A couple of weeks back, I popped a hungry Michael onto my boob. He stuck his tongue out tentatively, took a taste, and screamed.
I laughed. I hadn’t nursed him for at least two months. Clearly, the two months might have just as well been two hundred years.
Later that evening, I told Ralph, “Hey guess what, Michael hates boobie now. He actually cries when I offer it.” Ralph was disbelieving. “Watch,” I said, unbuttoning my shirt quickly and heaving Michael into position. My baby stared at me, dazed and perplexed, his head balanced in the crook of my arm, his body awkwardly hunched. I smiled at him encouragingly and brought my nipple to his mouth. He stuck out his tongue, and then made a face of utter distaste. Ralph and I laughed. There used to be a time when nothing in the world was better than mama’s boobie.
I never made a conscious decision to stop nursing. It just happened, as a matter of logistics. I found that the only time I could pump in peace was when I was feeding Michael with a bottle. I would feed him in his rocker and simultaneously pump away for the fifteen minutes he would take to drain the bottle. Whatever I pumped would go straight into the fridge for the next feeding. It was a circuitous and awfully modern way of breastfeeding a baby, but it worked for us. He got fed quickly, and I got to produce milk in the most efficient way I knew how.
I have known for quite some time now that I will never nurse Michael again. I’d put him on my breast that day purely on a lark – or maybe I’d just needed that confirmation that we were done. The weight of that loss is something I don’t examine too often, and when I do, I always finish up thinking that it was such a mercy that it happened unconsciously, for him and for me.
Feeding Michael my milk has always been an emotional thing. Even when breastfeeding these days means assembling a bunch of weird plastic pieces together, strapping the contraption to my body via a beat-up handsfree bra, and pumping my breasts while the machine goes woosh-woosh. That ritual of carefully turning the Medela bottles to pick up the stray drops clinging to the sides, the satisfaction of combining the output from two breasts into a single bottle, the arranging of the bottles in the fridge from oldest to most recent… This is all powered by something deep – soul deep – which I can barely find the words for. I think about stopping, all the time. I give myself time limits – 3 months, 4 months, what the heck – 6 months. But instead of winding down, I find myself still compulsively reaching for the pump at the usual hours. I still find myself mildly panicking when my supply dips.
Last night, I fed Michael his dinner bottle in the glow of the nightlight, his long body hanging off my lap, his head so heavy that I felt my thumb at his nape cramping. I watched his eyes grow from big and searching to half open. His hand, softer than soft, trailed across the back of mine. I love him the most when he is drinking. And it wrenches me knowing that even this will end, and sooner than I am ready for.