Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Farewell to Breastfeeding.

Ode to the things we get used to as mamas and then the subsequent things we get un-used to.

For the better part of a year, I became deeply accustomed to considering how everything I put in my mouth would affect my child.

What to eat. What to drink. How would the sugar I just sucked down affect my tiny daughter. It's been a constant consideration.

And it will presumably take a very long time to train my brain to un-think in this way, to adapt to the fact that the child at the end of my breast is now a fantom limb while the real child scurries off to her toy corner, hollering follow me shrieks of glee.

As with co-sleeping, the magic number in my head had been a year.
I figured (based on who knows what) that I'd breastfeed for at least one year and then, in all probability, for longer.
And when the time would come to ween my daughter, I expected to have some say in the process. I envisioned sharing a few lengthy chats with Jesse over dinner, prompted by the feeling of needing a change and accompanied by a notebook and pen to aide in the planning/decision-making process.

Alas, not so much.

It all transpired in the matter of exactly one month.
Opal began to sleep through the night at the tail-end of August (see A Simple Plan: Revisited)—still a notable luxury— and it took less than a week for my body to no longer require me to wake up and pump in the middle of the night. Then, days later, I didn't even need to pump before I went to bed, many hours after Opal did.

She started her day-care (two half-days per week) the first week of September. At that point she was nursing four times per day—in the morning first-thing, before bed, and before two naps. (This included pumped milk for Jesse or her Daycare mama to give her from a sippy cup.)
Flash forward another week and I was no longer producing enough milk for one of her two naps! Enter Baby's Only Formula as a new character in the cast of pantry-fillers. By the following week, I needed Formula for both naps and to supplement bedtime. (Eeek! It's just happening so fast!) By the last week of September, I was nursing Opal one time per day, first thing in the morning, hanging on fiercely to those uninterrupted moments between she and I as we nestled in the rocker in her room.

I've heard of many mama's who comfort nurse, which is essentially allowing your child to suck on your breast when there is very little to no milk to offer. This particular option just didn't jive for us. As my body slowed in milk production, Opal's independence increased exponentially: the teeth, the inadvertent (or occasionally deliberate but never malicious) biting, the kicking, the squirming, the reaching, the popping off to smile or point or practice a sound that tickled her throat to get out. I tried once to offer her an empty breast for comfort when she was sick, but she seemed not only uninterested, but vaguely insulted.

So there it is.

The last day came without warning. I awoke on the morning of October 4th, the day of my Mighty Licensing Exam, without any milk to offer. The bar was stone dry. Zero inventory. The previous day was the very last day she was to nurse and I didn't even know. (Not sure what I'd have done differently had I known—likely an increase in sentimentality over ceremony.)

Two weeks exactly have now passed.

In all honesty, I'm not at all enjoying the option of eating or drinking whatever is put in front of me with no one to consider but myself. It doesn't feel like freedom yet, though I'm sure soon enough I'll imbibe on a regular Chai and enjoy every sip as well as the frenzied vibe that follows. (I bravely attempted to drink regular Chai tea only twice during the year since Opal was born and let's just say the outcome was ugly and seemed slightly cruel in it's effects on the tiny body of my girl.)

Most people respond to my news of no longer breastfeeding with something along these lines: Isn't is great to have your body back? and How wonderful that you can go away for as long as you want now!

To these ideas, I will speak frankly. Never once did I feel a desperate desire to get my body back. I didn't at all mind sharing for that short period, that just wasn't my experience. (Now, to the mother who was on Dateline NBC because she continued to nurse her 7 and 8 year old daughters, I would be totally on board with the sentiments of demanding your body back.)
As for going away, well, I've been able to go out until late at night—at least plenty late for my needs!—since Opal was 4 months old. Either I'd nurse her right before bed and make sure I was home by the time she was hungry again, or when she got a bit older, Jesse could put her down with milk in a sippy-cup. As a matter of fact, I could've gone out for many more solo-movie nights and ladies' wine nights than I did. I clearly wasn't chomping at the bit to head for the hills.

On the other hand, I'm not feeling a particular yearning to go back in time or to force my body into a state that it's organically finished with. (By taking herbs or pumping excessively to stimulate the mammary glands.) I don't feel a longing for the connection that was so exclusive in breast-feeding, I suspect because Opal's daddy and I both bond with her all over the place. It's not as if removing the puzzle-piece of breastfeeding leaves a gaping void in it's wake.

The thing that takes the most getting used to, if I may speak candidly, is learning how to gracefully vacillate between supporting my daughter in her developing autonomy while also feeling a deep and honest ache as I watch her grow.

An ache that lives in the very organs that, at one time, scooted over to make room for her tiny body to grow.

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