I have been breastfeeding for almost four years straight. I had a break for 6 months before Quinn was born. And now I am done. How many things in your life do you do for four years? Just a few I think. College comes to mind. When you are finished four years of college you get a huge graduation, a ceremony, a certificate, a night of drinking and parties. When you are done four years of breastfeeding, you don't get much. No fanfare, no celebration, maybe some alcohol. But I think it is just as great an accomplishment, at times just as difficult, and just as educational.
I had no idea how breastfeeding would go when Milo was born. I can't remember if I had a goal then. I'm sure I wanted to breastfed as long as possible, but I also thought I might go back to work when he was 3 months old. I would have pumped, but that can be difficult at work and I figured six months was probably the most I could breastfed him for.
My plans for work changed though. I decided that I didn't want to go back to work and I wanted to stay home and raise my kids. I could now breastfed for the recommended one year. That single decision would be the touch stone for a few other big parenting decisions for us. We chose not to let them cry-it-out and we chose to co-sleep.
Breastfeeding requires endless patience from both the Mom and the Dad. In the beginning babies want to nurse constantly. Every 20 minutes kind of constantly. I don't think I left the couch or my bed for the first six weeks. When they got older it was sometimes a challenge to set aside the things that I wanted to do when my babies wanted instead to be in the rocking chair with me for a half an hour and nurse. It's hard to do that, but I did. Because nursing was a priority, I never refused to nurse them. They never cried for us. Cry-it-out is just not very compatible with a commitment to nurse for a year. There were times that I WANTED to let them cry though. When they were teething and we were back to nursing every hour, oh my goodness, did I ever want to let them cry it out. But I took a deep breath, set aside the fact that I was in the middle of a good movie, and I went in to nurse them one more time.
Breastfeeding seems to work best when there are no restrictions on when the baby can nurse. And my babies liked to nurse all the time, especially all night. This night nursing became more important when my babies got older. They didn't nurse as much during the day because we were busy or out of the house so to keep the milk supply going we both relied on the nursing at night. The ONLY way to get any rest when you are night nursing is to co-sleep. It goes hand in hand. We loved co-sleeping. My favorite time of the day is the first 10 or 15 minutes when all four of us are in bed and waking up. It's the sweetest time of day. Of course it does sometimes get crowded and we are trying to encourage Milo to sleep in his own bed all night, but co-sleeping has made our nights so peaceful and allowed us all to get the rest that we need.
We were also not able to leave our babies with anyone for more than maybe 3 hours during the day. Forget about going out at night. My babies fall asleep nursing. That's the only way they know how. Without me to nurse them to sleep, they would cry. Quinn probably less than Milo, but still, they would cry. Honestly, we haven't really minded not leaving our kids with babysitters. It's hard for us to trust someone else with our kids. We like having our kids close to us, we are home bodies anyway, and this time when they are young is so fleeting that we try to treasure every moment together. Of course, it's been four years since we have had a proper date AT NIGHT and believe me, a real date would be AMAZING at this point. But it'll come soon enough. And then one day when we can go out on a date any old night we please, we will probably stay at home and miss our little babies who clung to us for a while.
Breastfeeding has taught me how to be present for my kids, how to live in the moment and to enjoy every moment. It has taught me to respect their needs and wants and that during these first few years of their life, those needs and wants - to be held, comforted, cuddled - are more important than my need to watch a movie or be alone in bed or out on a date.
Of course now that Quinn is weaned you can bet that I am planning a weekend escape to the city with an old friend in the Fall. I am sending both of them to their Grandma's for the entire day, every week in June so I can take an art class. And Chris and I are just WAITING for them to have their first sleep over so we can have an ENTIRE NIGHT to ourselves.
This independence is so sweet and welcome, but it also came in it's time and I think I will value it more not having had it for a while. I am so glad that I breastfed Milo for 22 months, and Quinn for 20 months. I don't really know if this will mean that they are healthier or smarter or whatever. But I do know that I will always treasure the feelings that I had when I breastfed my sons. That I will always feel close to them.
People talk about breastfeeding as giving a gift to their babies, but breastfeeding has given ME a gift. It's made me slow down and enjoy just staring at my kids, well beyond their newborn days. It has given me a reason to hold my kids close and treasure their babyhood. And it has given me hundreds of moments where I was forced to just enjoy being with them.
So, four years after I started breastfeeding I am done breastfeeding. Kids have grown, Mama has grown, lessons learned. I want a breastfeeding graduation party!! I deserve it!! I earned it!! I guess I will settle for a night alone with my husband, anyone want to babysit?