Ameli was born in October 2009 and aside from a single prenatal class on breastfeeding, the sum total of my thought and planning on the subject of breastfeeding was “we’d best get in some formula, just in case”. I hadn’t considered “in case of what?” I certainly didn’t plan on becoming an active breastfeeding advocate.
As it turned out I fell in love with breastfeeding Ameli. It was so easy with her. We ended up doing a lot of things we’d never considered. The nursery remained unused as we coslept, the pram was sold in favour of a variety of slings. We travelled to 20 different countries in her first two years, and breastfeeding was just the simplest solution to everything from hunger to pink eye, comfort to ear infections. Breastfeeding worked for us. So well in fact that I had huge oversupply and ended up donating breastmilk to AIDS babies for the six months we lived in South Africa.
Breastfeeding did more for me than feed my baby. It led me to an entire tribe of mothers who were in many ways just like me. I stopped going to groups where people looked at you weirdly because you were still feeding a two year old and the first time I sat in a group of other mothers breastfeeding their toddlers, I cried, because I felt like I’d finally arrived home.
Every baby is different, and while Ameli happily – to my uncomfortable horror – nursed all the way through my pregnancy with Aviya, I hated it. It changed our nursing relationship so much. I was so incredibly unwell, and every hormone surge that just months earlier had been pleasant, in the throws of a Hyperemesis Gravidarum pregnancy made me vomit even more. When Aviya was born, nursing her was wonderful, but nursing Ameli was toe-curlingly unpleasant for a good few months. I still don’t understand why, but my body rebelled against feeding a toddler, though the toddler was of no mind to give it up!
Once Aviya was born though, there were definite benefits to tandem nursing, even though I’d never seen anyone do it. Where Ameli had woken a dozen times a night to nurse since infancy, Aviya slept through every night of her first six months. I’d wake up with hard, painful breasts, and wake Ameli to ask her to nurse and relieve the pressure. That was a godsend for me. There were also benefits to the children, nursing together, and it was a visual that caused my heart to swell every time: a big sister holding a little sister while they nursed. I knew then that it was all going to be okay. I did have enough love for two. They would love each other. We were going to be okay.
I stopped offering Ameli milk a few months after she turned four, and she stopped asking for it just after she turned five. Through ups and downs, our journey had come to an end.
Aviya was still nursing regularly – she was only two – and our breastfeeding journey became our own. She had terrible trouble with her teeth due to the sickness I suffered when I was pregnant, and by two she could no longer eat solids. She had the problematic buds of her teeth removed, but she’d developed such an aversion to eating, that breastmilk was pretty much what sustained her for at least the year following her operation.
Our lives were thrown into turnmoil as my mother’s cancer finally took her, we moved house, their dad and I split up and we started a new adventure, but we agreed that she would stop nursing on her 4th birthday. The night of her birthday she cried, saying she couldn’t give it up yet. So we carried on. I stopped offering, she kept asking. Over the last few months, she stopped asking some mornings, some evenings. Sometimes she only asks on the odd day. Recently she told me “yes, I think you’re right. There’s not much milk left now.” She was sad about it, but happy to cuddle close anyway.
A few nights ago, as I went in to put Aviya to bed, she told me no, she wanted to see if she could get herself to sleep, without singing. And she did. (And point proven, she insisted on being sung to sleep again the next night). I realised that I don’t actually remember the last time she asked for milk. It was early January. She turns 5 in March.
So here it is. The end. The end of an era. The end of something that defined more in my life than how my babies were fed. It sparked friendships that are still ongoing. It sparked self-discovery, learning, education. It sparked activism, involvement. I’d be lying if I said it was ‘just breastfeeding’. It wasn’t. It helped grow this blog, it helped make my babies. It helped make me.
I’m not sad to see it go, either. Breastfeeding feels like a huge crossword puzzle that I started, I sweated over, I researched answers for and I crossed off clues. I’ve finished it now. It’s done. I’m proud that I did it, but I’m not about to start it over again!
Breastfeeding my children will always be a huge part of what made me the person I am today. I know that. And I’m grateful for all the support I had. I’m grateful that despite sleep deprivation, over supply, mastitis, horrible aversion during pregnancy and sore nipples, it was actually quite easy for me. I’m grateful for so much.
This isn’t a sad goodbye to breastfeeding, but a fond one.
I’ll remember it always.