I've watched friends struggle both physically and emotionally with the experience, so I know this is absolutely not the case for others. But for me, breastfeeding was pretty uncomplicated. This is not meant to be a brag, as I have found myself to be an incapable hot mess in other areas of my life. But here, I shined. And my tiny tatas — the ones I cursed for so long as they sat flat on my chest while the other girls flaunted their curves and cleavage — became my most worthy asset. Normally self-conscious about my body, I became fearless. Refusing to be banished into isolation to accommodate the comfort of others, I proudly nursed everywhere. In a restaurant booth, on a picnic blanket, in a bridesmaid’s dress, on the sidelines of a basketball game, I would discreetly (or not so discreetly) lift my shirt, slide my baby under, and nestle them directly on my stomach. I swear sometimes people didn’t even realize what I was doing.
And the bond each of us created during that first year, with the cluster feeds and the middle of the night soothe-sessions, is something I will treasure forever. It was both exhausting and rewarding, depleting and energizing. Somehow the constant togetherness that on-demand nursing requires soothed my highly anxious mind. As an introvert, the built-in excuse to be attached to my baby, unable to leave for long stretches of time was something I (mostly) enjoyed. And being the one person capable of quieting, calming, and nourishing this perfect human being felt powerful.
So as I geared up to nurse my fourth and final baby for the final time, I felt the tension mounting in my chest. I had anticipated this moment since the day she was born, wondering if maybe I would become a more hippie version of myself and nurse her well into her toddler years, unable to let go. But as she neared thirteen months I knew it was time. She was less interested and more distracted. And she was biting — often.
So one cold winter night, after zipping her into her pale pink sleep sack, we headed to the rocker in the corner of her barely lit room. And as I nestled her head into the crook of my elbow and draped her body onto my lap, I felt an enormous flood of emotion. I felt heartbroken that I would never have this moment again. I was deeply saddened to say goodbye to this incredible phase of my life that I had been in, on and off, for so long now. And I cried. Not the cute, quiet tears but the big ugly ones. The snotty, breathtaking, gut wrenching kind. I cried until I stopped. And then, I felt calm.
I looked down and met her gaze, her blue eyes staring up at me, and I felt overwhelmingly grateful. Grateful for my stretched belly that created these creatures and my oversized, weird nipples that fed them. Grateful for the ability to be home feeding them on demand, and for the roof over our head that allows me to do both. A successful nursing story is an incredible privilege.
So today, rather than wallow in my sadness about the end of this life phase, I will feel proud and fulfilled by the empowerment and joy that it brought me. Because it is not very often in this life that I feel equipped with superpowers, but nursing was that for me. And I will carry that strength and power with me through the rest of my motherhood journey, remembering that I am strong and capable (albeit saggy-boobed) — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Samm D. is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot.