A week before my daughter’s first birthday, I took my breast out and left it exposed while she played on the rug nearby. I kept it casual, ignoring the voice of Christina BC (Before Children) as she looked on in disbelief. I assumed her voice had long ago disappeared, her tendencies to be mindful of her environment, to keep cool in social settings, to have some form of modesty – wiped out slowly and deliberately by Christina AC (After Children), whose role of snot sucker and butt wiper and breast-feeder required complete surrender of mind, body, and [crushed] spirit. But to my surprise the old me still lingered, like a gnat on my shoulder jumping up and down, “put that away! What are you doing?” I crushed her between my fingers and brushed her to the ground. She was finally gone, lost in the carpet fibers and graveyard of goldfish cracker crumbs.
Back to the business at hand, getting my baby girl to nurse again.
I sat there like a suspect in a police lineup amongst her favorite books and toys, hoping to stir up some feelings of nostalgia in her. She had stopped playing and finally seemed to notice something was amiss. Mommy looks different, I could see the curiosity in her eyes. She crawled over to get a better look, and just when I thought she might feed, she reached over and put a sticker on my nipple. Then another, then another. “Milk?” I said, while signing it to her. She stared at my breast blankly, with no recognition of the companion who had nourished her, comforted her, stayed attached to her like an extra appendage all day and most nights for an entire year. She shook her head vigorously no, then crawled away, as if to say “nice try lady”.
I never thought I’d one day be taking care of my children topless, or writing something on a public forum with the words “sticker” and “nipple” in the same sentence, but here we are. I’m not sure why I felt the need to force the issue when we had already reached our goal, but I knew I wasn’t ready. Physically, I planned to wean gradually. Going from several feedings a day to no feedings at all causes engorgement, and with my husband out of town finding time to pump (or dealing with mastitis) while taking care of two kids sounded as pleasant as a root canal.
Emotionally, I was definitely not ready. I have always had a love/hate relationship with breastfeeding, but something happens as you go through the phases of breastfeeding. From frustration, pain and tears, to things becoming easy and relaxed, you finally appreciate the beauty of those small moments – the feeling of being two warm puzzle pieces, perfectly connected – you fall in love with it. By the year mark, I’d reached full Stockholm syndrome mode and started wondering how long I could keep nursing before CPS was called on me.
My daughter had other plans.
Kids somehow have the innate ability to sense when you’re at your weakest to strike, and like the CIA, they abruptly change their behavioral patterns when they think you’ve caught on (I actually have no idea what the CIA does). And so she was able to thwart my carefully thought out weaning plan and throw me into an emotional tailspin. The side effects I experienced from the sudden halting of breastfeeding were significant. Over the course of a month I had breast tenderness, painful lumps, headaches, muscle soreness (giant shot in the arm type of soreness), extreme fatigue and depression.
My adjusting hormones and the loss of my daily dose of natural oxytocin took a toll on me; I craved the closeness I was no longer getting with my daughter. I felt like I had been swallowed up by a black hole, not able to remember what made me happy or if I even wanted to be happy, numb but affected by everything. My husband came into the living room one evening to find me sitting in the dark, sobbing. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I don’t know! I’m just so sad. Everything is bad. Also, I hate you”. It was a tough period for everyone.
But like all things, it passed. And from the sadness came a renewed energy. I’m appreciating that my body once again belongs only to me, and now that the nutrients I consume aren’t being siphoned into a little being, I’m back to feeling like a fully functioning human (good riddance baby brain!). I’ve finally let go of the hope that she’ll need me again for nourishment, because she she still needs me for so many other things now – to teach her how to walk, to comfort her when she falls, to dress her and bathe her and read to her and sing to her. And the best part is, I can do all those things with a shirt on.