Soren, at the age of 20 months, has been slowly weaning himself. We are down to two nursing sessions (three tops) a day, one before each sleep, nap and bed time, and sometimes one in the morning if he asks for it. He has shown me that he is ready to receive alternative measures of comfort when he has trouble settling back to sleep, and I no longer need to breastfeed him during the night. He always lets me know when he’s ready to sleep by saying “Mel-K, mel-K!!”. Somewhat to my surprise, this is a bitter-sweet experience.Before we even conceived Soren, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It was maybe the part of having a baby that I was most excited about. Even though it is quite obviously the normal, default feeding method for mammals and their babies, I grew up rather detached from it, having not been breastfed myself, and being cared for by a nanny, where all the other babies were bottle-fed. I don’t think I even knew about breastfeeding as a thing until well into my childhood, when local restaurants were putting up signs indicating their breastfeeding-friendliness. This disconnect and the recent sort of surge towards breastfeeding-positivity made it an exciting, even revolutionary, concept. I just assumed I would breastfeed and that would be that.
BUT, to nurse, for us, was to battle a bunch of external factors conspiring to make us fail. The violation I felt while having my breasts manhandled by a seemingly endless stream of nurses, midwives and lactation consultants, was a rude awakening. The pressure to nurse, in the wake of my absolutely horrific labour and very-much unwanted c-section and the resultant trauma, from these caregiving professionals (not to mention extended family) felt mean and cold, and in the end it was a very hard-won victory that took 3 months of round-the-clock pumping and repeatedly trying before it worked. We fought the after-affects of an emergency c-section, anatomical mismatch (huge boobs, very tiny baby), tongue and upper lip tie, extreme pain (vasospasms and milk blisters), feeling completely subhuman while hooked up to a breast pump at all hours of the day while I watched my husband feed him his bottles, look upon his sweet little face and hold his little body as he would drift off to sleep, and of course, the extreme emotional duress that comes along with the difficulties surrounding breastfeeding and the external and internal pressure to “do what is right”. I can remember standing in the formula aisle at the drug store, crying over my failure and having to feed it to him during a brief growth spurt where his input surpassed my output in our early pumping days. But we persevered and we won, and I have been breastfeeding for 20 months in spite of it all.
For us, nursing has always been about sleep and comfort. We were also positive that we wouldn’t sleep-train, that he would sleep in our room, or even our bed with us, and we would slowly teach him how to sleep independently through the knowledge that sleep was safe and we would always help him if he needed us. I have always nursed him to sleep, laying with his small form curled into me, safely and contentedly drinking himself off into a deep slumber. But to say it has been just that would be a misrepresentation of our reality. There were also the nights where he insisted on staying latched all night. The nights where I screamed out of frustration and felt like my own bodily autonomy and need for sleep didn’t matter as he gnawed my nipples raw. Where I didn’t feel like a person at all. There was the cement wall I punched during a bad night on our family vacation to Palm Springs. The times where my shifting hormones and his little hands on my body and incessant suckling made my skin crawl and all I wanted to do was get the hell away as fast as possible and retreat to my former life where I wasn’t so completely needed.
But overall, it has been my absolute pleasure to nurse this little boy. And I’ve decided I will continue to nurse, in whatever capacity, until he decides that he doesn’t need it anymore.
(Note: it is thanks to medical science and the ability to receive an emergency c-section in a baby-friendly hospital that I even have a beautiful, brilliant 2 year old son at all, it is thanks to medical science and the advancement of artificial baby milk that I have been able to nurse my healthy boy well into toddlerhood. It is thanks, too, to living in a country which offers a generous length of parental leave, that my husband was able to support us through our nursing difficulties. This is not a war waged in a vacuum.)