I don’t know if all women who breastfeed their children worry about having a solid memory of the very last time they nurse their child, but over the past year or so it has weighed heavily in my mind. I wanted to be able to remember it, to hold it in my heart as a fond memory to be able to relay to my daughter. Our breastfeeding relationship has been beautiful, frustrating, emotional, comforting.
The first time I nursed Annie was shortly after her birth in the early morning on August 24th 2008. She seemed to latch on fine, and all seemed well. My milk came in just fine a couple days later, but then the problems started. I have no memory of anyone telling me breastfeeding could be hard. Perhaps someone mentioned it. Perhaps someone even went into detail about how hard their experience was, but I never really absorbed that bit of information about breastfeeding. As with other things having to do with birth and mothering, I kind of expected that my body would know what to do. Wrong. Sure my body made milk just fine…but we didn’t have a great latch, and my nipples suffered as a result.
I eventually figured it out, but that first six weeks was a combination of sheer joy in that I was able to breastfeed my child, and resentment that I couldn’t do it as easily as some other women. It became easy around the 3 months mark. I remember distinctly feeling an enormous sense of relief the first time I was able to lay down with her in bed and nurse her to sleep.
Annie was definitely a boob girl. It was there for nutrition, comfort, boredom, you name it, she wanted it. I was slightly uncomfortable nursing in public at first, but I got way over it. We nursed everywhere. I must say that this is one of the great benefits of living in Ithaca. Not only are people not judgmental about a mother nursing her baby wherever, whenever; they congratulate her!
I allowed Annie to nurse “on demand” for the first full year. So that meant at any time during the day or night. It worked fine, and Annie would sleep five and six hour stretches most of the time, so I felt I was getting enough sleep to do that. Once she was about a year though, I wanted to nightwean. She was waking more, and I was sleeping less. So I chose a method of nightweaning, and cut her off from the breast through the night. It was a great relief to me to be able to mostly get to sleep through the night, and still keep our nursing relationship during the day.
Many nursing mothers think about how long they would like to nurse for. Some women have a goal, reach it, and go on. Some have a goal reach it and stop. My goal was always two years, unless she weaned herself prior to, and then we’d see where we would go from there. I really wanted to make it to that two year mark, but the desire to have children close together was also an issue. Nursing not only interferes with fertility, but if you do become pregnant your milk supply is adversely affected. So I knew, that upon becoming pregnant I would also have to be okay if Annie ended up weaning as a result. I took that chance.
It wasn’t really a decision I made, but nursing while pregnant was just something that happened. I didn’t want to wean Annie before two years if she wasn’t ready, so I didn’t. It was a little uncomfortable for me, even painful at times, but compared with the pain I endured during the first 2 months of our relationship, it was nothing. So She kept on going. It didn’t seem to bother her at all that my milk production slowed down, and changed. She still wanted her “ba ba” whenever she wanted it.
She continued nursing all the way through my pregnancy. This final picture of her nursing is one of the last ones we have, I am in labor with Charlotte in the shot. It occurred to me, about halfway through my pregnancy that to reach my goal would for sure mean tandem nursing the babies. So I was starting to wrap my head around all of the issues surrounding that. For one, the physical logistics are a little strange. It’s much easier said than done, and involved Annie either standing up while I held Charlotte, or both of them with their head in my lap in “football” position. Having Annie still nursing at this point was actually really nice. When my milk first came in again, I was very very engorged, making it really hard for Charlotte’s little mouth to latch onto a nipple…so Annie could literally drink some off the top, drawing out the nipple so Charlotte could nurse more easily. It also meant that even if Charlotte wasn’t in the mood to nurse, that I could get relief from the fullness without getting out the pump.
Once Annie turned two my mind turned toward gearing her up to wean. It didn’t look like it was anywhere in sight. She was nursing more now than at any time during my pregnancy…clearly because the heavens had opened up and had delivered all of this wonderfully delicious newborn breastmilk. Why would she stop now? Fortunately Annie has always been a really good eater, so I drew her away from as much nursing with great food. After talking for a bit about how nursing is only for babies, and that older brothers and sisters don’t need to nurse, and that many of her friends no longer had “ba ba” she dropped the habit during the day. That made me very happy to be honest. I was getting a little irritated with her wanting to nurse every time I turned around, it meant that I was nursing someone all day long. We relegated nursing to her bed, and mostly just for night time, with a daytime session here and there.
Her language skills also started taking off during this time, so she had some funny things to say. At one time, after dropping her daytime nap, but knowing that we only nurse in bed, she looked up at me, rubbed her little eyes and said “mommy, my tired…need to go to sleep” which was really her slick little way of trying to get me upstairs to lay down with her to give her “ba ba”. Another time, she was nursing, then popped off my boob, saw some milk drip out, looked at me with wide eyes and said “Mommy, there’s milk in your ba ba’s!” As though she didn’t know before.
Well, we’ve been talking about not having anymore ba ba in bed since Christmas. Me, I’m torn about the whole thing. On the one hand, she’s only nursing at bedtime and it’s really not a problem for me. On the other hand, while she’s nursing I’m really annoyed about the whole thing, and just don’t want to do it. That signaled to me that it was definitely time for me to stop. I can’t stop this nagging feeling of guilt about taking away this source of comfort and closeness she has to me, but the rational side of me wins. I have given her over two and a half years of boob. I made it to my goal and beyond. I think what tears me up a little is that I’m not sure if she’ll remember nursing. She might. There might be this little glimmer of a memory of this awesome relationship that we have had, and how it made her feel…the fullness not only of nutrition but of love too. Or, maybe not. Which is why it is so important for me to remember our last nursing session.
We were sitting in the playroom. Charlotte right next to us. She wanted to lay in my lap and have some ba ba. It wasn’t normal for her to want to nurse in the day, and normally I would have said no, that we save ba ba for nighttime…but since her Aunt Eebie was visiting, I was going to try and take advantage of the excitement of the day to wear her out so she wouldn’t ask for it later. So I nursed her. On “her side” (she and Charlie have established sides). She laid her head in my lap, and I stroked her hair, as she nursed for what is probably the very last time.