I’m struggling to write this post, because the feelings are pretty new and fresh. Bear with me as the words come out in a bit of a jumble, and I try to sort through exactly what’s going on in my head. After sixteen and a half months, my breastfeeding relationship with K has come to an end.
When I first started researching the actual ‘baby’ part of having a baby (once I’d exhausted the pregnancy research), breastfeeding was one of those things that absolutely terrified me. I read horror stories about cracked and bleeding nipples, thrush, mastitis and blocked ducts. I watched as friends pumped dutifully at all hours of the day and night, hoping that their supply would come in. I read about breastmilk being liquid gold, and hearing how incredibly dedicated mothers put themselves through hell to provide the “best” for their baby. At eight months pregnant, I was truly dreading having to breastfeed, and I wanted to buy a case of formula and be done with it.
My prenatal classes, taught by my doula, opened my eyes a little to what a real breastfeeding relationship could be. We were shown a video of minutes-old babies inching their way up their mothers’ chests, finding the right spot and latching on without any assistance. I heard about mothers who successfully and easily breastfed their babies for years, without any pain or trouble at all. Though the horror stories are what we most often hear, my doula reassured me that this was not always the case – and encouraged me to at least give breastfeeding a try.
With a renewed sense of hope, I vowed to at least try. The wonderful ladies of Hellobee assured me (through my numerous panicky posts on the subject), that if I gave it a good six weeks before giving up, I might just decide that breastfeeding worked for me. So when K was born, I watched my doula lift her onto my chest, and gaped in amazement as she latched on and started nursing.
There were a few days of hell as K and I got used to each other; she was a cluster-feeder for the first 48 hours straight, and I remember sobbing as she latched on again, wishing that we had formula on hand to help me out. After my milk came in on day three, the every-second-of-the-day nursing stopped a little bit, and things got easier. She was still a milk monster, however, and I spent the majority of my time sitting on the couch, propped up with pillows, watching Netflix and trying not to suffocate her with my (suddenly enormous) boobs.
At three weeks post-partum, I wondered if I would ever leave the house again. While the absolute toe-curling pain of the first little while had vanished, it was still quite a production to feed K. I needed both of my hands, and usually one of J’s to get her positioned properly, and about six pillows to keep myself comfortable through the whole (hour long) process. She was nursing every two hours, for about a half hour each time, and it was exhausting.
By six weeks post-partum, the ‘magical’ cut off deadline I had assigned myself, I was completely comfortable with breastfeeding. I still used my nursing pillow religiously, and I was still loading up on Earth Mama Angel Baby nipple cream, but K and I had fallen into a rhythm. I could nurse in public without exposing my entire upper body, and she was getting efficient enough that each session only took about fifteen minutes. I remember lamenting the loss of my Netflix time – efficient nursing meant only half an episode of Veronica Mars every two hours (rather than at least a full episode). But easy nursing meant freedom for me, and while K never took a bottle, I rarely minded. I could honestly say that breastfeeding was easy for me, and K was growing, nursing, and gaining right on target.
My mental deadline for weaning, if all worked out, was one year. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pump once I was back at work, and since K didn’t take a bottle anyhow, I knew it was a logical time to stop. When her first birthday rolled around, we were nowhere near close to weaning. Yes, she wasn’t nursing from 8:30 – 5:00 while I was at work, but she was still fitting in at least four nursing sessions during the evening and night. Though there was a lot of outside pressure to wean (everyone in my family had finished nursing their babies by well before a year), I knew that we weren’t finished quite yet. Nursing was a huge source of comfort to K, and I enjoyed our quiet time together.Whenever anyone asked, I always said, “We’ll be done by Christmas,” thinking that Christmas sounded an awfully long time away.
The week before Christmas, J confronted me about my deadline. K was eating so much solid food, and drinking water like it was her job; she was clearly getting no nutrition from her once-or-twice-daily nursing sessions. My left side had completely dried up and I was awkwardly lopsided. K was using me as a pacifier, nursing for ten or twenty seconds before popping off and running away. I knew that the time to wean was approaching, but I was still too attached to let go. I think, mentally, I needed to come to that place where I was willing to wean completely, even though we were basically finished already. K was getting to the point where she could be distracted away from wanting milk (with water, yogurt, or stacking blocks). I kept coming up with excuses to keep nursing her, however (she has an ear infection, she’s overtired today, she needs her Mama), but I knew I just wasn’t emotionally ready yet.
And then, the biting started, and we were finished.
K has a devious side. She’s sneaky and clever, and knows when she is doing something she’s not supposed to. The only times she has ever bitten me while nursing was when new teeth were coming through, and it was always an accident. This time, on Christmas Day, she was nursing in the afternoon when she pulled away, grinned at me, then bit down, HARD. I screamed, let go of her quickly and said, “No biting” sharply. She laughed hysterically, then tried to latch on again. I refused, letting her know that biting wasn’t okay, and she could have more milk later.
On Boxing Day, we were visiting family when it happened again. She looked at me and smiled, with a sparkle in her eye, then clamped down with her razor-sharp teeth. This happened two or three more times over the next day or so, with each nursing session ending abruptly. This is exactly what it took for me to realize that our nursing journey was over. She was only nursing briefly, biting me because she thought it was funny, and not noticeably upset when I cut off the nursing session.
After much deliberation, I decided that going cold turkey was best. She was only nursing once, maybe twice per day, and I figured that I should use the time I had away from work to get her used to the idea of drinking exclusively from her sippy cup. She has never taken to a bottle, but loves her straw cup, and I knew she would love almond milk if she would just give it a try. So finally, a few short days after my self-imposed deadline of Christmas, the breastfeeding stopped.
…to be continued