I have a thing about dates. I am good at remembering birthdays and anniversaries, and the exact date of many of the significant events in my past are etched in my mind. I became a vegetarian on 01/13/2005. I had my first kiss on 07/09/1997. I took a positive pregnancy test on 11/18/2012. And, whenever I see them coming, I like to time the significant events so that they fall on already significant dates, so that I always remember them (this is what happens when you have a Type-A-meets-overly-sentimental personality).
That is why I picked September 16 - my mom's birthday, and the day I met my husband eight years ago - as the day I would breastfeed Amaliya for the last time. It may seem silly, but nursing my daughter has been such an important experience in my life that I did not want it to end anticlimactically. It made me sad to think that this phase of our relationship could end unnoticed, slip away without acknowledgement. There was no celebration, and no one but Amaliya and I knew or likely cared.... but I'll remember for the rest of my life that on 09/16/2013, something wonderful came to an end, and that I savored every minute of it.
I knew I wanted to breastfeed long before I was pregnant, even. I get so tired of this society telling us that our bodies are mere accessories, only as good as they look, and our most natural or primal inclinations are embarrassing, or weird, or should be hidden. It used to make me sad to see women trying to breastfeed in public, hunched over in a corner, struggling with an uncomfortable nursing cover and darting their eyes left and right, terrified that someone would notice. Pop stars half-naked on a stage is prime-time entertainment, fit to be viewed by millions, but the exposed nipple of a breastfeeding mother makes everyone uncomfortable? I told myself, if I had the opportunity, I would do things differently. And I did.
It wasn't all smooth sailing, of course. Those first five weeks were a constant guessing game. Am I feeding her enough? Too much? Is it really supposed to hurt this much? Will my body ever be the same? I cried, I bled, I used the pain-management techniques I learned in childbirth class to get through that week where every latch was like hot knives through my chest (I only wish this were hyperbole). I used a nursing cover twice - once when friends came over and I wasn't sure if I would make them uncomfortable, once at the park when my own insecurities overcame me. But never again. After five weeks, I found my stride and Amaliya perfected her technique. We were a fantastic partnership, and breastfeeding became more than nutrition and necessity for us. It was communication. It was our love language. Why would anyone want me to hide that?
I was not, am not, and will never be a militant advocate for breastfeeding. I am grateful that I had the opportunity, that my body and my baby were up for it, and that I was surrounded by supportive people who never once questioned my choices. I am grateful for a husband who didn't bat an eye when I would breastfeed at the park or a restaurant without a cover, who defended my right to feed my child wherever and whenever I needed to. I also understand that so many women don't have the perfect set up that I do. Or just plain don't feel the way I feel about their bodies, or breastfeeding, or the meaning of it all. Everyone has their own story, circumstances, and knowledge, and every single woman I've had the privilege of calling a friend only has one objective - to take care of their babies, and themselves, to the best of their ability. It makes me equally sad to see a woman out in public, trying to hide the bottle in the diaper bag while she mixes her baby's formula, eyes darting left and right, terrified that someone will notice and judge. I want to hug her and tell her, screw anyone who would throw a stone at you! Be confident in your choices! Because a choice made from a place of love cannot be a bad choice.
(Let the record show, I am not a militant nudist either. I am not at all a modest person and have no embarrassment whatsoever about my body being seen in its natural and vulnerable state. Therefore having to cover up while breastfeeding in public didn't feel like something I had to do for me... it was something I felt pressured to do, because I know that the sight of a bare breast makes some people feel uncomfortable. That didn't feel right or genuine to me - covering up actually made me more embarrassed and self-conscious than breastfeeding openly did, which is why I feel so strongly about it and why I'm proud that I stood by my choice to NOT cover up).
For me, breastfeeding was a choice and a privilege, and after that first few weeks I treasured it. Of course had our share of roadblocks. My body never loved the pump, so I didn't have much in reserve when I went back to work. Pumping at work was stressful and uncomfortable, and as soon as I went back when Amaliya was 4 months old I had trouble keeping up. She dropped to the 10th percentile in weight by her 6 month checkup and I wondered, am I doing something wrong? Am I not cut out for this after all? By 10 months she would refuse feedings now and then, which was stressful for me and made me doubt myself again.
And then, there's that look on the face of a milk-drunk baby who has nursed hard for an hour and finally fallen asleep, that's sweeter than anything I've ever seen before. There are those times when she was upset, hysterical, tired, and nothing would quiet her down except to be held and nurse. There were days when I'd leave for work before she woke up, and get home an hour before she'd go to bed again, and breastfeeding was the only thing that made me feel like I was still her mother and that she loved me. Going back to work, knowing that my family members and strangers at daycare were spending more time with her and holding her more than I was, would have been even more devastating for me if not for breastfeeding. I did all the night feedings, I never once pumped a bottle for overnight or stayed in bed while my husband attended to her. It was hell for a while, when she was up 5-6x a night to nurse, but if I could go back I wouldn't do it any differently. Knowing that my bond with her was so special, that I was giving her something that no one else could give, is what kept me going when I felt like all the inevitable obligations in my life were tearing me away from my baby.
09/16/2013. The end of a very significant personal journey, and the beginning (in my mind) of parenting a independent toddler. I can't say it enough - I am grateful. And I am proud of myself, for loving my body enough to let it do what it was designed to do, for hanging in there even when it was painful and the nights were endless, for doing what I knew was best for my daughter and I. I am thankful for my family and friends who understood that spending time with me meant, more often than not, boobs on display, and were not the least bit uncomfortable with it.
And I am so, so happy to be a mom. Every single day.