My breastfeeding journey began the same day I became a mother. Nursing Beau is one of the first moments we shared together as mother and son. It became an experience that was exclusively for us. Everything from the quiet, intimate mornings and milk mustache smiles to late night colic and sore nipples, forged a bond that could only be shared between him and I.
At times, it felt as if Beau was literally sucking the life out of me. Long days of cluster feeding and inconsolable fussiness left me feeling depleted. But it was those tender moments that we shared quietly among the soft glow of his nursery that made it impossible for me to give up. Occasionally I would look down to find Beau’s chocolate brown eyes gazing up at me with a warm intensity. When he noticed me looking at him, he would break the trance with a bashful smile and bury his face in my arm.
Breastfeeding not only created a bond between Beau and I, but it also redefined my relationship with myself. Breastfeeding united my mind, body and spirit in an intricate harmony. It makes me feel loved and needed which consequently fulfills my maternal instincts.
Immediately after Beau was born, I felt a visceral emptiness. My body abruptly evolved from a precious vessel serving as a home to my unborn child to a hallow cavity assuming no purpose. Although, I was emotionally prepared and excited to finally become a mother, my body was mourning the loss of a baby it had nurtured the last 10 months. Breastfeeding helped my body transition into postpartum by allowing it to still take part in providing for Beau. In a way, it connected my prenatal body to my postnatal body. Breastfeeding is like a rite of passage into motherhood, when you shift from nourishing your baby from the inside of your body, to the outside.
As Beau marches into toddlerhood with a fistful of goldfish in one hand and a sippy cup in the other, it is apparent that breastfeeding is no longer imperative to his survival. My milk is no longer his sole food supply, which means we breastfeed because we want to, not because we have to. I know it and my body knows it.
Beau doesn’t long to nurse like he used to and it feels like a stab in the heart. Like quite literally, my chest is on fire. I can sense my body surrendering to that feeling of emptiness. Biologically, my sole purpose as a woman is to bare children and to feed them, and without either one of those needs being fulfilled, I’m left feeling futile. I guess this is what weaning feels like and nobody warned me about the physical and emotional pain it would render.
Each morning that Beau doesn’t try to burrow his face into my chest and latch on to me, feels like another step away from me that my baby is taking. I became a mother the same day our breastfeeding journey began and I can’t help but to correlate the two. The more Beau resists breastfeeding, the less I feel like a mother. I know that’s not the truth, but it is a reality that all mothers face, our babies grow up and become independent of us.
This is a big step for me as a mother and Beau as an individual. I rely on breastfeeding as a way to help me reconnect with Beau after a long day of work or to magically make everything better when he’s upset. It’s so easy, so natural. Now I feel as if I’m in a position to find other means of strengthening our bond. This is new territory for me. I’ve always had breastfeeding as a crutch since the beginning of my motherhood journey. It’s always been the handy dandy mom hack in my arsenal. The lack of breastfeeding will redefine me as a mother as it will force me out of what has become my comfort zone.
I feel like a new mother that has just given birth. My emotions are delicate. I cry in the middle of doing dishes or driving down the road. I can sense the postpartum anxiety lurking again as my mind becomes inundated with intrusive thoughts. These are the same thoughts that consumed me during the first couple months of Beau’s life. Thankfully, I had breastfeeding as a way to combat my anxiety with feel good hormones. Now I feel like a drug addict that is just longing for one more feed. I’m craving another hit of that oxytocin that I’ve grown so accustomed to. My mind and body are in a state of chaos as the foundation of who I am as a mother had been ripped out from under me.
I look back and think about all of the support there is for breastfeeding moms. Whether it be from the nurses in the hospital after delivery or from a stranger in the grocery store, there is such a community for breastfeeding moms. For this reason, I embarked on my breastfeeding journey without fear. If I could do it, great. If for some reason it didn’t work out, well I had other options. Now here I am after 16 months of breastfeeding and I have no idea how to navigate my way out. I feel isolated and alone. I feel as if I don’t have any other option as the choice has been made for me. My son is growing up and I won’t stand in his way.
Now I know why people say that breastfeeding is one of the most challenging things you will ever do as a mother. And it’s not just because of the sleepless nights and physical demands. It’s because it’s the first time your child will ever truly break your heart. I wish I knew that the hardest part of breastfeeding would be not breastfeeding.