I breastfed my first child for twenty months. I said that I was only going to do it for six months, but he was still little at six months, so a year seemed more appropriate. A year came and went and he was still, well, little. I wasn't planning on becoming an extended breastfeeder, those odd women nursing kids old enough to ask for milk, but when it was my son making the baby sign for milk (he was on the late side of talking) it didn't seem weird anymore.
I was proud that he never had one drop of formula, that my body sustained human life all by itself. It was a major part of my identity. I could talk about breastfeeding and cloth diapers for hours. I was deeply saddened when people I liked chose formula -- more than that, I judged them as selfish and wanting.
When my firstborn was twenty months old, my skin suddenly crawled when he nursed and he looked too damn big and I wanted to run from him when he made his milk sign with his pudgy little fingers. It turned out that I was pregnant, and I can pinpoint conception to the moment when suddenly breast-feeding was not something I enjoyed. I weaned him, with the help of my husband, by saying in the kindly way of hormonal women everywhere, "I'm done. Here's the baby. You get to wean him. I'm going to bed." Bless his heart, that man did it without complaint.
Of course I planned on nursing again. I was startled by how hard it was. I was a pro -- but I had to call for a lactation consultant in the hospital to remind me how it all worked with a newborn, and called La Leche League's emergency help line and sobbed about bleeding nipples a few days after going home. Riddled with postpartum depression, I never got the flood of hormones with my second son. With the first, I would be overwhelmed with love and I didn't care about not sleeping and it was a gift to be alone with this marvelous creature in the middle of the night.
The second time around, I felt like a parasitic creature was gnawing at my exhausted body. Still, I keep doing it, but when my marriage broke up I started supplementing with formula and three months after leaving my husband I gave up and switched entirely to the bottle.
It wasn't just the physical discomfort that made me do it -- my supply would dwindle to next to nothing when the baby was with his father and I would nurse twenty four hours a day when he came home. I was unable to parent my nearly three year old oldest child. I no longer felt that breast feeding was worth any sacrifice. It just didn't work for the three of us.
When my baby rested his head on my chest and drank a bottle in the middle of the night, I got the same flood of love and adoration that I had nursing my first child. Feeding him with a bottle allowed me the joy of motherhood without feeling like I was being chewed on by a remora.
Of course I worry that I didn't give him the same advantages I gave his brother by taking away my breast milk that early. I was ashamed and told very few people that I stopped nursing, choosing to just disappear from the nursing groups and online forums rather than defend myself. I can't say I made the best decision, but I can say I made the only decision I could at the time.
If, in the unlikely event that I have another child, I would certainly breast feed again, and I assume the experience would be as enjoyable and effortless as it was with my first born. But I have learned that how you feed your baby is not a reflection of how much you love them, or how strong of a woman you are. Sometimes you do the best you can at the time with what emotional resources you have.
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