When I was pregnant, I was surprised by the number of people who asked me if I planned to breastfeed. My answer was always a flippant “I’d love to” or “I hope so” before moving on to a new subject. I knew I wanted to breastfeed my child, but deep down I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to. I became pregnant via IVF and therefore needed a lot of medical intervention to help my body do what it needed to do in order to have a baby. I couldn’t trust my body to produce hormones or ovulate so how could I trust it to lactate?
As my due date approached, the ability to breastfeed became a big deal to me. Because I needed the help of needles, medicines and doctors to get pregnant, feeding my child on my own felt like a badge to be earned. When my son was born, I willed my body to produce milk and anxiously awaited it to come in.
My milk came without complication and luckily my son latched with ease. After a few weeks of chapped nipples and swollen breasts, we were on our way to what would turn out to be a long and fulfilling journey.
In the beginning months of our journey, I set a goal of one year thinking it would be challenging for either or both of us. To my surprise, we blew past one year and continued toward two. Up until my son’s first birthday, people were indifferent and some even vocally supportive of our journey, but as my son approached 18 months the peanut gallery changed their tune.
When my son turned two, the question I got most often was some variation of “you’re still breastfeeding?” or “when are you going to stop?” or perhaps the most inappropriate “he can’t breastfeed from kindergarten.” For the first time in our breastfeeding journey, I felt conflicted about it. Yes, I’m still breastfeeding, no, he’s not ready to stop, and of course this doesn’t mean he’s going to be nursing until he’s five.
But what if it did? I started to feel like I was damned if I did, damned if I didn’t. It seems there’s so much pressure in our society to breastfeed yet there’s such a stigma against continuing past a certain point. I have friends and family members who dislike breastfeeding, some who can’t breastfeed, or those who find it too difficult while balancing work and life. Regardless of their choice, I respect it and applaud them for consciously doing what’s right for them and their family. I hate to think that society made them feel wrong for their personal choice, but was feeling similarly for nursing my not-so-baby anymore. Never before conservative when it came to nursing, I found myself feeling self conscious of the the long limbed, busy toddler at my breast. I wanted to organically continue on until my son was ready, but felt pressured to speed things along.
I spent five weeks sleeping four hours maximum weaning him from his night feed, holding and rocking him or rubbing his back for hours to soothe him back to sleep. A month of sleeplessness later he was night weaned, and I was wondering if I’d made the right choice. It all felt so hard and almost wrong, the way he cried and begged for milk, and the mentality given to me by a pediatrician friend to just not give in.
From then on, I decided to go back to what felt right for us and waited it out until my son started to show signs of readiness to wean. Sometimes I worried he would never be totally ready, and we’d have to go through the same horrible weaning process again, but I continued on.
Soon after his second birthday, he readily dropped feeds and went longer and longer stretches without asking for milk. Instead of worrying if he’d ever want to stop, I started to feel sad that such a big milestone was passing by. This time, I knew he was ready. In the end, it was only the morning feed he couldn’t let go of on his own and I simply needed to help him finish what he started. It was hard to wean him completely. In a way, we were both grieving something we had been doing together for the past seven hundred and fifty days, but, after a couple weeks of very early wake ups and many tears, he was done.
Looking back, I realize people will always have something to say. I’m so happy I was able to breastfeed, but I know it would’ve been totally fine if I couldn’t. I realize that weaning a walking, talking toddler is a major challenge, but I’m happy that we were able to finish the journey on his terms rather than force a premature conclusion.
The early years go by so fast and are really such a blink in time — do what you want and what’s right for you and your child. Don’t waste any of that precious time on notions of how you could do things differently. Listen to your gut, that’s why it sticks around so long after baby 😉