I can see, not far in the distance, the last days of breastfeeding my last baby. It is as if a large, friendly vessel is making its way toward us, and we wake each morning and say farewell to each day measuring how far away it is.
This ship carries things, lovely moments and new opportunities that I value. Like wearing regular bras that aren’t stained and stretched from so many months of unhooking and re-fastening, the ones that boost my workhorse boobs and give me back that part of my body to own again. Like the hope of losing the last pounds that nestle comfortably in to my hips so long as I am nursing. And the pure joy of watching my daughter bound into the next part of toddlerhood, running as she does with arms behind her like she’s holding up her cape in the wind.
But it also brings the bittersweet cargo that these are the final moments of what has been an intimate, quiet gift of motherhood for me. Even when it has been hard — when my breasts have been unbearably full or during the early days when I barely had time to pee in between nursing sessions, when I have cried through those ten to 45 minutes in a chair while my family was eating dinner or running around in the sunshine or deeply sleeping — I have loved to hold a baby to my beating heart and know I alone was nourishing her growing brain and tiny body. Later, when we got into a routine, I held tight to the times when my climbing, dancing, stomping toddler was still for a bit, when she needed me for comfort as much as anything else.
I felt the same way with my son a decade ago. I was a stay-at-home mom then and so it was convenient and comforting for us both to keep up the breastfeeding for 18 healthy months. Then I got my first professional blogging job, jetted off to New York City with throbbing boobs and said a silent farewell to what had been. When I got home, I sat in our nursing spot and used our baby sign to ask if he’d like to try again after those three nurse-less days.
“I’m all done,” he said sweetly and decisively, and turned back toward his toys. That ship felt more like a speed boat my uncomfortable then-in-laws were immensely relieved to see had finally docked.
I didn’t place any breastfeeding expectations on this baby, understanding that each child and circumstance is different and the shoulds can be devastating to a mother who greatly wants or doesn’t want to nurse. But she latched on in every way, and so we’ve somewhat surprisingly arrived at this place as she turns 20 months old.
She still asks, still hands me the Boppy, gathers her stuffed animals and makes her way into my lap. And she really breastfeeds, even if the time is gradually getting shorter and she’s easily distracted by noises and light and questions about where Daddy is. Before she barrel rolls off of me to play or ask for breakfast or run to find her brother, she contentedly twirls her curls and mine, sings, smiles and snuggles her babies, all while she nurses.
I stroke her cheek, hold the back of her head in my palm, wink back at her in an inside joke kind of way. And then I turn my attention to Words With Friends while she tucks her fingers inside my t-shirt. It feels like such everyday familiarity that even typing the routine for others to read surfaces a shyness I rarely share.
In two weeks, I will be gone for three full days. Much like that trip ten years ago to NYC, I expect to come home to a toddler who has grown out of her baby breastfeeding. I expect that the throbbing at my chest will also be from my heart, beating with anticipation of letting go and letting that be good.
I will probably cry. And try to get a squirmy girl to settle into my arms by singing to her at bedtime or covering her cheeks with lipstick kisses. It’s also likely that I will laugh at my littlest one who is very excited to talk about potties and squeals as she shows off her belly. I might even order a sexy new red lace bra that only unfastens in the back.
Because good and hard often go together, arm in arm, raising a free hand to welcome the ship to shore while the other palm is pressed close into what is for a few more precious minutes.
This post originally appeared on alpha mom.