Breastfeeding was a real struggle for the first two months of HP's life. He had no issues gaining weight, but his latch was shallow, making nursing a painful and dreaded experience for me. When I was exhausted at the end of the day I remember telling Neil, "I hate breastfeeding. I hate it. I hate it!" with tears streaming down my face while HP ate. Not quite the picture of maternal bliss I had imagined.
I understand why so many women quit nursing in the first few weeks and months. It's hard. If I hadn't had such a supportive partner or been so determined to make it work, I would have given up. That's not to say I am some kind of martyr--not at all--I just had the support, desire, and circumstances to make it work. One thing that helped me through those initial weeks was reading blogs about other women's experiences. Many people had the same issues we did, and reading the "it does get better" posts was such a comfort to me. And they were right--it did get better.
Initially (as in, before I had given birth and naively assumed I knew how I would feel about extended breastfeeding even though I didn't have a clue), I thought I would breastfeed HP until he was at least eighteen months, and then start to consider weaning around the two-year mark. I liked the idea that instead of switching to cow's milk, he would continue to drink milk that was designed specifically for him. The push to wean children around the year mark is largely culturally, rather than scientifically, based, and I saw no need to adhere to it.
My opinion has since changed. I still fully support extended nursing and think there are many benefits to continuing breastfeeding for as long as both parties are happy. The key part of that sentence is the final phrase. Right now, I feel ready for the freedom that will come with the end of breastfeeding. I want to be able to leave at night without having to pump upon my return. I want to plan my day without consulting HP's feeding schedule. I want to take a trip to visit friends for a weekend alone. (Imagine the luxury!)
This whole parenting endeavor is taxing on mothers in a way it is not to fathers. Fathers do their share of sacrificing, but for nursing mothers parenting is demanding in a different, biological, your-body-is-not-your-own kind of way. I am ready for my body to be my own again.
Here's where we are today: HP is now past the age where nursing is one of the few things that comforts him. He easily naps without nursing beforehand, and has for months. His feedings have dropped to a handful of times a day, and usually last for about ten minutes, if that. He has always been an efficient eater and he once past early infancy, he largely stopped nursing for comfort. The kid is all business and crawls out of my lap the second he is done.
Some women describe this amazing bond they feel with their child while nursing, and to be blunt, I have not felt that. It is not that I find nursing to be a bother or an inconvenience or that I do not enjoy and appreciate the closeness I feel to HP, but I do not enjoy it any more or less than when he comes to cuddle without nursing. I do not worry that the bond I share with him will diminish when he is done breastfeeding, because the connection we have is not dependent on me sustaining him with food from my body.
I know there are lots of benefits to nursing toddlers, for both the mother and the child, but I have also come to realize that there lots of benefits to being able to easily take breaks from parenting when the need arises. At the moment, the latter seem more, well, beneficial. Of course I can still take short breaks now, but since I do not have a large stash of milk in the freezer, it is hard for me to be gone for more than a few hours at a time. The end of breastfeeding will open up new opportunities for me to find the right balance between my role as a parent and as an individual.
I know it will be bittersweet, but I think we will all be ready in a few months. I never thought I would be looking forward to the end of nursing, but perhaps it is the natural evolution of life with children--a mourning for the end of one phase in our relationship, but a joy and excitement for the one ahead.
And who knows? Maybe in the coming months I will feel differently and we will keep going until eighteen months or two years. Right now I am not setting any hard deadlines and will continue to evaluate the best course for our family.