Our breastfeeding journey has ended. Nineteen months. Longer than I ever imagined. But I imagined a lot of things that never came to pass. As I’ve written about many times over — nearly everything that I imagined about motherhood has not come pass (for better and for worse).
The other day I searched online for a La Leche League 19 month breastfeeding badge. I couldn’t find one, and that’s okay. I’ve never posted one of the badges before, but it was World Breastfeeding Week, and I thought I would do a celebratory instagram post for that reason. I don’t necessarily feel proud of myself that I breastfed for 19 months; it just kind of happened that way very naturally. It was what ended up working for both me and baby. I am, however, very proud that we survived the first six months, which didn’t feel very natural at all.
I remember watching videos in my birthing class of babies, seconds after being born, sliding their little bodies to their mother’s breast, rooting, and latching. I chose breastfeeding because it seemed the natural thing to do, and so these videos while wondrous and awe inspiring also made complete sense. But of course it doesn’t happen like that for all babies and mamas for all kinds of different reasons. Sometimes c-sections or inductions get blamed for this not happening (which could be true), but I had an unmedicated birth at home, and this instinctual feeding experience did not happen for me. It was a lot of work, effort, schooling, and vigilant attention to get Levi to develop a decent latch and for me to be able to put away the all purpose nipple ointment. To be honest, I nursed for over 19 months while experiencing chronic discomfort with my left breast. It wasn’t painful like it was in the beginning — no bruising or bleeding — but it was never completely comfortable the way it was for my right breast. It felt a little like sandpaper being rubbed across my left nipple as he nursed.
I don’t think I was actually producing any milk at the very end. I never felt myself get full, and I never felt a letdown. I think he was just going through the motions for comfort, and he started to get very aggressive with the breast — I believe this was because he was trying so hard to get milk. It has been two days. Over 48 hours. I’ve redirected him to water, milk, bananas, and toys. I’ve cried when he isn’t looking, and yesterday I received a bunch of “extra” hugs throughout the day — kind of like he knew.
I want to cry writing this. Like so many aspects of motherhood, this one is filled with such conflicting, contradictory feelings: immense sadness and the desire to cry alongside the very real and deep knowledge that it was time for both of us to move on. It’s similar to the chronic feeling of wanting him to grow up and stay a baby all at the same time. Or the feeling of waiting anxiously for bedtime and then looking at pictures of him because I miss him after he goes to sleep, or of wanting him to play independently but wanting him to need me.
And look what I just found! #proud