As I watch you toss and turn trying to fall back asleep on the monitor, I wonder if you too understand what tonight was. Tonight I put you in your sleepsack, I read you stories, I kissed you goodnight. Same as every night.
But tonight I nursed you for the last time.
We have been slowly approaching this moment. Cutting down feedings one at a time, going from an on demand all-you-can-eat buffet to a scheduled sit down morning, nap and night meal only. You handled dropping the naptime feeds with ease (and a bit of Daddy distraction) last weekend.
This week you slept through your normal 5:15 a.m. wake up one and didn’t ask for it by frantically pointing towards the glider like you usually do. So away went the morning one (although I still have to show up with a sippy cup and toast to convince you that you don’t need it).
Thursday night we had a really memorable bedtime nursing session. Without my phone to distract me, I focused on you, wanting to memorize every movement of your mouth, every placement of your hand, knowing that tonight was coming soon. You grabbed my hand like you love to do, and played your game of lifting your hand in mine up for a kiss. You broke off in giggles and repeated the trick, time and time again.
The very last time nursing.
I made the decision that tonight would be the last time, because it feels like the right time. You’ve been growing more and more independent, in more ways than one, and have been showing a preference for sippy cups and snuggles rather than breastfeeding.
Tonight came, and as the evening wore on I grew more and more anxious. I started to feel overwhelmed with the thought of it being our last time doing this together — something only you and I have done for the past 16 months.
16 months. 509 days in all.
509 days that we shared a special connection, completely unique from anything anyone else has shared with you.
509 days filled with struggling to learn, the elation of success, tenderness, and pain. Days that saw multiple plugged ducts and two rounds of excruciating mastitis. Struggling through the resulting low milk-supply that left me triple pumping at work just to make sure you had enough to eat the next day. All-night nursing sessions and public nursing, growing in my confidence from hiding under a cover to having no qualms about providing you with your nutrition in airplanes, restaurants, or walking through Walmart.
509 days of holding you, gazing down at your rounded cheeks and button nose, and being enchanted by the way you move your mouth just so, or the way you lift your eyebrows when you get a perfectly satisfying drink.
So when tonight came I found myself unexpectedly nervous, unsure of how to proceed with this feeling of uncertainty.
Uncertainty over how to explain it to you, knowing you may not understand my words but still understand so much more than it seems you should be capable of. Uncertain about how tomorrow will go, and the day after, and how our relationship will change.
I decided tonight you could eat as long as you wanted. No matter how hard I have been trying to cut our times short in preparation or to distract you with another book, tonight was special. Tonight you could feast.
Sleepsack on, you turned to me and asked for it in your oh-so-polite manner of jabbing my chest and lifting my shirt. I looked you in the eyes and told you that this was the last time — that after tonight there would be no more. You nodded in agreement, acting like you understood me perfectly, or perhaps thinking I was asking if you wanted some. My heart decided to believe the first option.
As you settled in, squishing your long lanky legs to fit inside the confines of the glider arms, my mind desperately sought to recall the memories of the past 16 months.
My chest felt the weight of the very first time you were placed upon it, and the excitement I felt when you latched on and started eating the very first time we tried. My arms felt the weight of carrying you while you ate through the rooms of our house, juggling you as the months went by while trying to do too many other things at the same time.
A playful bite tonight brought me back to those first few weeks after you finally got teeth, both the dread of the first bite and the muscle and impulse control it took not to have a reaction when that and so many bites occurred after.
I thought about how it was so cute when you first starting connecting where the milk was coming from and began lifting up my shirt to access it. And how that grew from sweet gesture to a ravenous beast who would ferociously claw at my shirt in public any time you wanted a snack.
But mostly I realized that there weren’t a lot of dramatic and sensational memories involving breastfeeding. Because it was something so ingrained, so natural, and so a part of my entire being that it was more a part of who I was, rather than something I was experiencing.
So as we sat there together as the time passed tonight, I came to a place of calm. A place that made me grateful for this journey, grateful that I was able to do what I had always wanted to, and what lots of women are unable to.
Tonight, I secretly hoped you would fall asleep nursing, something you so often did when it was the only way to get you to sleep. The way you did when the weeks turned into months and the sessions became mundane at times and I would lose track of time checking Facebook or browsing Pinterest, only to look down and realize you were asleep.
Recently you haven’t had the chance, as I had to wean you off slowly from that by stopping to read a book or get you to fall asleep some other way. But tonight was the night for that to happen again.
I felt I needed one more night of seeing you drift peacefully to sleep, slowly losing the latch until you are nestled in my arms dreaming.
I needed it because it meant you needed me.
The longer we sat the more restless you became. It was obvious that you couldn’t relax enough to sleep as every time sleep approached you would be reminded you could still suckle instead, and so the pattern continued.
I realized you needed me to be the one to stop it. The one to bring our journey to an end.
And so I did.
The instant I pulled you off, you snuggled in close and fell asleep. The tears I had felt welling at the start now rushed down again.
This was it.
This was the last time, and it was over.
Tonight I nursed you for the last time.
Tomorrow you will wake up, and you will point to the glider and smack your lips asking for more. I’ll distract you as I have all week by bribing you with toast and will count down the hours until bedtime.
I don’t know how you will react tomorrow night. While my mind hopes you really did understand and won’t mind being turned down at bedtime, my heart knows that won’t be the case. I’m worried I won’t be able to hold back the tears (much like I can’t while writing this) when you flail your little body uncontrollably and hit me on the face, your most recent way to express frustration without being able to summon up the words to do so instead. I don’t want you to see me cry, I don’t want you to feel like it is your fault.
Because it is not. Instead, you are the reason we have had this beautiful, trying, exhausting and special journey together. 16 months of a physical connection that allowed me to be your complete source of nourishment for the first 5 months of your life, and your continued nutrition, a source of comfort, and favorite means of escape for the rest.
So yes, tonight was our last time nursing. But there is no last time for my love for you. Love that will wake up tomorrow and ensure that you know you are my everything — and together we will figure out how to go on from here.