It’s ten past nine on just a regular Tuesday evening. Jon is outside in our little summer house office having a conference call with two people from America. The children are all fast asleep and tucked up safely in their beds. I’m sprawled out on the sofa, my new snuggly grey throw I bought in Homesense the other day draped all over me, Friends is on in the background and I am munching on a easter egg that I just had to go and buy earlier. The only difference to it being pretty much the same as any other evening is that I am crying.
My eyes are puffy and red, that kind of puffy from when someone has been crying hard and it’s sort of temporarily ravaged their face. The tears are still flowing, salty tears are silently falling and sort of pooling in a damp mess on my pyjama top. They stop for a while and then I will suddenly think about something and it will set me off again. The reason I am crying? Tonight is the end of my breastfeeding journey.
Before I carry on I am sure there will be some people who are reading this who will roll their eyes and think ‘Why is she getting worked up about finishing breastfeeding?’ I get that, even as I sit here with quiet sobs shaking my whole body, I wonder why I am getting so worked up. But the thing is, it IS emotional, it IS the end of an era and it’s something which has been a huge part of my life for almost the last two years. Well actually almost the last seven years really on and off. At 23 months of feeding Wren I decided that tonight would be our last breastfeed- and it’s something which I am finding so much harder than I thought.
I never particularly set out to breastfeed my babies. I was bottle fed, my sister was bottle fed and I didn’t have any friends who had babies before me. I had some formula tucked safely into my hospital bag when I went to have my c-section with Maddie my first born, but I thought I may as well give breastfeeding a go if I could. After my c-section I was wheeled into recovery and encouraged to give her an initial feed. She didn’t really latch on, I didn’t really think that much of it and I didn’t feel any huge rush of ‘I really want to do this’. I discharged myself after one night, headed back to my mums house where we were staying and thought I may as well give this a go for a while.
It didn’t come naturally AT ALL at first. I had her latch completely wrong in the beginning and I would literally shout every single profanity under the sun and scream and cry when she latched on. It was awful. My nipples bled and I had formula sat there waiting for me. I said to myself I would wait until my milk came in and then I would give it a chance. That I did and the pain was still horrific. Then at a week old we had the scariest moment of my life happen to me so far. We went to wake Maddie up from her sleep in the middle of the day as I was told to feed her every four hours. When I went to get her from her cot she was a funny sort of grey colour and was barely breathing. The next ten minutes are a complete blur. I remember screaming Jon and us rushing her to hospital- at the time we lived just over five minutes away and knew we could get there quicker than an ambulance would arrive at our house. We rushed her out the house, didn’t bother to put her in a car seat and I remember running into A and E and I felt like I was looking down on myself. There were a fair few people sat in the waiting room and normally you are told to take a seat, but within seconds there were alarms sounding and they had taken her off me and rushed her down the corridor. The sight of ten doctors and nurses around your week old baby, prodding her and poking her was one that was the scariest of my life.
We were admitted to the children’s ward and they never found what was wrong with her. They ran countless tests, they gave her a lumbar puncture (also horrific) and they gave her courses of antibiotics to be safe. We were there a couple of days but every test came back clear. In a way I wish they had found something, some sort of infection after birth that could have been sorted. But because they didn’t I was SO anxious that it would happen again. That if I hadn’t got to her she would have died of SIDS. I constantly talked to the nurses, almost willing them to tell me this was what would have happened, morbidly wanting to them to tell me that it wouldn’t happen again. Except of course they couldn’t. I remember one nurse, who was only being kind saying ‘You are doing everything right to protect her- you are breastfeeding, you are putting her down in her cot to sleep…’ That was it. I became fixated on breastfeeding. Whereas a few short days before I was ready to stop, from that moment onwards (wrongly now I know) I was determined that if I breastfed it would make it all better.
As a side note here I just want to say I genuinely think we put too much pressure on ourselves as mums and I couldn’t hate the breastfeeding/bottle divide more. However we decide to feed our babies is the right way. We are all on our own path, our own journey and our own story. That’s ok. We have enough things to feel guilty about and we don’t need any sort of pressure on us. We are all doing great, this motherhood thing is so hard at times.
But anyway that is where my breastfeeding journey began. It really didn’t come easy in the beginning. I was hospitalised with mastitis and from that moment on she refused that side, meaning I had to pump on one side and feed on the other for ten months. I had mastitis another eight times with her, but I went to every breastfeeding support clinic I could, eventually finding one amazing midwife/breastfeeding support worker who came to our house in her spare time to help me. She was incredible and I credit her for helping me breastfeed. After a while it just got easier, I figured out how to latch her on correctly and we really enjoyed our time breastfeeding. I stopped after ten months when I went back to work.
With Lottie it actually hurt more in the beginning. I thought the second time round it would be easier but it was still excruciating in the beginning when she latched on. My nipples bled and I cried so much in the early days. But this time I had hindsight on my side and I knew it would get easier. After a couple of weeks indeed it did (bar more rounds of mastitis as I think I actually produce too much milk) and I had 15 wonderful months breastfeeding Lottie.
With Wren even the night before my c-section I was watching videos on how to latch your baby on correctly on You Tube. I knew that not latching them on was the problem I had in the beginning. I worked so hard on spending time latching him on correctly in his first few days and while it still hurt a little bit, it was nothing like it was with the other two. Breastfeeding isn’t easy. It’s time consuming, it’s a lot for your body to take, it’s a lot of pressure on you and you alone, and sometimes it can feel so suffocating. But it’s also incredible and I am so proud I have done it for so long.
Now at 23 months I just feel like it is the time to stop with Wren. While he is showing no signs of stopping, I feel like we have reached the end. Even typing this makes me get tears in my eyes. I could carry on for a lot longer but I also feel like we have to stop at some points. For weeks now I have been saying I should stop, I cut down one feed if I have been out (he can go down fine without me in the evenings if I am not there) only to chicken out, not wanting to go through the heartache of stopping.
As dramatic as it sounds, it does feel a little like my heart is breaking. It’s mourning the end of a journey, the end of the baby days, the end of the special times we shared together just me and him. Much like the last time they sleep in your room, or the last time they sleep in a cot before going into a big bed, or even the last day of you being together on maternity leave- all these moments are milestones, they are your path, your story, your journey. And of course it is going to be emotional leaving them behind.
Wren has started to get quite upset during the day if we are out and about and he wants milk (even though he only tends to have it at night or first thing in the morning). He has taken to getting quite whiny and pulling my top down. He also gets quite upset in the mornings if I don’t just let him have milk whenever he feels like it till we get up. It’s become quite suffocating and I would rather end it on a high- I don’t want to end our journey together with me resenting it. As desperately sad as I am, I am also ready to get my body back after nearly eight years of breastfeeding on and off. I have decided going cold turkey is best for us as I think cutting down feeds will just be more confusing and make it harder for both of us. I haven’t completely decided what I am going to do yet but I know it is going to be hard. On both of us.
My plan is to get up first thing in the morning so he doesn’t even come into our bed, we will go straight down and have breakfast. At night time Jon is going to put him to bed for a few days and I will hide downstairs. I don’t know how long it is going to take, but I do know that I need to stick to it and not cave- it’s not fair on either of us.
So I sit here with tears rolling down my cheeks, all night I have gone from watching Friends and laughing, to feeling myself trying to swallow these big sobs that want to come from my gut. Jon keeps stroking my leg and laughing at me one minute being normal the next minute crying. In all honesty I feel a little devastated. I know I have been very lucky to feed my three babies with relative ease, but that’s just it. I have fed all three of my babies. And now I’m not. It’s the end of our breastfeeding story. And I feel incredibly sad for that. I know I will be fine in a few days, but this very special journey I have had will always have a really big spot in my heart.
Tonight I am going to allow myself to cry and let it all out. To grieve for my children growing up. To mourn the fact that I am very unlikely to ever feed another baby again. To allow myself the self-indulgence of feeling sorry for myself. To reminisce about the journey we have had.
One door closes and another one opens. You end one chapter and start a new one. That’s how life goes. I’m closing the book on my time breastfeeding and such an incredibly special period in my life.
There will be more special periods of that I am sure. There will be lots more cuddles, lots more milestones, lots more love. Love in abundance.
This may be the end of an era. But I have made a lot of amazing memories that will never go away.