I Dry-Nurse My Granddaughter, And I Don't Care What You Think

by Elizabeth Gooden
Originally Published: 
Granddaughter holding her grandma's finger
Solovyova / iStock

She was inconsolable. I tried everything. After raising four children and step-mothering an additional four, I had foolishly considered myself an expert, but nothing in my bag of tricks was working. And to top it off, my 2-month-old granddaughter’s uncontrollable sobbing set off my 1-year-old. Ten minutes prior, everything was fine. Now the two were crying in unison while I had dinner cooking on the stove, and the cartoons on the TV were no consolation.

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When my oldest daughter was 21, I gave birth to my youngest daughter. Then, 11 months later, my granddaughter was born. Having a child and grandchild less than a year apart certainly has its advantages. I don’t feel guilty spending money on clothes and toys, knowing they will be passed along to my granddaughter. My daughter and I have the same pediatrician and belong to the same Mommy group. Our girls even have matching car seats.

But there was one thing we did not have in common: None of my children ever had colic, so when my daughter asked for advice, I had none to give. She spoke with the doctor, the pharmacist, and other moms. She tried gripe water, tummy time, swaddlers, white noise, and every pacifier on the market — all to no avail. One evening, I got a frantic call from her. She confessed to me that she was overwhelmed and exhausted. Through her tears, she explained that she hadn’t showered in four days, and it had been longer since she slept because my granddaughter would only rest in 20-minute intervals. They both needed relief, so I offered to take the baby for the night.

She protested. “No, Mom, she won’t take a bottle, and I don’t have any pumped milk, anyway.”

It was a couple months later that my daughter was ready to go back to work. Naturally, I offered to babysit. Her first shift back at work was only three hours long, but this would be the first time they were apart for longer than a speedy shower. When she arrived at my house, she had an overpacked diaper bag, enough pumped milk to last through the apocalypse, and apologies (many, many apologies). And while she worried that it would be a burden for me, I assured her I was thrilled to have some time with my granddaughter. We hugged, she kissed the baby, and left for work.

So there I was, holding two crying babies, one on each hip, scolding myself for thinking I was a parenting expert. I set the babies down, raced to grab the Bjorn, and strapped my granddaughter in. This only left my own daughter jealous and wailing, so I scooped her up and placed her on my hip while trying to calm them both. This is what it must be like to have twins, I remember thinking.

Just as their combined screams pierced my ears, the smoke detector joined in the torture. It blared loud enough to drown out the babies, and unfortunately, alarm the neighbors. While wildly trying to clear the smoke with a dish towel and balance two babies, I realized my face was wet. I turned toward the hallway where I saw my reflection in the mirror, my face covered in tears. In all of the chaos, I hadn’t even realized it. I felt helpless, useless, and defeated. This twin-momming was hard. And beyond that, I felt what my daughter experienced daily with her restless baby. I wanted to be a good mom and grandmother, but I felt like a resounding failure.

With my head hanging, I worked my way down the hall, singing the “ABC Song” to soothe the babies but more so to soothe myself. That’s when I saw my husband standing in the open doorway looking back at me — frazzled, my knees buckling, my tear-stained face smeared with makeup. He eased my daughter off my hip and disappeared to the bedroom.

Taking a seat on the sofa, I took my granddaughter out of the Bjorn and held her close in my arms. She was rooting around, and I felt the letdown even though my milk had been dry for months. It was a phantom sensation, but my maternal instincts kicked in and so I latched her on my breast. I didn’t think about it really. She rooted, I offered, she accepted. Within a few minutes, she was sound asleep.

My husband wandered into the living room and was surprised to see my blissfully asleep granddaughter latched on. He asked if it was OK to do that, and I couldn’t think of a reason it wouldn’t be. All my children had comfort-nursed. I was used to being a human pacifier, and I was sure my daughter would be happy I soothed her baby by any means necessary.

And she was. When she arrived to pick up the baby, I told her the whole story, and we laughed about it.

“I don’t mind if you don’t,” she told me.

I didn’t mind at all.

I’ve taken care of my granddaughter several times since then, and each time, she’s needed a breast. I understand that to some this is seen as controversial, but truthfully, I don’t care. I love my daughter and granddaughter and will continue to do anything and everything I can to help them both — even dry-nursing.

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