After 14 months and 11 days, my breastfeeding journey ended with mixed emotions. He was done, but I wasn’t ready.
For me, nursing was the easiest part of parenting. It took over my life, but I was good at it.
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Enamorada de él. Mi Ilan con apenas 3 días de nacido. #normalizebreastfeeding
It was us, figuring this thing out. It gave me a sense of camaraderie. I was learning how to be his mother, he was learning to be my baby and nursing was when these moments became solidified. I’d dreamt about this since before he was conceived.
I'd heard my friends stories of horror and triumph. Some struggled and found that it wasn’t for them. Others struggled and made it work. I didn’t know how realistic my expectation of this magical connection was.
During my pregnancy I dedicated hours to researching everything that could be an impediment. I knew all about lip and tongue tie. I read up on how to build and maintain my supply. All this information was swimming in my head, making me nervous. What if I couldn’t do it? But when the doubts where overwhelming, there was my mother reassuring me. It was from her that I learned that this could be the most beautiful experience. She’d always talked about nursing her babies as some of the most magical moments of her life. Every word was dripping with love. I was determined to feed him 100% breast milk for a full year without having to turn to formula.
I wanted it to work. I could picture it.
Ilan was born on clear May night and it was like we were made to do this. That first week we had some challenges. Latching issues, engorgement, nipple cracking, pain, but through it all I had help. I can’t thank my nurse enough, who spent over an hour making sure he got the latch just right. After we got into our stride, nursing gave me this incredible confidence. If he and I could figure this out, we could do it all… together.
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Our first picture together. @ilanalminanadilorenzo
It was our special thing. No one else could nurse him. No one else could soothe him like I did. No one else had that bond with him. No one could love him like I did.
I can hear my husband saying… “Ahem… excuse me?” Yes, Dad loves him like no one in the world too. But, even though he did everything I did, he couldn’t nurse him. Breastfeeding, for me, meant love. My best kind, my best everything just for him.
Bedtime was my domain. While the world was turning and everyone was busy, I had 15 peaceful minutes of staring at his gorgeous face, touching his soft, delicate hands, taking in that glorious baby smell. I was obsessed with it. His scent was of my milk. He was mine. It was pure animal instinct. Every ounce he gained in those first 6 months was like a badge of honor. "Yes, he's purely breastfed. All 18.5 lbs. of him are thanks to these," I'd say to anyone who'd listen. I felt like super woman. My body made him and my breasts kept him alive, they nourished him.
How was I supposed to just give that up? How could I give up the confirmation that I was doing this mothering thing right? It was instant gratification in the form of my baby. When we were closing in on 1 year, my friends would say they were amazed that I could still be nursing, and all I could think about was, “Well, I’m addicted. It makes my life easier. I can’t give this up,” and I didn’t. He did.
At 14 months and 11 days, little man decided that he didn’t want his bedtime nursing.
What? Wait… what? Come on little guy. You don’t want the left one, what about the right? No?! He just looked at me and smiled and had this look in his eye, like if he was saying, “No silly mommy. I’m a big boy, can’t you see.” What had changed in 12 hours? That morning was just like the past 435 days! And just like that, with no warning, without getting to formally say good bye to my nursing days, that journey ended.
It was harder for me than it was for him. I cried that night in the shower while draining my engorged breasts. I cried a few times after that too. I think I will always miss it. And through all of this, through all the love and the nursing, two things have become incredibly obvious.
1. I am privileged.
I had a job that gave me 10 weeks of paid maternity leave. It’s not enough, but it’s more than most women have in the United States. I had health insurance that paid for my breast pump and made it possible for myself to continue breastfeeding my child even though I went back to work at 12 weeks. I had a support system that made everything possible.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be breastfed for one year. According to the CDC, in 2011, 79% of newborns were breastfed, but that number drops to 49% at 6 months and to 27% when they reach 1 year of age.
2. Never judge another mother. Breast is best, but really fed is best.
I saw friends and family members give everything they had to their children. I saw my cousin pump exclusively for over a year because her son couldn’t latch. This woman pumped 12 times a day during the first few months… 12 times a day. That’s every 2 hours, round the clock. She was my hero.
For some women, breastfeeding, is not the magical experience that it was for me. For them, it may be difficult or painful or they may struggle with supply and turn to formula. Those babies will grow and be loved, nonetheless.
From the moment of conception, each baby is unique. Some are easy, some are more challenging. Some families have a support system, others are alone. Each person you see on the street has a whole story we know nothing about.
Not one of these mothers loves their child less than I love mine.
Our babies arrive and the way we experience life is forever changed. It feels like time should stop turning due to this momentos occasion, but for the rest of the world it's just another day. Every living thing on this planet was born. Squirrels, ants, plants, fish were all somehow born. It's the most miraculous act and yet the most mundane. It's life.
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