When I was pregnant I had 0 doubts in my mind that I was going to breastfeed Leah. To be honest, should anyone ask me about it, I could get a bit haughty on the subject, going on about “liquid gold” and how it’s best for baby, how it’s free (I mean, really, why waste money on formula when you make a better upgraded liquid for FREE!?), etc….I was like a human pro-breastfeeding billboard. I didn’t understand why anyone would choose NOT to breast feed their child and I definitely had no understanding of how hard and all consuming breastfeeding could be.
I have a distinct memory of the first time I attempted to breastfeed Leah. She had been born just minutes before, and now, lying on my chest, the nurse encouraged me to breastfeed. It was around 12:30 in the morning, after 19 very long and complicated hours of labor, and I felt like I was going to throw up and pass out at the same time. I brought Leah to my chest and tried for a few minutes, as the nurse gave me encouraging instructions, before mumbling..”umm I think I might pass out…” Not exactly the picture perfect vision I had imagined numerous times throughout my pregnancy of me (looking amazingly refreshed post birth, of course) holding Leah to my chest as she gently and perfectly latches on and nurses away while Brett and I stare at her with loving adoration.
The reality was slightly different. Reality was the day after birth, sitting in bed crying and saying to Brett, “I HATE this!” The level of hatred I felt for breastfeeding shocked me. What was wrong with me as a mother that I could hate breastfeeding so passionately!? I was sustaining life! Shouldn’t that fill me with love and pride?! Instead I was dealing with a baby who would only properly latch onto one breast, a baby who wanted to nurse every 20 minutes, and the most intense and extreme pain that came with every.single.latch. And then there were the lactation consultants who kept saying that “it shouldn’t hurt if baby is latching on properly!” (Lies). I remember lying in the hospital and feeling complete and utter panic as the minutes ticked by because I knew it was leading me closer to another dreaded breastfeeding session.
The pain and the disconnection I felt with nursing Leah scared and discouraged me. I wondered where that “magical bond” was that everyone promised nursing would bring. Instead all I felt was resentment that I was the one forced to wake up throughout the night to feed the baby, while Brett could continue to sleep. As the weeks passed the pain began to ease, but I still experienced struggles. Some mothers don’t produce enough milk, where as I had an OVER production of milk. Seriously, I could have nursed every baby in our neighborhood and still had milk to spare. The painful over production caused me to become so engorged at night that I was forced to wake up and pump before nursing Leah, otherwise I would be too full for her to latch onto.
Through it all I continued because I wanted to do what I thought was best for Leah, but there was no love, no harmony, no “I’m so blessed to be giving this gift to my baby!” feeling. As the weeks slipped way to months, nursing became easier. Leah started sleeping through the night, pump sessions were dropped, latching became second nature, and the feelings of love and connection that came with breastfeeding finally began to emerge. Leah started to stare into my eyes as she nursed, holding my hand or gently pulling on a strand of my hair, and my heart would expand with more love than I knew it could hold. I felt like all my hard work, all my “I hate this” finally started to pay off. I was experiencing the joy of nursing!
We are now quickly approaching Leah’s birthday. 1 year of breastfeeding. As I put Leah to bed last night I casually asked Brett, “I wonder how many hours I’ve spent nursing over the past year..” A lot. A whole lot. Nursing and rocking and sitting and holding that baby of mine. 1 year. That was always my goal. Always the finish line I held in my head on those nights I wanted to cry from the pain, from the engorgement, from discouragement..just make it one year. But a funny thing happened. Without even realizing, without being able to pinpoint when exactly it happened, I’ve come to love breastfeeding. I love nursing my baby to sleep at night. I love the fact that I’m the first one to cuddle her in the mornings, that she wakes up slowly in my arms, staring sleepily into my eyes as she nurses. So that finish line that’s always been in my mind? It looks like it’s going to be stretched a little further, because I’m not ready to be done.
Everyone seems to ask me lately if I’ve thought about weaning Leah and, honestly, I’ve been thinking about it a LOT over the past few weeks. And what has shocked me is the emotional connection I’ve developed to nursing. I tell everyone (including myself) that Leah’s not ready to wean, that she looks forward to nursing and that she still needs it since she refuses to drink out of a bottle or sippy cup, all of which are true, but what I’ve not been honest about is how I’M not ready to wean. I’m not ready for Leah to stop needing me, to stop being my baby, to stop curling up in my arms, so much like she used to as a newborn. I’m not ready. This choice I made 12 months ago, the choice, I will be honest, that was so hard at times, has become one of my favorite and most cherished of choices.
So no, I will not be “that mom” that is still breastfeeding her daughter in pre-school, but for now, we will continue. We may start to cut back, but those precious morning and night nursing sessions plan on sticking around quite a bit longer. I don’t know if I’m crazy for thinking this way (or if it may lead to me being “that mom” nursing her kid before school) but I feel like I need to wait until Leah chooses to be done. I need to wait until she no longer goes for my chest right when she wakes up, until she no longer fusses to be nursed before bed, until she decides she no longer needs that form of comfort. When she decides that, then we’ll be done. Probably just in time for me to start gearing up to start all over again with baby number 2. Except next time….next time I’ll know not to be so hard on myself. Next time I’ll smile at that crazy hormonal post-birth woman crying in bed, trying to nurse, and I’ll tell her to give herself a break. That it does get easier. And that pretty soon she’ll blink and a whole year will have gone by. A year that, not only brought close to a thousand hours of nursing, but a year that brought a love and a connection to a tiny human being that is stronger than anything you could have ever imagined. So breastfeeding….here’s to the continued adventure.