I'll probably never be ready to write this post but I want to capture the feelings of now. The raw emotions that fill every inch of your heart the moment you realize your breastfeeding journey has ended.
I'll start by saying I never wanted to start breastfeeding. I saw breastfeeding as one of two ways I could feed my baby. I chose the other way and was happy with that. Deep down there was always a little niggling feeling though. A curiosity. It was the part of me that hates to miss out on something. It was, for the most part, ignited by things my mam would say to me. I had changed my mind a million times but always came back to the not breastfeeding. I had never seen someone breastfeed so it was something alien to me. I had no emotional connection to it whatsoever. I literally couldn't imagine one single time that I saw a baby being breastfed in person, in a magazine or in a movie. Now I see it every day.
I was struggling from the beginning. Billy wouldn't latch and I think I felt a bit rejected. You can read more about that here
. I swiftly gave up and welcomed the idea of formula and bottles. I had tried, right? I didn't feel overly emotional about it. I had been lead to think that if I continued to breastfeed my child would be starving. A combination of factors really. I wasn't prepared and the midwife didn't have the time to help me among various other things.
That niggle persisted. I formula fed and Billy rejected it from the beginning. He was refluxy, gasy and very unsettled. Deep down I knew that it was linked to the formula. I tried on and off but he just wouldn't latch on. I had become so engorged that I had to pump to ease the discomfort.
Something happened when I saw milk. My body had produced milk for MY baby. It was cathartic. I just knew I had a little more fight in me and I knew I wanted it to work. I felt really really sad that it hadn't.
And then we found nipple shields. Another suggestion from my Mam. The moment I put the shield on Billy fed beautifully. It was day five. That was the beginning of our breastfeeding relationship. The first chapter of many to come.
And so we fed. Sometimes all night long. The "he couldn't be feeding again" comments came flooding in and I slowly began to build confidence about the subject. Soon I could tell people that everything that was happening was normal. That it shouldn't be compared to bottle feeding as it was so different. I was feeding on demand and that was exactly the right thing to do. Sometimes he fed for five hours in a row. Those are some of my fondest memories when I look back now.
From the moment he was born he was happy being close to me. I'll never forget the moment he lay upon my chest. A bond that could never be broken. It felt like I was re-born. That I had so much more to give this world. Proud that I had given the universe this wonderful human being. Shocked that I was allowed to call him mine. It was the greatest love I had ever felt and immediately my greatest achievement.
And so we fed. We fed on aeroplanes, in restaurants, on holiday, by the beach and in the car. We fed when he was hungry. Never had anything felt so natural in all my life. I had connected so much with the idea of feeding my baby that it just made me feel like a happier person. I can't explain it. Every single feed felt precious. I felt lucky. After four months the nipple shields were a thing of the past. The first time he latched on without them I sobbed. It was a beautiful moment.
And then he got bigger. Teeth came along. He crawled and then walked. As he learned a new skill I felt so very proud. These milestones were never a reason to stop breastfeeding though. Why would they be? It was easy. It was beautiful. It was our thing. People would ask if I was "still" breastfeeding. Said with a tone that implied that I was undergoing some kind of sentence. Never had it occurred to me to stop. I couldn't even entertain the thought. It would have felt forced and unkind. He wasn't ready and neither was I. We were happy.
He had suddenly become so independent. The word "no" was used in abundance. The tantrums began and the world sometimes frustrated him. At the end of the day though? That was our time. We were down to one feed. It had been a gradual gentle process where the world had become more exciting and feeds had dropped one by one. There was food to eat, people to see and things to destroy. That feed was our moment to connect at the end of the day. It sent him off to sleep and for that special couple of minutes he was my baby again.
Daddy played a huge part in all of this. A supportive partner is paramount. He was always beside me - cheering us on. He loved that I was breastfeeding and he supported me in every way possible. Himself and Billy had and continue to have the most wonderful relationship. Best friends. Partners in crime. An unshakable bond. From the get-go Peter has been an equal parent and a hands on father. He does it all. Their relationship is beautiful and a testament to the fact that breastfeeding has nothing to do with "depriving the father of the opportunity to feed the baby". I heard that one many times. Breastfeeding is just the way our bodies are supposed to feed our babies. Bath-time, cuddles, lullabies and naps together - that's where the magic happens.
I'll be forever grateful for Peter's support throughout our journey. It made all the difference.
And here we are. Two years on. Exactly one month since the light of my life turned two.
It's probably for the best that I didn't know that last Thursday would be our last feed. The anticipation would have had me in knots. There is no particular reason why we have arrived here. No big moment or sudden requirement to stop. I just woke up on Friday morning and had the strongest clear-as-day feeling that this might be the gentlest time to begin to wean him. To introduce the idea. I tried to escape it but it kept coming to the surface. I did not want to stop at all. I could have fed him forever. It had in no way become overwhelming, strange or different. It was an instinctive thing I think. I'll never be able to explain it.
And so it happened. Just like that. I am lucky in the sense that he also loves bottles these days. He would happily guzzle one if I was not around at bed time. He asked for "yay yays" and I simply offered him a bottle. Some might find that strange. To fight so hard to breastfeed my baby and it all comes down to saying no and offering a bottle two years later. For me it doesn't feel that way though. I breastfed my baby for two years. He likes bottles the same way he likes his soother and Cheerios. It does not take from our journey.
As the days went on he is asking less and less. There is lots of cuddling, skin to skin contact and a fair bit of discomfort on my end but we are here and we will stick with it. It feels right and none of this has felt forced. It has been incredibly gentle on the both of us. I'm really grateful for that. Perhaps it wouldn't be so gentle in several months or years.
It has also been unbelievably emotional. I have shed so many tears and scrolled through so many photographs remembering the journey behind us. The breastfeeding journey that became so much of my identity as a mother. The journey that shaped me. That changed me.
I was the girl who never wanted to breastfeed. The girl who eventually, reluctantly "agreed" to feed for "six weeks max". The girl who would "never be one of those hippies who feeds a one year old". The girl who had no idea of the joy, the magic and the bond. The girl who suffers from anxiety and who was forced to sit down and be present every time my baby was hungry. The girl who used to despise her body but who now loves it for all that it can do.
The end of an era. Another chapter closed. But what a chapter it was.