On Breastfeeding


malcolm snuggle

I gave up breastfeeding exactly one week ago today.  It broke my heart.  I am the mother of a happy, healthy almost-13-month-old and it was time.  When I started this journey, exactly seven years ago, I never thought I cry at the end of it, or that I would come to love it as much as I have.

When I made the decision to breastfeed my first baby it was an easy one, but it wasn't for my benefit.  I did it for the baby.  I was so uncomfortable in my own skin.  I always covered up and often left the room if we had company.

I clearly remember the first time Shawn's grandmother came to visit us postpartum.  I was feeding the baby on the couch, covered by a nursing apron, and she came in and headed straight for me.  Her two old hands hobbling towards us, ready to snatch the apron, the baby and my dignity in one swoop.  In my mind I could hear the soundtracks of Jaws and Psycho and my internal dialogue screamed "she's going to lift the nursing cover!  She's going to see my boob!  Abort! Abort!"  Since I'd forgotten how to breathe, I choked out "we'll just be a minute.  Please."  That is how I felt about breastfeeding in the beginning: uncertainty, embarrassment and a little bit of fear.

Fortunately, my firstborn was a robust eater.  He was born to nurse; a real gem to learn with.  We figured it out, my confidence grew, and by the time I returned to work six months later, I chose to continue nursing him many times a day.  The benefits outweighed the lack of sleep and complex scheduling.  I cried the entire weekend after I stopped nursing him.

It was with my second baby that I began to feel like a natural.  I stopped caring as much about who saw what and although we still had hiccups (of both the literal and figurative kind), I loved it everyday.  We chose to forgo bottles.  When her first birthday -- and my inevitable return to work -- loomed, we got a little stressed because she didn't want anything else.  Only me.  In the end, it all worked out, as things with babies usually do, and I looked forward to my one last chance to feed a baby.

When that "one last chance" seemed like maybe it wouldn't happen, I would cry.  I was shocked to realize that a big part of what I was mourning was a lost opportunity to breastfeed again.  My perspective had changed so much - I now identified nursing as one of my favourite things to do.

The last baby finally did come into our lives and I was so excited to breastfeed him.  Even with a very tough start -- he was tongue tied -- I saw it as a gift.  Despite getting mastitis three times, I didn't want to give it up.  I think if he had been my firstborn, it may have shaded my view of breastfeeding, but he wasn't and I held on to this, my most favourite thing I've ever done.

And then he turned one and I returned to work, and I saw a window of opportunity.  He still loved breastfeeding, and I did too, but he no longer needed it.  It was a comfort for us.  I saw that I had a small time frame to stop before it turned to a habit of comfort that would be painful to take away from him later.  I have never wanted to be the mother of a breastfeeding two-year-old.  If I stopped now, he would quickly forget those tender moments.  So I did.

This is how it came to be that I am sitting here typing about breastfeeding, eating leftover chocolate birthday cake, tearing up over the loss of those moments, at 5:30am on a Saturday morning.  Today, it has been one week since I gave it up.  My milk hasn't dried up yet, and I don't think it will until I mourn and accept that it is over.  I'm not there yet.

Its interesting that it coincides with Nevin's birthday, the seven year anniversary of the start of this phase in my life.  A bit of a gift, I think.  I can look at my oldest in wonderment, see the beauty of a growing child, take pride in what I did for him in the early months of his life, and -- most importantly -- take solace in the fact that he still loves our cuddles.  I am reminded that although I am done breastfeeding, I still have years of quiet, intimate moments with my baby.

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