By Manndi Maphies Wilkins
I recently got married. My fiancé and I eloped to Taos, New Mexico. It was a second marriage for both of us and neither had the desire to repeat anything about our first marriages, including big weddings.
As I was holiday jet-setting and honeymooning with my new husband, my mother watched my two dogs and my two sons. While she was visiting my house one afternoon, to feed our cat, she happened to look in my refrigerator. Big mistake. BIG MISTAKE!
She threw out some old veggies, disposed of some out-of-date milk, pitched a jar of expired homemade pickles, and who knows what else. Then, she looked in my freezer. Another big mistake. Possibly worse than the first. What she found in the very bottom was a shelf full of old bottled breast milk. In some circumstances, that would not be out of the ordinary. However, my youngest child is…nine. Which means the old frozen breast milk has likely expired ten-fold by this time.
I could say I forgot it was there, which is partially true. I could say I kept it in case I had another baby and somehow could not produce milk as I did with my two sons. Again, there may be a smidge of truth in that as well. Or, I could be completely forthcoming, and say I simply cannot bring myself to throw those old bottles away.
I had a difficult time getting pregnant. Not so much getting pregnant, but staying pregnant. Due to multiple miscarriages, when I did experience a healthy pregnancy, my obsessive compulsive tendencies spun out of control. I was afraid of anything and everything with even the remotest possibility of harming my unborn baby. While my pregnancies went well, with no major issues or reasons to worry, the losses I had previously encountered did a real number on my psyche.
When my sons were born, exited my body, healthy, whole, and ready to take on the world, I immediately felt better. My mental health was once again in check. I no longer worried that anything I put into my body or encountered in the atmosphere would harm the life growing inside of me. It was a feeling of freedom I needed desperately.
While I struggled with breastfeeding with my first child, it was not for lack of milk production. I know breastfeeding is a touchy subject as it does not come easily for every mother and baby. I honestly worried it would not come naturally to me, due to my other fertility issues. I was wrong. I produced enough milk that we had to purchase a full-sized freezer to keep in the garage to store the excess my first baby refused to eat.
When my second son was born, he and I partnered in the breast-feeding dance like pros. He was an avid eater and there was no need for me to pump because he was ready and willing to eat all hours of the day…and night.
My then-husband and I divorced shortly after my second son turned one year old. It was a devastating turn of events that I had no control over. I had no choice but to go back to work, put my children in childcare, and start to wean my baby, much before he was ready. Perhaps more accurately, before I was ready.
I managed to pump for a few months after I weaned. I just felt the overwhelming need to provide the one thing I could at the time, milk. From his mother. I felt like a failure in so many other ways. I could not hold his family together. I could not change his father’s mind regarding the divorce. I could not continue living in the beautiful house we had worked so hard to buy less than three years prior. I could not continue to be the stay-at-home mother I desperately desired to be, even before my sons were born. Heck, I couldn’t even give my two sons a younger sibling, which was yet another shattered dream.
The one thing I could give my child was…breast milk! Even if pumped and bottled. It was still pure, healthy, and nutritious when everything else in my life (and my sons’) seemed to be falling apart.
Eventually, life moved on. I went back to work. We sold the dream house and moved to a smaller, more cozy home on the opposite side of town. I walked into single motherhood unwillingly, but with copious amounts of prayer and a supportive family and friends. I accepted my lot in life as the new normal. It didn’t kill me. In fact, it spurred me toward a freedom I didn’t know I was missing. But that is a story for another day.
Despite my moving forward and embracing my new life, I could not bring myself to throw out that old breast milk. Something about seeing it in the freezer served as a reminder that while I may have failed in many ways, I did everything I could to preserve this one thing. My body seemingly overcompensated in the milk production, which helped me forgive it for the fertility issues I suffered years prior.
I needed to see that breast milk in the freezer as a silver lining, encouraging me when I felt guilty about the life I wanted for my sons, compared to what became our reality.
So here I am. Two sons, my oldest is almost 12 and my youngest recently turned nine. The breast milk is no doubt expired. I think it is time. Time I throw those old remnants away. More importantly, time I let go of the guilt and shame I felt for years after the divorce and the multiple changes that came with it.
My boys are healthy, happy, well-adjusted, loved by both parents and subsequent bonus families. That time in my life was difficult. It created some scars that will never fully heal. Yet, it also forced me to rely on myself, my faith, and those loyal family members that refused to allow me to give up. They tough-loved me to the woman I am today. I am grateful.
It is time to throw out the old. To make room for the new joys that have come and continue to fall upon our home and lives. Starting with the old breast milk, it is time to let go.
Manndi Maphies Wilkins lives in Springfield, Missouri. She works at the UMKC School of Pharmacy. She freelances for many publications, mostly about single parenting, miscarriage, life after divorce, and starting over in midlife. Her writings often center around her two sons, who provide daily entertainment and endless humor.
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