and we can share His comfort with others. Our pain isn’t wasted, because we serve a God who does not waste ANYTHING. Here’s a couple pictures of my happy, healthy toddler!
Written by Natalya Brown. Used with permission.