We are at the end of our breastfeeding journey and I’m really conflicted about it.
On one hand, I can do things again like get laser hair treatment on my upper lip (I’m Italian. I have dark hair. Enough said.), forget about nursing pads, exercise harder and have a drink or two without wondering if it’s passing through my breast milk. Part of me wants to jump up and down with glee because I can be selfish with my own body.
On the other hand, I feel a little bit lost at night when putting my son to sleep. I wonder how we got to this point so fast. Wasn’t he just a newborn baby yesterday?
I’ve had such a love hate relationship with breastfeeding. I formula fed my daughter after about two weeks. I had a low supply, she had latching issues and then I got mastitis with a fever of over 104, which actually made me wish I was dying. It was so anxiety-inducing to wonder if my baby was getting enough. The lactation nurses were telling me to feed, then pump an hour later, then feed an hour after that – all day and all night. You don’t expect something that is so natural, that people have been doing for thousands of years, to be so hard. I remember I broke down in the pediatrician’s office and she told me I could stop. She told me I didn’t have to do it any longer and that somehow released me a little. It’s like I needed someone to give me permission that it was okay to quit. Even so, I beat myself up over it for months afterwards.
With my son, I was more relaxed about it and he was good at it right from the beginning, even with a pretty severe tongue tie. I really didn’t do anything differently. He and I just clicked. Throughout our journey, there have been things that have surprised me about what it really means to be able to breastfeed and a few things I learned.
1. In the beginning, I felt like an isolated cow.
It’s so hard in the beginning. No one really tells you that you’ll be sitting, cluster feeding for days at a time to build up your supply. I sat, watching Sex in the City on Netflix, feeding him hour after hour. I wouldn’t leave the house because I was nervous about breastfeeding in public. I wanted to feel like an Earth goddess, but instead I felt like a cow. I was literally just needed for the milk at that point, or at least, that’s how it felt. My son couldn’t smile at me yet, coo on purpose or even really focus on me so it made it very difficult to feel like a loving relationship in the beginning.
2. It’s not a magical, weight loss pill.
I was super pumped to lose all this weight after pregnancy and I believed breastfeeding would be my ticket to being my normal size again. Unfortunately, not everyone loses weight while breastfeeding and I happen to fall into that category. In fact, I found that my weight hung on a little bit harder. I wasn’t eating like a ravenous beast, but my body was happy at the size it was at even though I wasn’t. I had to really work at it to begin losing some of the baby weight this time around and in doing so, I really had to watch my water consumption and make sure I was eating enough to still produce milk too.
3. There is something called a nipple bleb and it hurts like hell.
The first time around I got mastitis. This time around I was the winner of a nipple bleb. If you don’t know what this is, it’s essentially a blister on your nipple. You know how much those things hurt when you get them on your feet, right? Well imagine one on the most tender part of your body that someone then hooks suction to. It felt like someone was actually twisting my nipple off while gauging it at the same time. Awesome, right?
4. It made me so proud of my body.
I may not have felt like an Earth goddess, but when we got confirmation from the doctor that my son was healthy and growing, I felt so accomplished. After losing so many pregnancies, I felt like my body was finally doing what it was biologically made to do and I was proud of it. My body was all that was needed to sustain life. I could not only carry a person inside me, but I could help them grow once they were outside of me. In fact, I was all that was needed to help them grow. There is something powerful in that and deeply fulfilling.
5. It was emotionally draining.
There were so many ups and downs in our journey and sometimes I just felt exhausted from it all. When I went back to work, I felt an incredible sense of anxiety over not having a supply of milk for him and needing to pump each day to keep up with what he was eating. About three months after I went back, we needed to supplement for the first time and I ugly cried sitting in the pumping room. (You can read more about that here.) I had to come to terms with using formula again. I needed someone to give me permission again that it was okay to stop pumping.
After the cry fest, I bumped into a young woman (early 20s) in the hall on the way back to my desk. She asked if I was okay and I told her I was just being silly because I would have to start giving my son formula sometimes. Without being a mother, or any plans to become one any time soon, she said something to me that was exactly what I needed to hear. “Motherhood is so hard,” she said with a little smile. She was right.
6. I still feel guilty about not being able to do it longer.
My son is 11 months this week and two nights ago was the last time he was interested in breastfeeding. I know I should be proud of making it this far, but I still feel this giant sense of guilt that I didn’t try harder and make it all the way to his first birthday. What is that even about? I’m guessing it is about the pressure from other moms and society in general. I just read an article this morning about how only 15 percent of moms in the United States breastfeed till 1-year-old. I then wondered to myself how different that number would be if the U.S. had an actual maternity leave policy that mandated you get the first year off.
7. I don’t have any beautiful pictures of me breastfeeding and I wish I did now.
Now that it’s all over, breastfeeding photo sessions seem to be all the rage. I didn’t even think of taking professional photos of myself breastfeeding or having someone else snap one of me doing it casually at home. As I mentioned, I’m not big at showing off my boobs in public, but looking back, I wish I had something that showed the sweetness in the moments. I have a few phone photos that I took in the beginning because I was so proud of my son’s latch, but that’s it. I wish I had something more to capture the love between us.
8. I did not bond any more or any less than I did with my formula-fed daughter.
I’ve heard people say that they bonded more with children that they breastfed, but in my case, that simply isn’t true. With my daughter, I still did most of her feedings even though she was formula fed. We still had the sweet moments where we looked into each other’s eyes and snuggled close. We still did skin-to-skin in the early months and I gave her as much love as I possible could. Both my kids have been very attached to me. The only difference I’ve noticed is that my son needed me more since I was literally his only food source.
9. I’m heartbroken that I’m done forever.
The first night my son pulled away, frustrated that there was nothing left for him, my heart broke just a little. I knew it was coming. I knew he was getting less and less. We were down to one feeding each night, just for a few minutes, and it was really just so he could fall asleep.
The part of me that’s sad about breastfeeding being over revolves around this. It’s not just that I am done breastfeeding him, it’s that I’m done breastfeeding forever. He is my last baby. This was really my first and last experience with all the good, all the bad and all the crazy in this journey.
So as I look back on breastfeeding with fondness and disdain, my heart is a little heavier knowing that it’s not just breastfeeding I’m saying goodbye to, but really the idea that my baby, my last baby, won’t be a baby much longer.
A version of this post was originally published on The Everyday Mom Life.
Rachel Quenzer is the owner and main blogger for The Everyday Mom Life where she writes about mom experiences - the good and the bad. Her journey to motherhood did not go as expected and that gives her a unique view on the craziness that comes along with the job. She writes from the middle of a cornfield outside of Chicago where she lives with her kids, computer-nerd husband and faithful dog that loves to give kisses. You can follow along with her on the blog, onFacebook, Twitter @EverydayMomRach or Instagram @theeverydaymomlife.