My alarm clock rings later now that I am no longer breastfeeding and pumping. I used to wake thirty minutes before my kids so that I could pump before the chaos of the morning began and nurse my daughter before leaving for work. Like a chemist in my own kitchen, I poured milk from one container to another, calculating and measuring each bottle and bag. I estimated how much she would need in my absence and hoped each day that I had predicted correctly. The top rack of my dishwasher was full of bottles and pump supplies, each broken down into their multiple interlocking pieces that I assembled and deconstructed many times each day. Why would I miss all of these tedious and lonesome activities?
I am a big supporter of breastfeeding. As a pediatrician, this is one of my favorite topics to discuss with patients. Breastfeeding both of my children has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only was I mourning the end of my personal breastfeeding journey, but ceasing to nurse and pump signified the end of her infancy. When my son weaned, it was due to his waning interest in nursing as his passion for food and self-feeding grew. I took pride in his broadening palate and independence. He was feeding himself, walking, and talking and I celebrated the arrival of toddlerhood. As a first-time parent, I eagerly anticipated each step forward.
The second time around I am acutely aware of how fast childhood charges ahead and I attempt to stay present, enjoying the little moments together. As a breastfeeding baby, my daughter was cradled in my arms and pressed against my chest much like she was the day she was born. Although she continued to grow, with her hands now reaching up to stroke my hair and her legs draping over my arm while she nursed, she fed just as she had that first hour of her life, every three hours since.
After she turned one she weaned herself from nursing and so I subsequently stopped pumping. I gradually used all of the milk that I had painstakingly pumped, labeled, and stored over the past months and slowly my freezer emptied. Bottle-by-bottle our breastfeeding journey tapered off, until the last bottle, which sat there proudly marking the end of 13 months of exclusive breast milk. However it also ushered in a diet exclusive of me and she no longer needed me specifically for nourishment. It threatened my sense of utility.
In the weeks since though, I have experienced what it feels like as the non-nursing parent and recognized how often I leaned on nursing to comfort her. I have had to learn other ways to soothe her and to provide her with nutrition. As she is no longer dependent on me alone for feedings, I have feared that the strength of our connection would waver. My fears have been reassured by her over-sized grins, the tightness of her hugs, and squeals of joy when we are together. Breastfeeding served its purpose for us already, giving her the best start and forging a bond that is unbelievably strong and when the time was right for her to become more autonomous, she had the strength to make that decision herself. So when I feel sad that our breastfeeding journey is over, I take pride in seeing the young woman who I am raising grow into her own. I remind myself to celebrate our accomplishment and while I will miss her infancy, I know that we have so many exciting adventures to come. Her last bottle reminded me that I should cherish each moment we have now before it is gone.