It’s been 3 weeks since Martha’s last drowsy 4am feed. 3 weeks since my body last gave her nourishment. Yet after 17 months, my body has adjusted as if nothing had ever happened. I’ve not really felt anything – emotionally or physically – and when I tried to write, it was numb and lacking any feeling. I may as well have been writing about the weather.
Then today, the emotions have flooded through me and I need to write.
I felt suffocated many times during Martha’s nearly year and a half of breastfeeding; when she couldn’t take a bottle without puking, when she wouldn’t take a bottle, when I couldn’t go anywhere without carefully selecting an outfit with boob access instead of one that suited me the best. When at 10 months she was waking hourly in the night – far worse than the incredibly easy newborn nights. When she would shout “Booby!” at the top of her voice with the carefree abandon of a toddler who simply knew what she wanted and didn’t care about where we were or who heard.
But I am so proud. Proud that I stuck with it through the torturous early days of bleeding, mastitis, pain, a shallow latch, a not even 2-year-old Toby with no regard for Mummy’s desire to actually sit down while feeding his baby sister. Proud that during the darkest days of postnatal depression I was able to feel bonded to Martha where I had so desperately struggled with Toby. I love my two children equally and endlessly, but the stories of their babyhoods could scarcely be more different.
Those delightful baby rolls of pure chunk, the glowing skin – all from my milk! The happy post-feed gurgles or sleepy cuddles – they were mine to cherish. While I often wished that Phil could experience them too, it was truly incredible to feel something that nobody else could at a time when I often felt like a failure as a mother.
So why stop? How did we stop?
Simply, Martha was ready.
She still throws herself excitedly at me with limbs all over the place when I get home from work, but “Booby!” was being replaced with “Mummy!”. We went cold turkey with night feeds months ago because with me starting full time work, I couldn’t be up all throughout the night. I know people do it, but I often didn’t feel safe to drive because of the exhaustion. A couple of nights of crying and cuddles but no breastfeeding and that was that.
With the half marathon we ran recently came two nights/three days apart from Martha, so with her asking for fewer feeds, it seemed like a good time to stop. I called time on the evening and morning feeds on October 4th after 17 months and 4 days. There would be two brief, calm, serene, 4am feeds to follow but then we stopped.
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17 months and 4 days of breastfeeding. And then it was over. I've been feeling ready to stop on and off for months, but Martha wasn't and then there were jabs and teething and colds – it was never the right time. This past few days something has changed and Martha has been asking for "Booby" less and less. Last night she went to bed without asking, I fed her on autopilot at 4:30 because I was half asleep, but then she didn't ask this morning, she didn't ask this evening. She cried at bedtime but still didn't ask for a feed, and a few sips of milk from her bottle along with cuddles settled her quickly. I'm ready, I want to wear normal bras and not base my outfit choices on their boob accessibility. But I'm also sobbing as I write this. Not because I'm worried my bond with Martha will diminish, not because I'll miss the engorgement, the leaking, the shouts of "Booby!", but because it's been our life for nearly a year and a half. It's been a part of my identity and at the worst times during my postnatal depression, it was so often the only thing I felt I was doing okay at as a mummy. I will miss aspects of breastfeeding, but I know from Toby's baby days that a bond comes from many other things aside from how you feed your child. I know that our beautiful, stubborn, amazing daughter will continue to shriek "Mummy!" with limbs leaping in excitement that I'm home from work. I know that she will still give me her amazing cuddles with her little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I know all of this, and yet the end still feels bittersweet. No more breastfeeding, no more babies, no more milk comas, no more cuddles that only I can give. It's the end of an era that has to a large extent defined me since becoming Martha's mama. So I'm crying, because that's what feels right.
I expected engorgement and pain; I carried my Lansinoh hand pump in my bag every day for a good fortnight! But apparently my body was ready too – even 13.1 miles of running around London didn’t cause any issues! That really did surprise me, and I was a little gutted not to have stashed a couple of ounces in the freezer in order to have a ring made (which Phil thought was weird, but they are a *thing*!) Alas I won’t get my ring, but I was thrilled that we finally had a family photoshoot mid-September, and our amazing photographer Elora from Life Lived Photography captured a few lovely breastfeeding shots.
Never again will I breastfeed, and I’m okay with that, I really am.
It’s another chapter in our family story that’s written and finished but that’s not the end of the book, simply the chance to start a new chapter.
One in which I wear regular bras.
I have to send the biggest of ‘thank you’s to Phil, because the past year and a half has been as tough as it has been amazing. I know it’s not been easy for him not to be as involved with Martha’s care as he would have liked, and at times her dependence on breastfeeding for comfort as well as nutrition has been a contentious issue. But, as always, my husband has been my rock.
And here we are, a family of 4, no more babies, no more breastfeeding, but a lifetime of adventures and memories ahead. How could I possibly feel sad?!