I have to start weaning James.
Like just about everything to do with motherhood, breastfeeding and my feelings about it have completely caught me off guard. I wanted to breastfeed, but mostly because the world was yelling at me: Breast is best! I thought breastfeeding toddlers was a little weird and that I would for sure for sure be done with it by a year.
The early months of breastfeeding did nothing to change my mind about any of it. My boobs were so engorged when my milk came in that they felt like helmets; they were about five times the size of James’s head. It seemed absurd when James would open his tiny mouth to reach for them: a little mouse trying to suckle from a boulder. On the advice of my midwives, I used a nipple shield for a little while and then I began to worry (thanks to Google) that I was fucking things up forever and ever amen.
Not to mention that at the beginning you are literally nursing ALL THE TIME. Like epic 30-45 minute feeds every hour and a half. I remember thinking: Will I ever do anything ever again besides hold this helpless creature to these ridiculously enormous ta-ta’s? In the middle of the night, dazed, I would have visions of those slaves on oar ships. Pull. Pull. Just endless rowing under the sun, salt water sores, etc. Will it ever end?!
I got a breast pump, hoping one day, I might have three hours to go do something instead of one.
But things got better. James would rainbow his little hand over my chest while he nursed. He needed me a little less. We got better at it. I completely gave up caring if anyone saw my boob.
Plus, good things started to happen. I mean, every new mom deserves to burn 500 calories a day sitting on her couch. Breastfeeding flooded my brain with oxytocin. New moms need that too. To remember, you know, that they love this wailing, limp, pooping, most-demanding human.
Once he was on solids, the whole situation was actually very reasonable. I fed him four times a day and usually once at night. I love this time with James. Running my fingers through his crazy hair. Scooping up his hands in mine. Or he’ll put his fingers in my mouth and we’ll smile at each other.
Today I leafed through Operating Instructions to find this quote which so perfectly describes how I feel about breastfeeding at this exact moment:
“Part of me wants my body back, wants to stop being moo-cow, and part of me thinks about nursing him through kindergarten. I know a woman who nursed her daughter until the girl was almost four, and of course we all went around thinking that it was a bit much, too Last Emperor for our blood. But now when Sam and I are nursing, it crosses my mind that I will never be willing to give this up. It’ll be ok, we can get it to work, I’ll follow him to college but I’ll stay totally out of the way…
This is the easiest, purest communication I’ve ever known.”
Indeed, it feels like a secret language – and yet, of course, it is not a secret. It is the universal language of mothers and children everywhere, of all mammals.
I think about how our bodies have been connected for 17 months now. My body has devoted itself to him – has given him life.
And how I have appreciated the power of the boob – to soothe him when nothing else will. What the hell am I going to do when this is gone? I sometimes think.
But the time is coming. I have to go back to work, which means I have to cut the daytime feeds.
The first day I tried to cut one, he lost his mind and I had to relent. The second went better. But I can tell it’s sensitive. We sit in our old nursing chair and read a book and have a snack and I bury my nose in his hair, brush his head with kisses. He doesn’t understand – of course, I can’t explain it to him, which kills me.
I have to cut the next. I have to be done done by April because I am going away.
I am mostly grateful. Grateful I could nurse him at all – and for so long.
And I am sad. I am sad that that our bodies are parting. Soon, we will speak to each other with words. I’ll be able to explain things to him, reason with him, bargain with him.
I know I will long for it. Our secret, silent language.
(P.S. This quote from Operating Instructions really took me back and made me howl: “I just can’t get over how much babies cry. I really had no idea what I was getting into. To tell you the truth, I thought it would be more like getting a cat.”)