For nearly seven out of the last 9.5 years I have been breastfeeding a child.
Whether it was a dozen times a day at the whim of a newborn or once a day for months on end, nursing has been a constant part of my life. Now that story has finally come to an end.
I knew the moment had arrived, after stopping at my own will, and not my child’s, when that final rush, that last “let down” of flowing milk, filled my breasts after a week going breastfeeding free. I was surprised by this, having felt nothing for close to two years, as we had found our mother-baby feeding symbiosis long before.
But in that moment, it was THE moment that I parted with this stage in child rearing.
That final tingling of milk ducts filling up with baby fuel left me with a mixture of relief and sadness and satisfaction. Relief that this exhausting dependency was finally over, sadness that indeed it was and satisfaction with the long run it had been.
My daughter was nearly 2.5 years old and had already surpassed her older sisters in time spent nursing. I am convinced that she and her sisters could have continued far longer. But I had had enough. I wanted my body back and I wanted to move on. This feeding journey had not been planned, it happened organically and was probably among the hardest, but most sentimental parts of a near decade raising my babies.
Exclusively nursing in the early months is grueling, and later becomes part of a rhythm that is difficult to break. I remember that nursing my first child hardly felt natural in the first few hours and months of my baby’s life. Childbirth was the most intense contact I had ever had with my primal self and the nursing that came afterward kept that connection lingering. As a child I did not have the opportunity to watch a younger sibling nurse nor did I have older sisters or friends at the time to witness nursing their young. As far as I was concerned, I went from woman to cow in a matter of minutes. But I was fortunate to succeed at nursing with lactation support and a natural ease.
I never sought out to breastfeed for that long or to stop when I did. In our complex world of over intellectualization, I think there was something very satisfying in being able to continue to tap into my primal self. To be a mammal and a mother. And being someone that connects easily to all things natural, my babies were my little mammals that needed nutrition and protection.
So, nursing and mothering came hand in hand for me – it consumed me, dominated my bonding with my children in their first couple years and challenged my sanity night after sleepless night with all three of my children.
I can see now that nursing symbolizes in many ways the push and pull of my hardly seamless adjustment to motherhood.
Breastfeeding isn’t convenient at all and it’s hard, and for long-term feeders, at some stage, it’s hardly even necessary. But it’s what came easily to me and I just kept going. Perhaps most importantly, it’s what my children desired and seemed to need from me. And while I kept going, I sacrificed so much, like learning to set boundaries early on that addressed my own needs, like committing to a full night’s rest every so often.
None of my children had more than a few bottles in their entire infancy and this exhausting scenario led me to act out toward my children and husband from lack of boundaries and mostly due to the tremendous lack of sleep.
This juxtaposition of losing control of my individual basic needs, but in doing so, following through on what I thought was good for my children is the same conflict that repeats itself today in so many other realms of motherhood beyond nursing.
In today’s modern societies many women like me have no village to carry the weight – to watch their infants while they rest, rub their feet or scrub a mountain of dishes. Women are alone in this in so many ways that we never were in human history, yet nursing pulled me in to my primal roots, and there I was, torn between the needs of a mammal and the demands of modern motherhood.
Perhaps there are certain elements of mothering that simply choose us and break us down to our barest selves, but we forge on, stick to it because we believe in the hard work, and deep down know that one day we’ll find ourselves on the other end of a difficult, but meaningful journey.
I am proud of the years I spent nursing and while my heart swells as I close this chapter, maybe this final goodbye to nursing can also be a catalyst that frees me to assert the necessary boundaries in modern mothering that will nurture a healthier mother/self-balance.