When we found out Jude had Down syndrome, I worried that I wasn't going be able to nurse. It became a kind of focal point for me. It held all my hopes and fears. If I could just nurse, Jude, I would feel close to her, I would love her, she and I would be okay. I know it sounds silly but breastfeeding has always held a special intimacy for me. Lying next to a baby, wee or big, and having them so close to your body, feeding them with your own body, the smell of their hair in your nostrils, the feel of tiny hands, and then the soft weight of slumber against you is one of the greatest pleasures in life, I think. I feel during those moments that once again these babies are connected directly to me as I felt when I carried them in my womb. The thought of not having that with Jude weighed on me because I already feared that she would be too different from me (silly thought I know). I kept thinking "If I can just nurse her, it will be a sign that all is going to be okay."
There were of course the many benefits of breastfeeding that I wanted for Jude as well. And it seemed like these benefits were even more vital for Jude. My milk would give her extra protection against infection something she was more prone to because of the Ds. It would be easier for her to digest again important for a baby who might have digestive issues. It would train her mouth, jaw, and tongue making them stronger which would help her with speech as she grew older. And these things were important of course but for me it was really about having to create this intimacy between us. An intimacy I so feared we would not have.
Jude's latching on right after birth was a bridge. Seeing her latch on, feeling that warm, new body against me made it very clear that Jude was not really that different from any of my babies. When they finally brought Jude back to me, I immediately latched her back on and started to cry as she hungrily nursed, looking up at me with those beautiful eyes. Jude was mine, and her feel on my body was a brand. We belonged together she and I.
When we had some troubles, I started to panic. There was no way I could let go of this lovely bond. The nurses were freaking out about her weight, telling me that babies with Ds usually couldn't nurse, but I knew better. And thankfully, the support staff at the hospital knew better. A feeding specialist and a lactation consultant fought for us. They showed me how Jude's palate was higher than a "typical" newborns, and gave me some tips for getting to latch on properly. Later our crusty old Pediatrician championed me through a down turn in weight loss. My husband encouraged me gently to not give up. My friends sent me messages of support. A lot of people believed in us and kept me afloat despite my doubt.
And now here we are nearly 8 months later. Still nursing because a baby with Down syndrome can nurse. Not always but for us, yes. I fall in love with Jude over and over everyday. I love to lay down and nurse her. I love the way her tiny hand reaches up to touch my face. I adore the feel of her plump body molded against mine. I love how she giggles with a mouthful of milk if I smile at her during a feeding. Jude is indubitably mine and when I breastfeed her that is clear to me. There is no great difference between us. We are flesh of flesh and bone of bone. I am hers as much as she is mine. Having this link, the same link that I held with each of the other beasties, is important because it marks Jude as us.
My love for Jude is in the act of each nursing session. It is in the intimacy of one body feeding another body.