I did it.
I’ve set a lot of goals over the years. At first they were goals that society set for me, like graduating from college, getting a job, following the beaten path. And I did it with gusto. The beaten path was leading me where I wanted to go and I was clicking along, checking things off my Life List.
Then I had a son. There suddenly appeared before me two beaten paths. The paved road was marked Stay-at-Home Motherhood, and the sign on the gravel trail read Working Motherhood. I chose the one in between, with its trodden grass: Part-Time. And it was wonderful and terrible and incredibly stressful. Before I had it sorted out, I was forced to make a decision, and I drove my life onto the pavement.
Ever since then, I have spent a ton of time evaluating my life. I set goals and resolutions and guiding principles. I started three blogs, I cut out two of them, I made lists that listed out what lists I had. I began projects with all the best intentions. But so often, within a week or two, I felt like I was right back where I started. I had stopped working out. I had missed four straight days of my daily chores. I wasn’t working on my online class even though the deadline was looming.
But somewhere along the way, it seems I made a resolution and kept it. It was a bit unlikely and I can’t even tell you exactly when I made it. But there it was, this shining goal: to make it to one full year of breastfeeding.
If you know me, or read along, you will know that I often wish that breastfeeding didn’t exist. You will know that I fully support any woman who for any reason chooses not to do it. I don’t think it is selfish any more than I think my husband is selfish for not doing it. Why must we just because we can?
And yet. There is so much to tell you that you Should, and I have a lot of trouble with Shoulds. I find them incredibly hard to ignore. They whisper to me at 4 a.m. They give me cold stares when I try to wave them away. They sit on the shoulders of all of my friends who listened to them and look at me smugly.
With Sebastian, I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t making enough milk and pumping in the conference room felt like it was sucking my soul away. I cut out the daytime feeding. Then at ten months, I weaned him altogether when it was clear that he wasn’t all that interested anymore. And though I felt some guilt, and I was pretty sure that my two teammates who managed to pump in the conference room for the full year thought I was just being lazy, for the most part it was freeing. I was moving on, and we were both well-fed and well-rested and well-padded, too, for that matter.
Then I had Theo. My happy little eater. He nursed like a champ from day 2. My body still struggled to make enough, and at six months I had to start giving him a bottle of formula every 2 or 3 days, but we made it work with a little fenugreek and a lot of pumping.
I see why LLL and others say that once you start giving formula it’s a slippery slope to quitting. Because I considered it. Often. Pretty much every time I had to get up to nurse him first thing in the morning.
Around ten months or so, someone asked me whether I wasn’t going to wean him now that he took formula. As I heard the “not yet” and the reasons come out of my mouth, I realized a truth: I wanted to know if I could do it. I felt like I had to prove this to myself (and tried to ignore the thought that I was proving it to those former teammates). Also, by that point it really was easier and cheaper and snuggly and all of those things that people who breastfeed for years tell you.
I thought when we hit the year and got the nod from the pediatrician to switch to cow’s milk that I would be relieved and wean him immediately. A big part of me was. I began the process. He refused the cow’s milk. When he did nurse it was as though he were drowning and finally someone had thrown him a life preserver. He fell asleep while eating for the first time since he was a newborn. And I began to question my decision.
Two weeks later, we finally – after months of trying – found a sippy cup that he liked. Suddenly cold milk was all good. A straw was fabulous! Mama was free.
But you know what? I actually felt sad. It was then that the realization hit me.
My accomplishment wasn’t so much in making it to a year, though I am proud of it. No, the real accomplishment is that I finally arrived at a place I wanted to be. Though it’s over, I still have the bonding, the wonder, the beauty of it all.
The Should finally wisped away, and what was left was the fact that when I didn’t want to, I didn’t. But this time I wanted to, so I did.
Which is, ironically, how it should be.