August 25, 2014 § 1 Comment
Fifteen years ago I became a mother for the first time, and my breastfeeding journey began: through five children and a few little breaks between babies, it amounts to eleven and a half years of actual breastfeeding. And this journey now seems to be at its end.
I have breastfed in trains and buses and cars and aeroplanes. I have breastfed whilst doing the grocery shopping, while watching movies, while snuggled up in bed reading a book. I have breastfed while bushwalking, at the beach, even whilst sitting in the boom net hanging off a boat as dolphins frolicked just meters away (did that twice, with two different babies). I have breastfed newborn babies, just minutes old, and three year old sons who could ask for the ‘boobs’ and make a grab for them. I have breastfed for hours on end, through growth spurts and comfort feeds, and I breastfed my last baby in 10 second bursts when he was seriously ill.
Now that baby is two and a half, and in typical Robin style (he must be different from his four siblings!), he has been initiating the weaning process. For months now I have been gently introducing some boundaries around night time feeding, and now Robin is taking the lead, and taking things further.
He often asks for a breastfeed, manouvering himself into position, pointing and declaring “that”. But about a week ago he began sucking for a few seconds, then clamping down and biting. After my nipple was hastily removed (with an expletive or two: it is extremely painful), he giggled and moved off to do something else. This was the pattern for a few days.
Bedtimes became an issue all of a sudden – how would I get him to sleep if I couldn’t feed him? This is where Sol has stepped in, singing Robin to sleep some nights, and other times he falls asleep while Sol and I are chatting. But in the middle of the night, the baby has returned – rolling over and instinctively breastfeeding whilst still asleep. No biting.
A couple of days ago, Robin stumbled out to the lounge after a long sleep. He came into my lap, and began breastfeeding. My breath was held in, anticipating the bite, but he was still half asleep and in that instinctual space so it never came. It wasn’t long – a few minutes of feeding as he came into a more wakeful state. I must have known it would be one of the last ones. I looked down, at his hand splayed protectively over my bosom, lips apart, and a look of bliss of his sweet face. It occurred to me that he was getting much more than just milk in that moment. He was consciously loving breastfeeding, consciously revelling in our combined energy, and loving the taste of the milk.
His eyes found mine and we shared a moment of loving awareness, and of mutual bliss. It was as though he looked into me and acknowledged the breastfeeding journey we have experienced together: the tender intimacy, and the touchstone that breastfeeding was for us throughout some very difficult times.
Last night, he did not roll over and seek the breast at all. I have not breastfed him for a day and a half now.
I think back on all the years of breastfeeding; of the times I hated it and felt trapped, the times of mastitis. Of the satisfaction that comes from being able to nourish a baby, the gratitude of that way to comfort when babes are ill or teething, and the moments of tender connection.
I breastfed Robin exclusively for twelve months. Twelve months! Throughout his illness, when I could only literally feed him for seconds at a time before he began coughing, I was so determined to be the one to nourish him. Amidst the clinical setting of the hospital and the intrusive wires, beeping machines, and endless monitoring breastfeeding made him my baby. And that was so deeply important.
I’ve been so lucky, and so blessed with breastfeeding. In many ways it is a relief to finish: it is tiring, often limiting in practical ways, and takes energy. But the end of breastfeeding heralds the beginning of a new phase – new ways of connecting with Robin that are not yet established. Will we still have that closeness? The end of my childbearing and baby years – who will I be now that I do not have a baby to feed? It has been so long that I really don’t know. The prospect is both exciting and terrifying.