The baby quit nursing three months ago and I don’t feel sad.
With my daughter, nursing was hard. We couldn’t find a rhythm. My nipples bled through my shirt. Every time she latched it felt like glass rubbing on my skin. I was told the pain would go away. But it never really did. So, at three months, when she quit for the bottle, I didn’t push it. I eagerly embraced that breast pump and my freedom. It’s weird to call pumping freedom, because it’s the opposite. It’s being attached to a giant white machine that makes a sound that your tired brain thinks could be BOB HOOOOPPPEE BOB HOOOOPPPEE over and over. It means always having it with you. Along with cold packs, refrigerator access and clean bottles. It means hiding away for 20-30 minutes 5-10 times a day. But at least I wasn’t bleeding. When she was nine months old, I got the stomach flu and lost my ability to juggle motherhood, a job, a baby and a pumping schedule. Or maybe, I just realized that motherhood doesn’t have to be martyrdom. So, I bought formula and packed the pump away. I had few regrets.*
When JQ was born, I freaked out. I had to make nursing work. There was no way I could parent a two-year-old and keep track of a baby while pumping. It was either nursing or formula. In the hospital, when I felt that familiar pain of cutting glass on my nipples and I thought, Oh no, here we go again, I began crying. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said to Dave. He just gave me a hug. What else can you do when your wife is bleeding from her nipples?
When JQ was a week old, I got mastitis. I didn’t know it was mastitis. I just knew I was in pain. The lactation consultant had seen me that day and declared me fine as I peppered her with questions about latching and cuts and pain. “You’ll toughen up,” she said. Later that day, my mom came to visit and found me feverish on the floor of the living room. Sobbing, I lifted up my shirt. “Go to the doctor,” she said.
I didn’t toughen up. I got antibiotics. A friend gave me a cream that helped my cuts heal and I muddled through. Then, I was there. Nursing wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t searing pain either. I wasn’t yelling swear words while the baby ate and making my daughter cry. So, progress. I’d made it.
But then he wouldn’t take a bottle. It’s a cosmically cruel joke to have one kid who won’t breastfeed and another who won’t take the bottle. It felt like punishment for whatever parenting sins I had made before. Nothing worked. I would leave the house to go grocery shopping and 30 minutes later get a call from Dave asking me, very politely when I thought I would be home. I could hear the baby screaming in the background. I did a lot of crying myself. I had quit my jobs so I could be with my kids. The cruel calculations of income and childcare didn’t pan out in my favor. And here I was, now, drowning in the sea of everyone’s needs. The baby wouldn’t let go of me. The toddler wouldn’t stop licking my shins.
Even my few stolen moments were short, because the baby would cry and the boobs would come out. Every part of me, mentally and physically, had been colonized by others. My hair wasn’t washed. No time between morning feedings and the toddler waking. My hands were dry and cracking from endless diaper changes and butt wipes. My knees were red from kneeling by the potty and they ached from the endless hours I sat cross-legged feeding the baby. Even my eyelashes, unadorned, seemed to be a product of someone else’s design.
JQ finally took a bottle around nine months. I left for a trip to Boston to visit a dear friend and I discovered that even my sleeping patterns had been overtaken by my children. I woke at 3am, every morning, completely unbidden. After the trip, JQ began to drop feedings. It happened fast and I didn’t fight it. His needs had met the limits of my abilities.
By a year, he dropped his final night feedings. That was three months ago. I’ve been waiting to feel a sadness or a sense of loss. Instead, I just feel relief. I’m happy that it doesn’t have to always be me. I’m happy I can hire a babysitter and we can go out for disappointing chicken wings and good beer. I’m happy that Dave can do bedtime and I can clean the kitchen or drink a beer, or just lay on the floor in a middle of detritus of our day and breathe–Cheerios, dust bunnies, blocks, crowns, necklaces, trucks, half-chewed apples.
And here it is, in black and white: I don’t like always being needed. I don’t like this model of parenting that takes the whole load for everything about our children on our shoulders. I don’t like having the entirety of my children’s world limited by my abilities. I don’t like falling down the rabbit hole of the deep and abiding needs of my children. I can’t be everything to them all the time. It’s wrong of me to try to be.
I don’t know when “mom” became this all-encompassing, die-to-self, loss of selfhood. But it’s a lie.
So, nursing is over. I am so happy.
*Sorry, I know a lot of this is review if you read my site. But I always feel weird being self-referential, because people have better things to do then remember details about how my babies fed.