“Keep moving forward” has been my personal motto for years. Never just sit there doing the same thing every day with no end in sight. Take moments to stop, learn, grow, evolve. Don’t plateau. Never settle for complacency, always strive to be a better you than you were the day before. I try to live by these words and as a result, difficult for me to be stagnant for too long. I have to keep moving, changing, growing, learning… as a mother, this is especially true. In parenting, however, it is probably also the most difficult place to take my own advice.
I gave birth to my oldest child on November 8, 2010. I then gave birth to my second child on August 14, 2012. I became a mother 128 months ago. 3382 Days of motherhood that have, up to this point, all relatively looked the same.
Sure, changes and milestones have taken place along the way; nap needs came and went, nursing all day vs a few times a day, then once a day, walking, talking, nursery, public school, homeschool, adding pets and changing career goals, the autism/ADHD diagnoses, crib sleeping, co-sleeping, feeding habits and nutrition changes… but few milestones ever take place in a mother’s life that truly change the entire dynamic of the mother/child relationship like when you stop breastfeeding.
Most of you know, my first was a high-needs baby who needed round-the-clock attention and constant nursing on demand with the freedom to latch any time of day or night in order to guarantee healthy weight and emotional well-being. I had to leave the job I loved because of this. It changed my world profoundly. Some people take these situations bitterly, but I loved every minute of it and was grateful for an excuse to stay home. Yes, I loved my job and, of course the financial stability, but my child was my universe and there was no question what should happen when it came down to that choice between his optimal health and my conveniences. Then, just 22 months later, I tandem nursed him alongside his baby sister once she was born. It was a complicated juggling act with a non-verbal sensory kid, but we figured it out and we did it. We made it our lifestyle and our foundation for almost 6 years.
My son stopped asking for milk every day when we started an evening exercise protocol that put him to sleep each night. That was just about a year ago, but he still asked for it at least once a day till just after New Years this year, when it became less frequently asked for (maybe every other day at most). My daughter however, was nowhere near ready to give up her milk and cuddle time. It was a staple before bed, when she woke up, when she got a boo-boo, when she was tired/sad/lonely… you get the idea.
Having limited her milk time to only 10 seconds at a time already, I had planned on making the final “cut off” soon after she turned six this August, but then something happened.
I realized *I* was ready.
I wasn’t sure what “ready” was going to look like or how long it would take or if it even WOULD happen. I always imagined my milk would probably disappear long before I was emotionally ready to let it go, but by Mid-spring, I noticed I was feeling somehow different. I couldn’t explain it, it was just … different. Emotionally, physically… changes were happening inside me. Last week, it dawned on me that neither of them had even asked for milk in almost 2 weeks! So, I tried to hand express a drop or two.. y’know, just to check… and nothing came out.
…and just like that, we were done.
In 50 days, my daughter will turn 6. My son will be 8 in November. The same week my milk finally went away for good, they both learned to ride 2 wheel bikes and today, I drove them to their first day of their first summer camp experience.
Times are changing, mama… keep moving forward!
It’s funny how when you’re deep in those early months, it feels like this moment, the one of transition into the next phase… it feels like will never come. Those long nights with early mornings looming feel endless and lonely. They’re dreamy and hazy and you love them as much as you wish you could just sleep and you think… “this is my life now. This is all there is” and you build your life around that reality. When you make the commitment I did; to “nurse until they no longer ask for it”, you don’t realize just how many years that might be and you really don’t know what you are getting into!
I mean, I didn’t expect what happened, that’s for sure. I didn’t expect to have a child with special needs who needed breastfeeding like he needed oxygen. I didn’t expect to have an endless, blessedly resilient supply. At a certain point, I stopped actively trying to keep up my supply and just allowed nature to run its course thinking, well, if it’s gone they won’t have an option to keep doing it, right? TWO YEARS LATER… my body finally decided we were done.
I was always grateful. Every moment was a gift that I never took for granted and I gave as much as I could to the breastfeeding community through support, advocacy and offering a safe place to get answers. So many people don’t get the life and time I’ve had with my babies and I recognize this privilege and give honor to it in every way possible. I don’t take for granted the many soft, precious moments my babies and I have had and I will always continue to fight for parents to have the right to the same experience we did.
These precious years were magic and as they are removed from daily life to settle in on the shelves of long-term memory, I will know that I did what I set out to do. I did everything I could for as long as I could to give them something precious, powerful and pure. Something that would strengthen them not only both physically and mentally, but also emotionally. I reached beyond the level I thought possible and kept going because they needed it, knowing one day they wouldn’t anymore and it would only be okay if I knew I’d done everything I could for them while it was still possible. That is what “everything” looked like for me.
My children and I have a deep and profound connection that didn’t come naturally. It was really hard work to do this and will continue to be regardless of our breastfeeding status. Over seven years of my life was spent practicing attachment parenting and extended, on-demand breastfeeding. Over seven years making them the most profound priority in my life in every way I could. No, this was not the “easy” road, by any means – especially with SO much pressure to use a bottle and supplement with formula. But the best rewards come from the struggle, right?
There is no question in their minds how much I love them, how much I’d do for them. As they grow, that reliance and knowing will turn into a solid trust so they can be free to go out into the world and know I’ll still be here when they get back. The foundations are laid for these strong, independent humans to rise and thrive. As we are moving forward into a whole new world of friends and summer camp, pop music and sports, I can’t help but feel melancholy, but also so proud and SOOOOO ready.
Transition is beautiful and exciting as it is marking the end of something and I am so happy to see them both move into this next stage of life; no longer the clinging babes afraid to climb onto a tricycle, now the “I’ll be fine, mom” kids who wink back at me as they rush away on two wheels while howling at the sky, ready to attack each new day.
Time flies. Babies grow. The world moves on… my heart really is ready for this, even through my tears, I know it and I am so grateful.
Mamas, I know it’s hard. It feels like forever, but it isn’t and soon your baby will be a child and guess what? It will still be beautiful, magical, perfect and powerful.
They aways say “relish these early years” but everyone does it with this sense of loss… Mamas, I am THICK into this transition now and I’m here on the other side to tell you-There’s no loss here, it’s just new. It’s new and exciting and awesome. There’s SO MUCH waiting for you around that corner that is full of profound value and compassion and connection and deep trust-building.
So yes, hold on to these early years… do all you can to make them last as long as possible, but when the curtain finally does close on those moments and you are ready to place that core memory in long-term storage, get ready for the joy of what is yet to come; new lands full of magic, discovery, music, friends, art, learning…
There is STILL magic to be had, still precious powerful time in every new milestone, in every moment. What’s important is that you will be there for all of them and that you appreciated all of them. The fact that you are there will be what matters.
So, the next time someone says “enjoy these early years before they’re gone”, you can just smile and know that you do and you will and when they are, you’ll be ready too… for all the wonder that comes next.