I have spent 20% of my life growing people. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. For the last 6 years (I’ll let you do the math) I have been pregnant or breastfeeding (or a combination of both); in both those scenarios, my children’s growth, nutrition, and very survival has been dependent on me! And that is a pretty awesome thing.
While on our summer vacation, my husband and I sat together after we tucked our kids into bed, to watch the sunset. And out of nowhere, it hit me. Hard. I realized that I hadn’t nursed my youngest child in several days, and suddenly the words that I had been subconsciously not-saying came pouring out (along with a lot of tears): “I think I’m done breastfeeding. Like, forever.”
The emotions that followed were (still are) pretty powerful. Since that moment a few weeks ago, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what exactly breastfeeding has meant to me. It took a long time to put it all into words (what can I say, I’m a crier!) but ultimately I think it boils down to these 7 things:
1. I grew roots for my children.
I can’t breastfeed them forever, but the roots, the foundation, of nursing will be with them for the rest of their lives. The bonding we shared, the tremendous health benefits… they have that forever. It’s like all of parenting, really. We have but a brief amount of time at any one stage of their lives before they slowly grow up and away from us, but the roots we cultivate keep them strong and secure when the storm winds blow.
2. I grew roots as a mother.
When I look back on the early days of nursing my first child, I remember how scared I felt. I was full of self-doubt, afraid I wasn’t enough, worried I’d make a wrong turn. Five years later, I nurse my youngest child with confidence, ease, and empowerment. I got this. The doubt, fear, and worry of motherhood will never fully go away, but I am growing into one fierce little mama-tree.
3. I am allowed to feel sad.
I will never again get to feel the absolute bliss of holding a soft, squishy baby in my arms as I nurse, smelling his intoxicating warmth and kissing his peach-fuzz head as his sucking slows, his eyelids flutter closed, and he falls peacefully asleep on my chest. The feeling that for this short time, I am the only person that can do this one, amazing thing for my baby is over. And that makes me really sad.
4. I don’t want to have a final breastfeeding session and that’s ok.
I always imagined that when the time came, I would take my son in my arms for one last emotional nursing session, as I closed this chapter of my life. But now that I am here, I realize that I don’t want to do that at all… and that’s ok. I’ve learned some things about myself in my thirty-some years on this planet, and I know that for me, an experience like that would be too heart wrenching. Instead, I choose to remember one of the last times I nursed him (I can’t remember if it was actually the last time). I scooped him out of bed, the morning sun shining gently on his chubby cheeks, his hair tousled with sleep, and fed him. He latched and ate until his gaze met mine, at which point he erupted into open mouthed, nose crinkling laughter. I tickled his neck, he relatched and ate again. This happened over and over for minutes… an hour… I’m not sure. I was intoxicated with love. And that is the final breastfeeding memory I choose to take with me.
5. I am allowed to feel relieved.
My body is mine again. I can go out without feeling like I have to rush back to feed a screaming baby. I can take cold medicine without having to look up if it’s safe for breastfeeding women. I. Don’t. Have. To. Pump. Ever. Again. They’re little things, but it feels freeing, and I am allowed to enjoy that.
6. I am proud.
I breastfeed each of my children longer than the child before. I have breastfed in parks, on trains, in emergency rooms, in restaurants, in stores, on the floor, in parking lots, and in bathrooms. I’ve pumped (a lot), I’ve been bitten (a lot), I’ve been stared down by strangers, and I’ve cried. But I have met my children’s needs in spite of seemingly impossible obstacles. And for that I am really proud of myself.
7. I am part of a sisterhood. But it’s not a sisterhood of breastfeeding moms.
It is a sisterhood of moms who wake up every morning loving deeply and fighting fiercely for their children. Moms who make choices and support their children and families in the way that is ultimately best for them, without folding to the pressures of all the shoulds out there. Breastfeeding was a choice I made, just like the hundreds of decisions I have to make every day as a mom. And it was the right choice for my kids and for me. I got to make that choice, and it is now my responsibility and honor to help other moms make the choices that are right for them.
I will always look back on my breastfeeding years fondly. They were blissful, and hard, and scary, and stressful, and empowering all at once. And I am sad to see them go. But I am excited for this next phase, whatever it entails. As breastfeeding taught me, I may have days where I have no idea what I am doing, but my roots are deep and my branches are strong, and I, we, will be just fine.