In the first few days, after the roller coaster of Finn's birth and all the drama of those final moments, nursing going well was such a relief. He latched on like a champion and made me feel like maybe things were going to be just fine after all. Even after we were separated by my surgery and my sweet four day old had been "confused" by bottles, he did not hesitate for a single second when given the opportunity to nurse again.
In the early months, as new parenthood threw challenges to this sleep-deprived momma left and right, it was nursing that always went well. Little roadblocks- a lazy latch or a bit of an oversupply- were figured out with a bit of research and a lot of support from my family of mom friends. Overcoming them ultimately gave me much needed confidence.
We spent hours upon hours, so many in the middle of the night, in the nursery rocking chair. Thank goodness we splurged on a good one. And as the months went by and I gained some advanced momma skills, side-lying (read: while sleeping) nursing became nothing short of a Godsend.
Nursing in the mornings let us both drift back to sleep. I can perhaps handle a 2 am wakeup followed by a 4 am wakeup, but something about that 6 am wakeup is downright painful if you can't fall back asleep 5 minutes into it. Those moments cuddling in bed and listening to the slow deep breathing of my baby as he fell back asleep with his warm little belly against mine- they are some of my favorites in all of motherhood so far.
Later on as he grew, nursing was a respite from the tedium of entertaining a pre-mobile baby. Sometimes a break to escape by reading a blog post or writing an email via the magic of the iphone, while he was otherwise occupied. Then it was a few moments to relax together in a day of chasing a speedy crawler. It became our way to reconnect after I spent a long day away at work. When he learned to walk- and then run- it was a way to sneak in cuddles with a momentarily-still Finn.
Even pumping, tiresome as it was, was a way to feel like I was still providing for and connecting with my baby during long days away. I wasn't sad to retire it at 13 months, but I was thankful for all it allowed me to do.
|Left: Nursing. Right: Pumping.|
As he became a toddler, nursing sessions grew shorter, more active on his part and I knew they were evolving- becoming less for nutrition and more for comfort, maybe immunity, and certainly for routine. But they didn't become any less necessary. The moments when he popped off and grinned up at me were just as important as the ones when he was filling his belly. Nursing became a tool for fixing grumpy moods before they escalated into tantrums, for calming a frantic toddler on an airplane (where yes, we nursed at 18 months), and it remained the last magical sleep-preparing step in his bedtime routine until the very end.
When he turned a year old, I let myself admit that my goal was 18 months, and that my personal limit was 24. I didn't want to finish up too soon or too late for each of us, but that seemed like the right time. As we distanced ourselves from that birthday, nursing became even more relaxed, more like a bonus.
The final gift was one from Finn. He was 21 months old, at exactly the halfway mark between the goal I wanted to reach and the limit I didn't. I was not yet four weeks pregnant, which he couldn't have known, but already beginning to wonder how pregnancy and nursing were going to co-exist- not something I very much wanted to find out. We sat down to rock as our bedtime routine had been for all the nights of his life, and instead of nuzzling in to nurse, he rested his chin into the space between my neck and shoulder and sighed contentedly. It could not have been a more perfect end to our experience. He's done the same now every night since, and our routine is still to rock in our chair.
I realize not everyone gets to experience breastfeeding in this way. That's part of the wonder of it for us, and I know we were lucky. Other mommas connect with their babies in other ways and their stories are no less important to them I am sure. But I read the words of a wise woman recently who said we do not have a responsibility to tell the story of the universal human experience- just of our own. Our story is of 21 months- a blink in my child's life really- of a wonderful, wonderful gift. I'll always treasure these memories, and I'll always be so very grateful for that time.