Sixteen months, a week, and two days: that's how long I have nursed him. I never planned to breastfeed this long, nor did I plan not to - since his arrival, we have simply taken each other's cues. I could have never guessed something so eventually natural would begin with such uncertainty, would feel so foreign, would require such work. I had to surrender to trust in my body, in him, and give up old ideas of ambition and independence. Soreness and fatigue, frustration and fear, slowly gave way to comfort and nurturance, joy and revelation.
In time, together, we found a rhythm that felt as familiar and reflexive as our mutual devotion. My days became patterned by this regular ritual. I felt as in need of our quiet spaces of connection as he did. In the dark, half-asleep, I would rouse mere moments before he would wake and root; latching him on as he laid alongside me let me feel his breathing, which I unconsciously mirrored. We aligned such that, even when he began to drink my milk apart from me, I knew when he was hungry because my body told me at a distance. Nothing could be more profoundly recentering than a constant awareness of my interdependence with my son.
The weeks slipped into months; I witnessed in wonder my own growth and his. The constancy of our nursing relationship was an anchor through transition and tribulation. Sickness and injury, unfamiliar places and overwhelming spaces, were made gentler by this simple, earthy comfort. All days required work. Each new milestone felt like a miracle. Every time, I breathed in surprise - "We made it this far." What was once unimaginable was now an integral reality. Not only was nursing normal, it was a part of my identity. I knew no more holistic fulfillment, no richer grounding in the condition of being human, than feeding him close to my heart.
Shortly after he turned thirteen months old, we learned he would become a big brother. I knew early because my breasts, and my nursing boy, told me clearly: something was different. Nursing had already started to happen less frequently throughout the day, but as the weeks progressed, my supply steadily decreased. The mutual comfort I had always felt when breastfeeding began to morph - at times, the closeness was stifling. The pain was strangely complex. I felt tidal waves of emotion, dramatic peaks of the familiar love but also newly roaring resistance. I was internally conflicted each time I put him to my breast. As he stopped asking to nurse during the day, and as he got less and less milk each time he nursed, I felt a new, stinging despair. "It's ending." Our precious and life-giving nursing relationship was changing. What was the right thing to do? And how could I even begin to imagine letting go?
Thanks to much support, I was reminded of the deep truths that allowed for us to have such a beautiful breastfeeding connection in the first place: trust in my body, trust in my boy...now, too, I must trust that the new life making her/his home in me is requiring what I can give. My boy is turning more and more to kisses, "ugga-muggas," and big hugs than to nursing for our physical affection. Although I put up a kind face when he sweetly asks to nurse, I can see in his eyes that he knows I am in pain. More than once, after a minute or two, he has simply unlatched and rested against me instead. The past week, he has only asked once each night to nurse. Even then, he does not get much milk, and I feel we both know these times are reaching an end.
Tonight was the first night I put him to bed all on my own without nursing him. He did not ask; I did not offer. I sang him songs we've shared since he was first born and I would put him to my breast. He soon settled with closed eyes in the cradle of my arms, hand gently resting over my heart. As I sang old, familiar words, tears choked my song - it became a whisper in his ear: "Baby mine, don't you cry. Baby mine, my oh my. Rest your head over my heart, never to part, baby of mine..." Holding him close, I let the tears come and the bittersweet ache of this new season permeate my heart. This dimension of our love will transform, but it will not pass. Everything is new, yet the bond between me and my boy will never end. The frustration and fear will give way to joy and revelation.
Soon, I laid him in bed, breathing heavily in his sleep. I don't know if the last time he will nurse has yet to happen. I do know that whatever these upcoming days hold will require work, will feel foreign and uncertain. But I trust in the beauty of what we have created together: a bond to shepherd us through unfamiliar places and overwhelming spaces, a love that, even at a distance, helps us to know we belong to each other.