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My nipples were chafed and seemingly frozen into an erect
position, like a porn star ready for her close-up. My milk leaked down my side
in the rare moments I was sleeping, leaving me sticky and slightly
sour-smelling. By the time it stopped hurting and we got our latch figured out,
my newborn had started cluster feeding. Each night, my son kept me pinned to
the couch for hours. I was exhausted, bored and quite literally, drained.
I knew breastfeeding was the healthiest choice for my kids. I
had always planned to do it, and I was fortunate not to have any issues that
prevented me from nursing.
While I was amazed and proud that my body could actually
make milk for my son, I didn't feel like a milk-fountain goddess. Instead, I
felt like the primary parent, the food source, the pacifier. It didn't help
that I had postpartum depression, or that my son wanted to nurse every half
hour for the first several months of his life.
I wish I'd heard from other moms who, like me, nursed out of a sense of responsibility but came to dislike it.
It was also confusing. It's taboo to admit, but my
super-sensitive nipples had always been purely sexual for me. While nursing was
at first uncomfortable, I later sometimes felt a hint of arousal while
breastfeeding. This was confusing at best—and creepy at worst. A quick Google
session suggested that Mother Nature had designed our nipples to be sensitive
so that breastfeeding would be pleasurable, and something women would want to
do to ensure their babies wouldn't starve in the days before formula was an
option. I found it slightly comforting that I wasn't just a big perv, but I also
wondered why Mother Nature couldn't have designed our bodies so the milk could
come from a more neutral body part, like perhaps an elbow.
Breastfeeding made me feel so tethered. Emotionally and
mentally, I gave my little boy my all. I surrendered into attachment parenting,
putting my own needs last as my son's temperament seemed to demand. Co-sleeping
was the only way I could string together sleep, babywearing was the only way I
could get anything done, and nursing seemed to be the only way to sooth my colicky
boy. Having my body on constant offer was taxing.
And yet, we continued.
We continued through the "distracted nursing" stage, when it
seemed like my son was trying to pull my nipple into the other room with him.
We even continued through a nasty biting stage.
As my son got older and ate more and more solid food, I was
able to cut down on the frequent nursing. But he didn't surrender easily, and I
soon found myself nursing a toddler.
It was just after he turned 2 that I realized I was done.
After nine months of pregnancy and 26 months of nursing, I
was beyond ready to have my body back to myself. Breastfeeding a toddler just
didn't feel right any more. I began to dread nursing; the moment my son came
home from preschool and immediately demanded, "Milt! Milt!" I knew it was his
way of connecting with me after several hours apart, but I also knew that resenting
our breastfeeding relationship while continuing to do it wasn't sustainable. And
as a toddler instead of a newborn, nursing was no longer a need for my son—it
was a want.
Over the course of several weeks, I weaned him. He
protested, and it wasn't easy. But I was so ready to have my body back.
Looking back, I wonder if I would've been able to embrace
breastfeeding more if I'd had some balance in the early months and years, if
I'd had more breaks from my son, or if I'd been better rested. I don't regret the
26 months of breastfeeding my son; it was simply the first of many things that,
as a parent, I did for my child at my own discomfort.
But I wish I'd heard from
other moms who, like me, nursed out of a sense of responsibility but came to
dislike it. I wish someone had told me that breastfeeding isn't always the
sweet oxytocinfest that we think it will be—it's sometimes annoying, confusing or suffocating.