I am not a crunchy mama. My birth plan included hospitals and epidurals. I never considered cloth diapers. I vaccinate my daughter (oh, the horror. and yes, I have done my research). Baby-wearing was never something that worked for me. But breastfeeding was.
Now, I am not saying that only crunchy, earthy mamas breastfeed but I am saying that it’s the crunchiest thing I have done as a mother and my greatest source of pride.
When I was pregnant, breastfeeding was the one thing about impending motherhood that kept me up at night. I was adamant that I wanted to do it, yet scared that I couldn’t. I went to classes and left each one more confused about it then when I walked in. Once my sweet babe was born my lactation insecurities prevented me from getting her properly latched. I spent the first few times trying in tears and the nurses encouraged me to bottle feed until I got the hang of things. I refused. I did not want my daughter to reject my nipples for the ease of feeding from artificial ones. The hospital lactation consultants worked with me but I could not get over my insecurity. Then the last night in the hospital, alone with my sweet baby girl, she showed me the way. At just a few days old she knew what to do and I followed her lead. And at that moment we embarked on that beautiful journey of love, bonding, nurturing and joy that only breastfeeding can provide. In just a few weeks I knew her every cue, had a favorite position (football clutch), an ample supply and a chubby, healthy baby.
That chapter in our lives lasted over 38 months and as I say goodbye there is a lump in my throat and pride in my heart.
Yes, I breastfed my daughter until she was over three years-old. I never planned on nursing past any certain age – I just did what felt right. Jacquelyn thrived, and excelled, hit milestones early, rarely got sick and when she did feel under the weather it was short lived. Her immune system rocked, her skin glowed and her smile was constant. I attributed this all to my miracle milk and it was all the reassurance needed to keep going — six months, then a year, then two and neither one of us showed any signs of throwing in the towel. She still willingly latched and I still produced in copious quantities.
Our breastfeeding journey was not without bumps. A few times I wanted to stop because Jax developed a very annoying habit of touching my free nipple while she was occupied with the other. The touching morphed into pinching, then pulling, then twisting. It was irritating and often painful but with redirection and some discouraging it ceased enough to allow us to continue.
Extended breastfeeding seemed to baffle and even disgust some in my own family. My mom often told my daughter that “sucking chi-chi was gross” and I will never forget the look of horror and dismay on my sister’s face when she learned Jax still nursed at a year old. I knew others in my family and some of my friends had opinions different than my own about it as well. My usual response when someone asked when I planned to stop nursing was something like “when she starts kindergarten,” or “on her prom night” or “high school graduation.”
I never understood why anyone else cared. They saw that my child was completely normal and healthy, well-adjusted and thriving. I had stopped nursing her in public at around a year old, when solid foods became her primary source of nourishment, so nobody except my husband ever saw me nurse anymore; yet they still seemed bothered by it. And it didn’t stop with friends and family. At my last well woman exam my doctor gave me a puzzled stare upon learning I nursed a three year-old and encouraged me to stop. Her reason for the unwarranted advice was that my daughter only did it for comfort at that age. So what? I questioned her. “Is it impeding on my health?” She said it did not and so I simply told her to mind her own business.
Frankly, I don’t care if she or my family or anyone else approved or disapproved about how long I ended up breastfeeding my child. I don’t care that anyone thought it was gross. Or odd. Those opinions were irrelevant because it wasn’t anything but wonderful and fulfilling to us. I had the support of my husband throughout and collectively we decided I would stop nursing when and only when our daughter was ready.
It was her choice entirely to stop when she did. She was only nursing at naptime and bedtime, when she got owies, and rarely any times in between. She did, in fact, do it for comfort, but that was fine by me, she still got nourishment and antibodies and all the good stuff my body made just for her. Then one day she fell asleep without it. Then the next day she latched and quickly lost interest. I simply asked if she was done with mommy milk and with wide eyes she nodded her head — yes.
And that was it. I was happy for her and for me – we had made it, together. She let me know it was over and her simple affirming gesture made me tear up through my smile.
It’s been almost a month since La Leche Liberation and I’m all dried out now. I’m happy to have my boobs back but also a little sad that their intended purpose has come to an end. I mourn that special, sacred connection I felt to my daughter every single time she was attached to me. It makes my heart yearn to see that sweet face peering up at me, the look of absolute, sublime contentment I know she felt each and every time I fed her from my body, I felt it too. The entire experience is over and just like everything about her babyhood, so very fleeting.
But I am so damn proud of this journey, the journey that I committed to wholeheartedly. The journey that brought me such immense feelings of reassurance and helped create and maintain such a radiant being. I’m so proud of my body for enduring nature’s purpose for it and of my astute resolution to never give up even when it was hard and overwhelming and when those close to me disapproved. I saw it through to the bittersweet end, a time not of my own choosing but when the most important participant on this path was ready to end it herself. If there is one thing I am proudest of, one thing I KNOW without a doubt that I have done right as a mother it’s breastfeeding.
On the TMI front, the husband has avoided my chest like the plague for the past three years. I’m not gonna lie that I am excited that they are back in my arsenal as tools for keeping the spark ignited. Haha – just kidding. Kinda.
My boobs. My baby. Our choice. Extended breastfeeding rules!
P.S. This post is in no way meant to shame moms who formula-feed. I realize there are many reasons why some mothers can’t and don’t breastfeed and I don’t judge those reasons. What is written here is simply my feelings about my own experience with extended breastfeeding. Much love and mad respect to all moms making the best decisions for their babes and families. XO