Six days ago, I stopped breastfeeding.
It was time. My daughter is almost two, and has been eating solids for the last year-and-a-half (cooking with her is one of the greatest joys I have ever experienced). For the last year, nursing has been much more of a comfort than sustenance for her. It's been one of my favorite things about early motherhood. The physical and emotional bond it created between us was unlike anything I had ever experienced. And while I really did want to stop, I am missing it terribly.
When it was time, she and I talked about it. She seemed to get it as much as it's possible for a toddler to do so. I let her choose a couple of special drinks to have instead of breastmilk for times when we would normally nurse. She asked for bubbly water with lemon (so sophisticated) and a strawberry-banana smoothie. I was happy to oblige.
It's been going...okay. Sometimes the excitement over her bubbly water and smoothie is enough to distract her, but sometimes, I can see the processing grief on her face and I know she is struggling to understand why we can't just do the thing we have done as long as she can remember. She's asked for it a few times since we stopped, sometimes in earnest, and sometimes facetiously, the same way she might ask for a cookie right before bedtime--in a way that makes clear that she knows it will never happen and is in on the joke.
I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I worried withholding something she wanted so much might, on some level, change the way she felt about me. It reminded me of my single years when I sometimes felt compelled to sleep with men before I was ready because of a misguided belief that if I gave them what they wanted, they would want me more--or at least be discouraged from rejecting me. But I've been relieved to find that Anna's love is unconditional.
Now the new normal is setting in for all of us. The uncomfortable tingling and mild swelling as my confused breasts made milk that went un-drunk for a few days has subsided now. My doctor told me it might take as long as two weeks for milk production to completely shut down, but as far as I can tell, they seem pretty much done.
It occurred to me last night that this is the first time in nearly three years that my body hasn't been either the home or dairy farm for another person. I'm hoping to get pregnant again soon, so I know this may be a short window, but for the first time in a long time, it's mine again (sure, I have a toddler physically attached to me most of the time, but still). It made me think about all the ways that my body started to feel like public property the moment I started to look visibly pregnant. The unsolicited questions, comments, and advice from strangers, the occasional unwanted hand on my belly, the comments on the rate at which I was "getting my figure back" after she was born. I remembered how sometimes in those very early days, while walking with Anna wrapped in a carrier on my chest or tucked into her stroller, strangers would ask to see her or, a few times, reach forward into her stroller to lift the blanket I had draped over her while she slept to "take a peek" without asking. I remembered how I had thought to myself then that it was as if they didn't realize she was an actual person, and that no person deserves to have their physical space violated so a stranger can look at them while they sleep.
My body is different now than it used to be. It's marked by motherhood: tiny flyaway hairs which seemingly sprouted immediately after I gave birth still jut out from my hairline. A faded linea nigra still marks the lower half of my torso, and my breasts are neither the shape nor size, nor, um, texture they were before. I've lost weight since giving birth--enough so that most of my pre-pregnancy clothes no longer fit, but I never bothered to replace them with anything other than stretchy cotton things I could easily nurse in. My body is mine again, but so much of it has changed that I hardly recognize it as a whole.
As painful as it's been to end our nursing relationship, I'm inspired by the way Anna has handled it. She doesn't keep things inside or hide her feelings--she's a toddler, she doesn't know how to do that. She moves through everything in real time: her ambivalence, her sadness, her joy. I hope to emulate her as we integrate into this new phase. The end of nursing is sad, but snuggles and smoothies are amazing. It's hard to long for something you can't have, but knowing that you're going through it with someone you love helps. And yes, my body has changed, but it will likely only continue to change more as time goes on. If change is the only constant, then perhaps radical acceptance is the only way forward.