I’ve realised that there is a part of me that somehow wants to commemorate this time, even though I am in the thick of it and loving it – I don’t want to forget it. I read an old blog post of mine that I wrote when B was only a few weeks old, and I realised already I was forgetting some of it, the feeling of new motherhood and the wonder of it. It seems so precious and it goes so quickly.
In the past few months I’ve become acutely aware of how lucky I am. I mean, I was always aware I was lucky, but some things have happened that have brought it to the forefront of my mind. Many of my female friends are going through involuntary childlessness right now. Some due to miscarriages and infertility; some because they haven’t found the right man who’s willing to start a family. It’s down to luck, really, and circumstance, and some of it’s down to difficulties I can’t even begin to imagine.
A close friend of mine is still going through her third cancer. But the third cancer has turned into the fourth, fifth and sixth. It came back in her breast, but now it’s in her hip, her lung, her head and who knows where else. It is so tragic that I met her shortly before she got married (I made the cake!) and something like nineteen years after cancer #1, and then it came back and she lost any chance of motherhood, and now she has to deal with it again. It’s not fair. We are spending lots of time having fun, but we don’t know what the prognosis will be.
Another friend has had multiple miscarriages. (Actually, more than one friend. But one I see more often.) And she’s started IVF. And several friends are stepmothers to their partner’s children, which I think can be rewarding but also so difficult when you are wishing you could be a mother to a child you birthed.
In trying to be there for them, I am reminded of those long years of infertility. I suppose maybe I couldn’t say I’m infertile as such now I have a baby? (A toddler! I still think of him as a baby!) I don’t know what counts as infertile any more. I suppose I am post-infertile – I couldn’t get pregnant naturally, without intervention, and I still can’t. I sent a couple of my friends a link to Gateway Women (that Dani from The Great Pudding Club Hunt had shared ages ago) and I got to reading some of their stories and it just broke my heart.
So it goes. I honestly feel every day is a (secular) blessing and I don’t know how I would feel, in my old life. I like to think I’d be happy and I would come to terms with never having a child. But I’m so very grateful I don’t need to.
The one thing that really ever went well for us in the whole getting pregnant / birth / baby thing was breastfeeding. And B is now two and showing no signs of stopping. I find it funny I thought, I’ll try and breastfeed him for six months and here we are more than two years later. Of course he eats food now (mainly baked beans, rice and crisps – he’s his mother’s child) and he’s at nursery (daycare) so he doesn’t have milk during the day apart from at the weekends or holidays, but boy, does he make up for it during those times. I don’t think I’ve slept through once since he was born, apart from maybe a few nights when I was away for work (and jet lagged) and once when he miraculously slept until 7am-ish.
But I love it, and before it stops (and I’m already into the “should we really be doing this in public” conundrum – luckily he’s very small for his age and still wearing age 1.5 clothes) I wanted to find some way to commemorate this time. On various breastfeeding groups I’d heard about getting jewellery made from your breastmilk and for some reason I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I have bottles of the stuff sitting the freezer, and since I stopped pumping at the beginning of this year, after almost two years, it seems like I probably won’t really use it.
I told T somewhat sheepishly about my idea, and T being T he went along with it – even though he thought it sounded a bit outlandish, which I think I probably would have also thought pre-baby. (For some reason I turned out a lot more “earth mother” than I ever thought I’d be.) Anyway I kept looking around in a not very active way, but I found most of the milk jewellery I saw just wasn’t really my taste. Some had a bit too much sparkle in (a milk jewel is really just your milk mixed with resin and any other inclusions – you can add hair, or ashes, or umbilical cord, or flower petals, or whatever). I just thought it seemed a bit – sparkly, fake looking.
Then in my self-enforced Facebook drought I found myself on Instagram a lot more. (I know I know, but I don’t really engage other than liking a few photos so I don’t get dragged into drama that I’m trying to avoid… and I mainly follow cake makers so it’s all pretty rather than political…) And I decided to search on breastmilk jewellery, and I found The One.
Sacred Legacy Arts – typically they’d be based in the US – I’m in London, UK. But they are soooo beautiful. (And expensive. But, I figured if I’m going to preserve my baby’s precious milk, I’m going to want something nice rather than cheap and tacky that will fall apart over time.) I started following their Instagram so I could ooh and aah over them, and changed my mind loads of times about which one I wanted…
And then a few things came together. Kismet! Possibly. Or just the time of year… I got my bonus and knew I wanted to invest in some breastmilk jewellery, because I don’t know if we will still be breastfeeding by this time next year, and anyway, two years is kind of an achievement. And Sacred Legacy Arts decided to have their Spring Sale. 15% off – so would just about cover the extra customs I’ll probably be hit with when it gets sent to me in the UK!
I took the plunge! I even showed T and to his credit he said they looked nice and you can’t even really tell they’re made of breastmilk! And he knows what this means to me. It’s not just about breastfeeding; it’s about my entire journey to be a mother, and gratitude and celebration that I have somehow managed to be lucky enough to be one. (Even though I finally understand the meaning of the term Terrible Twos… I am still grateful and amazed I get to be a mother!)
I decided to go for the Coronation Pear Ring. Some examples below, but each ring is bespoke for the customer.
I went for rose gold (without the crown embellishment… I can’t really afford another ring and I like small delicate rings, so I think the pear, or teardrop will be cute… I think of it like a drop of milk!).
When I was little, my mother had an opal ring I was obsessed with. I just thought it was the most beautiful thing ever, the way it was sort of greeny blue and sparked rainbows in the light. She had promised I could have it when she passed away (of course I have no desire to have anything when that happens! I can’t think of it!) but a few years ago she dropped it and it broke. Opals are kind of fragile as well as it turns out. Anyway, they can do an opal effect and I’m just super excited to have my very own milk opal!
So finally got myself organised, and packed up a bottle of my breastmilk. They have extensive instructions on their website about how to send milk, and I kept checking and rechecking that I was doing it correctly. I had to triple bag it, and write all the order details on each bag! And a separate piece of paper with all my details on it in another bag! And then another bubble wrap envelope… and more sellotape than is probably environmentally friendly.
So… my precious cargo is hopefully winging its way from London to Indiana…
I guess this seems weird to some people. For me it’s been about preserving memories for the future. It’s difficult to explain… This feeling that it is only going to happen once, that it’s so precious I want to try and preserve some part of it outside of my memory. We also had family and motherhood (breastfeeding and babywearing) photos done, and that was an intense experience. (Not sure how I’m going to cough for all of those though – will find a way!) But that’s probably another post.
All of my experience of motherhood is such an evolution. And it is rooted in so many years of never thinking I could have this. Pain and gratitude. Finding the beauty in my changed body. That’s an ongoing journey. For years I controlled and whittled it away, and now it’s slack and uncontrolled, and yet I find it hard to spend too much time hating it when my child finds comfort in it. But maybe one day I’ll regain that control. I don’t know.
Here’s the thing. I want to remember all of this. And I want to remember the time before, the dark days, because it reminds me to be grateful for the light.