i am done.
long before ruth in the recovery room showed me how to cram my entire breast into a 2-hour old mouth, my best friend maggie told me once: don't let people make you feel guilty about formula feeding, there's nothing wrong with it. it hadn't even occurred to me at that point, as far removed from the mommysphere as i was, that formula could induce guilt.
in fact, guilt is not a state of mind i inhabit very frequently- even as a mother. i don't mean for this to sound sociopathic, but somehow my brain has figured out a way to metabolize that emotion immediately into either corrective action or a lifetime of self-loathing. fix it or transcend it.
so why this long eulogy to my breastfeeding experience? why the theatrics of sobbing in bed, blubbering to ian it just kills me to think that the last nursing session will really be the very last time? why do i feel the need to write this out, to get this off my chest (get it ha ha i am very funny)?
ian always tells me my autobiography should be titled that was a sad story (that i made up) because i am so habitually swept up in the poetry of loss, the art of morbidity. i eulogize garbage relationships like a widowed woman who lost her one true love in civil war. i can't bear to part with ill-fitting items of clothing i wore less than 0.3 times because i distinctly remember feeling an emotion or intent when i purchased it. my philosophy on being kind and patient with the ones i love is predicated on a dramatic fear that my last encounter with them could be the final one, because of car accidents or murder or savage tropical storms. when ian leaves for the grocery store down the dang street, i yell drive carefully! in lieu of a normal farewell. my dude, in his honda civic hybrid, is not doing tokyo drifts in the kroger parking lot. but still, my palms sweat when i think about goodbyes. i have spent the entirety of my adolescence and young adult life learning how to write about loss. it is a masochistic skill to have acquired, even more pointless than learning vape tricks.
so it's this that i grappled with when it came to the end of breastfeeding. not so much a fear of substandard nutrition, nor guilt for cheating my son out of the absolute optimal meal. not the worry of being socially perceived as a lazy or selfish mother (i am both of those things all the time). james tolerates formula exceptionally well, with no discernable variation in his gastrointestinal tricks or weight gain. maternal igg antibiodies in breastmilk decline by 6 months while an infant is producing his own at normal levels. ian, consummately supportive and optimistic, encourages me to do what is best for me. there are so many bags of breastmilk stored in the freezer that he is visibly displeased about what this means for his meticulous kitchen organization.
i am not even excoriating myself for giving up, because i have not entirely tied up my ability to grind to my identity as a mother. being two sacks of milk is not my character-defining accomplishment. i suspect there will be more crucial tests of motherhood in the future- though this feels like the first big letting go. and i know it has to be done one of these days, that he will not be breastfeeding in the car shortly before his freshman orientation on campus life activities. it's just so...preemptive at the six month mark.
but my supply is dwindling and the fear of precipitously obsessing over my pumping output distracts me from my work, my marriage, my child. i have survived so many rounds of mainlining fenugreek, power pumping, doing the fucking most and still on high alert for any fluctuation along those ounce markers. i nurse daily, but it is a less than idyllic affair when james slashes at me wildly with his little claws, distracts constantly, and casually blows raspberries while latched, causing my milk to spray wastefully around us. i catch myself feeling irrationally annoyed that he is spitting out this hard-earned liquid like a damn geyser.
i am done feeling so precious and anxious about breastmilk; i am done with the psychological toll; i am done with the physical labor. i want to set my pump on fire and fling the charred remains into the sun. there are lots of stances out there on just how hard breastfeeding is. in my personal experience, it is easier than working in a mine but harder than trying to parse a trump speech for substance.
new orleans, i tell ian. that's my cutoff. we'll go on vacation, i won't pump, then i'll be done.
the night before we leave on our trip, i bring james to my parents' house. while my mom and dad hover over ian anxiously, urging him to eat an entire rotisserie chicken by himself, i sit with james in their master bedroom. he is tired and fussy, and i take out my breasts one last time to calm him. and this is the nursing session i will always remember, that will still be burned into my mind decades later when my breasts are no longer a thing that anyone cares about, when james is a grown man who has never given a single thought to his nutrition in infancy. i will always remember the warm yellow light from the nightstand, the black silk dress i slipped off hastily, his big, dark eyes searching mine while he latched. one tiny hand gripping my finger, the other windmilling around. i will always remember thinking this is the one thing that only i can do for him, and fighting back a hot surge of tears.
and i will always remember that right after i choked back a sob, james unlatched and punched me.
when i return from our long weekend in new orleans, my supply has officially dried up. but my tears have too, and i realize that the sting of the last time is abated by the experience of so many other things. he is a vibrant, growing, funny little guy and feeding him is only one small part of the equation. there are a million more memories to make and they will not always be ones of loss or finality.
for example, on valentine's day, he did a poop so horrifying it flowed down his arms. cool memories like that.