The day has come
The day has finally come. I have stopped breastfeeding.
Two years and three months after she came into my life, my little Bear has accepted that there is no more “wilky” as she calls it. And I’m very proud of my achievement, having hoped to continue for at least two years, and exceeded it.
While I initiated this, I have found the experience to be bittersweet. For such a long time I’ve relished getting my body back, and the freedom to go out and wear whatever I choose. But now I’m at that point, I’m looking at my body in a different light. When I got pregnant for the first time, my boobs became breasts, a source of nourishment for my growing baby and for thirteen months, they were a key source of nutrition, comfort and even medicine for Bunny. But with a return to work in London, being out of the house for nearly 14 hours a day and very few opportunities to express, it wasn’t long before it made more sense to just stop altogether. Bunny barely seemed to notice and while I was sad, I was relieved at having one less thing to fit into an already busy and stressful life. I also knew for sure by then that I was planning to have another baby so it wasn’t THE end as such, just a break.
When Bear arrived, her entry to the world was so much easier and more enjoyable than her sister’s had been that I knew almost instinctively that our breastfeeding relationship would take a similar path. However, a few weeks in, and I was in so much pain I didn’t think I could continue. I sought help and we were referred for suspected tongue tie. It wasn’t this, but there is a lip tie which they don’t treat so we muddled on and with some great advice, managed to find a latch that worked for us both. Luckily, I had an over-supply of milk, so despite the initial problems, she was still getting more than enough and was gaining weight rapidly!
From this point on, it has been wonderful. There were the odd bad bits: if I was away for any period of time, I’d rapidly get painfully engorged and expressing made no difference; when her teeth started to come through, she’d occasionally nip me; and then, as she got older, her latch became lazy as she stopped taking it so seriously. This has been the cause of numerous issues recently, all of which have made me want to stop.
In the last month I have started to dread each feed, wishing instead that we could just cuddle to sleep rather than having to endure the pain of cracked and sore nipples and plugged ducts. I tried to say no but she is quite a demanding little lady and has made it quite clear that this is not good enough, so I’ve put it off, not wanting it to be traumatic for either of us.
I’d talked with other breastfeeding mums about how the toddlers had started almost abusing us in their demands for milk and we agreed that while we were happy to share our bodies with a growing baby, once the boundaries of that relationship were crossed into abuse, something had to change.
Bear was not big on change though, with her tantrums at being refused including hitting, scratching and pulling at my clothes. I know that she’s little and doesn’t quite understand that there are boundaries yet, but at the same time, feeding her had become a negative experience for me and I was beginning to resent her for it. I also know that projecting my own feelings onto the situation is probably not healthy, but the day in, day out repetitive behaviour becomes hard to surpass when it’s directed at you.
Then last week, I spoke to a friend who has weaned four children when she felt the time was right and she said I just had to be strong and stop.
So, knowing that it was going to be a late night for the girls, following a busy and active afternoon, I thought I’d give it a go. I told Bear that both “milkies” were hurting so there couldn’t be any tonight, and she just snuggled into me and went to sleep. No drama, no complaints, just acceptance of what I’d said. I was stunned, but put it down to extreme tiredness. The next morning I told her the same and while she was a little more demonstrative, she accepted it more quickly than in the past and went on with her day. That night, the same – she asked if they were better, I said no and she just asked for a cuddle instead. I hadn’t expected it to be this easy and couldn’t help wondering why I hadn’t tried before. All weekend, we followed the same pattern – she’d ask, I’d say no, they’re still hurting and she’d just cuddle up with me instead. Today, she came through and immediately asked for her breakfast. Not for milk. So today, I accept that it’s over.
Well, accept is possibly not the right word. I have cried lots and lots and laid awake worrying about my decision. I feel that I have let a big part of being a mummy go and because it was done on a whim, there was no dramatic final feed for me to cherish. I kept saying we’d stop after the winter illnesses so that I could get her through it as I have the last two years. And now I don’t have my magic potion to soothe her I am scared that she will suffer more than necessary (which I know is silly really!). But there’s no going back now.
Yet the hardest part is the knowledge that my last baby is growing up (I won’t have any more). All the time that we shared a breastfeeding relationship, she wasn’t quite independent of me. Lots of people can cuddle her and soothe her, but only I could nurse her. It was the one thing that tied us together after the cord was cut when she was born, our bodies entwined as one still. Now we don’t have that, I am mourning the loss of my baby and having to come to terms with having two little girls instead. I am relieved that it has been so straightforward and that she hasn’t been upset about it, but at the same time I’m sad as I’d not expected it so hadn’t prepared myself for it.
So now I will say bye bye baby and hello little girl while I welcome back my body and put away the nursing bras. We had some extra-special cuddles before bed tonight. And I’m trying not to cry too hard!