You hear it all the time. It shows up in your social media feeds in inspirational memes. Your mother-in-law’s eyes glisten just the tiniest bit as she recalls her early days of breastfeeding her now grown children. The young mother who sits beside you on the bench at the playground, painstakingly trying to get her fussy newborn to latch, tosses the words in your direction with a hint of exhaustion in her voice.
“Breastfeeding is an emotional journey.”
No matter how often you hear it, nothing can honestly prepare you for the depth of truth behind those words. For me, the reality of this statement resonated in my heart when I least expected it. I realized just how emotional my breastfeeding journey had been on the very day that it ended.
Between my two children, I have been pregnant and breastfeeding for over 4 years. I believe whole-heartedly in the benefits of breastfeeding, and had persevered through multiple hurdles and challenges with both my son and daughter. But by the time my daughter was a year old, I was exhausted of it all. I wanted my body back, in every sense of the word. I wanted the freedom to drink more coffee, uncork more wine, eat what I wanted and to be able to pass her to my husband when she cried at night instead of being a prisoner of “comfort night nursing”.
I was just so completely done. But I had let my son ween on his own, and I was determined to let my daughter do the same. She continued night nursing right up until 20 months with no inclination that she might give it up anytime soon.
Right around that time, I was writing a post on the “ugly side” of breastfeeding for Daily Mom. I searched my files for days for a photo that captured the beauty that the post entailed, but I came up short. I decided to set up a quick photo shoot to capture a few images for the post and tie up my loose ends.
So, I set up my tripod, grabbed my remote and sat barefoot and cross-legged on the floor with my daughter as I let her nurse one random, rainy afternoon. I didn’t fix my hair or put on makeup. I wore an old maternity tank and my comfiest yoga pants. I didn’t look at the camera or even acknowledge its existence. I just wanted to capture the raw beauty of what breastfeeding had looked like for me over the last few years.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last time I ever breastfed my daughter. I don’t even know how it happened. She slept through the night that evening. She didn’t wake to comfort nurse. She slept through the next night and the night after that. Days turned into weeks, and one day it just dawned on me: she had weened herself that day, weeks ago, when we sat together and snapped photos.
My husband and I teeter back and forth about whether or not we will have one more child. On most days, we lean towards the side of our family being complete with two. In retrospect, I often wonder if I would have done things differently knowing we would come to this decision. Would I have tried to breastfeed my daughter longer? Would I, perhaps, not have been so eager to be done?
Motherhood is funny that way. Just when you think you’ve reached your limit – when you can’t possibly find it in yourself to give anymore – you find a way to give just a little bit more; and you realize that all along, it was you who had been on the receiving end of this pure and honest love.
I look at those photos from that rainy afternoon just a few months ago. That moment feels like a lifetime ago. In the solitude of that bare room, I have never felt so connected to another human being in my life.
I have never felt so loved – so needed – as I did when I was breastfeeding my children. I breastfed them through infancy when I was their lifeline of nourishment and security. I breastfed them through illnesses when the milk that my body made was all that their little bodies could keep down. I breastfed them through night terrors, teething, growing pains and emotional outbursts.
Those photos, that I took out of necessity to complete a post, have become some of my most cherished possessions. They are rare gems in my breastfeeding journey that so many women are not fortunate enough to have from their own journeys. They will always remind me of the beauty, the pain, the love and the tears that went into breastfeeding my children. They will remind me of the reason I did it – the reason I pushed through when I had had enough.
When people told me that breastfeeding would be an emotional journey, there was no way I could have ever truly understood the depths of those simple words. It wasn’t until my journey was over that I saw the bigger picture and felt the impact that it left on my heart… and my soul. Breastfeeding is so much more than providing nourishment for your child. I have been forever changed because of it. And I think it’s kind of special that I can recall the very first time I ever breastfed a baby… and the very last.
Looking for Un-Nursing Wear?
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I Never Wanted To Become A Breastfeeding Advocate
How The Ugly Side Of Breastfeeding Made Me Appreciate It Even More
The Importance Of Teaching Our Children About Breastfeeding
Photo credit: Marley Layne’s Closet