Porter hasn't nursed in a week. An entire week. It's over, folks.
I think it's time to accept his weaning, to let those emotions come to the surface, and then let them go. In some ways my heart is broken knowing that I will never nurse another baby again. In other ways it's extremely freeing. Mostly I'm sad and still perplexed about how different my third child has been in the breastfeeding department. But I'm also proud that we almost made it to six months considering the struggle it's been. Maybe we didn't make it to a year or beyond like I'd hoped but we did the best we could. I did the best I could. It has to be enough, without regrets.
Porter would have been more than happy to wean at eight weeks when he first started showing signs of bottle preference, refusing to nurse longer than one minute at a time. Really, the remaining four-ish months of nursing were all for me, not for him. Which brings up some interesting questions about who breastfeeding benefits more: the mom who so badly wants it to work, or the baby who is actually consuming the milk. If the nursing relationship is a positive, satisfying one then I think both parties benefit greatly and should push through for as long as it makes sense. But now I am humbled to know first hand that it's not always so easy, so happy, so satisfying to nurse a baby.
So what if Truman nursed for a year and Cecelia for sixteen months and neither had a drop of formula? Porter is a different baby. CC hated the bottle and we battled to get her to drink from one while I was away at work. Porter took it to the other extreme and loves the bottle. Why does feeding a baby have such an emotional component? Why does it feel like we are being judged for our choices or our paths? Does this criticism live in our own heads or do other moms really care that much about how our breastmilk/formula/bottle/pumping story plays out?
Breastfeeding has been one of the biggest privileges of my life. And this time around it's been an important learning experience, and extremely humbling.
At that critical eight week point, what in the heck happened? He was fussier than usual, wouldn't stay latched past the first let down, his poops turned green, and we discovered that his weight percentile dropped from 60th at one month to 19th at two months. I had just as much milk as ever since he would pull off and it would be dripping out. I could pump 4-6 ounces at a time even if that was directly after a feeding. He just wasn't having it anymore, and although he had only had about three bottles in his life at that point, he loved the hell out of them. I know now that's just Porter.
'I cannot handle the thought of my last baby weaning himself at eight weeks,' I told Nate one night through tears. He promised me that it would all work out and the most important thing was to keep Porter fed and growing. Which meant I had to swallow my pride and give the baby bottles during daytime hours, clinging to the evening and night as our time to nurse.
Last Saturday night, Porter nursed before bed in the glider, lights out, white noise on, rocking back and forth as we listened to the big kids go through their bedtime routine with Nate in the next room. That before-bed nursing session was the one solid time we had together, just Porter and I. A bonding session in the truest sense of the word. A sense of relief for me every time he agreed to latch on, even if just for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep and pulling off from the breast. 'He's still nursing, even if it's just once a day,' I'd tell myself when I started to feel sad that we were nearing the end. He stopped nursing in the middle of the night a few weeks ago---but no, he isn't sleeping through the night in return. He just likes the pacifier and cuddling in the glider at night instead of the boob, so the bedtime session was our solitary moment as a nursing mother and baby.
He nursed one week ago and I didn't know it would be our final time connected by breastfeeding. I certainly noticed when he refused to latch on the next night and the night after that. 'He hasn't nursed in two days,' is what I told Nate as I realized the finality of that statement. My last baby was finally letting go of our last session. I didn't feel ready but I'm glad he gave me those bedtime sessions for so long.
Sure, I could have tried a little harder to be an exclusive pumper in order to avoid formula. But no, screw that. I have no regrets with my decision to ditch the pump a month ago because I'll gladly use formula and maintain my sanity instead of killing myself over the pump. I could not make pumping a priority on my four days at home with the kids, and in order to match Porter's incredible intake of about 36 ounces in 24 hours I would have needed to pump at least six times per day. Every day. Including days at home parenting three small children. Pumping three times at work was fine but at home? Pshh. Yeah right. I was lucky to make it happen once per day without at least two of the kids needing me more than the I needed the pump. Ditching that beast was incredibly freeing and I will not beat myself up over that decision.
Isn't it always an emotional roller coaster when breastfeeding ends? It ended much sooner than what I wanted but even if we had made it to a year or beyond, I know I would still feel the sads. It's the end of a special chapter of life. So is the glass half full or half empty? We 'only' made it to six months nursing and we had to use quite a bit of formula. And yet, he nursed a bit each day until freaking six months and my baby seriously loves formula. And he's ridiculously happy, healthy, and growing so who am I to feel anything but gratitude when I'm holding my Porter boy?
Now that nursing is over, I can stop worrying about when it will end and can focus on the future instead. My body is now my own for the first time since 2009, because I've been continuously pregnant, nursing, or having a stupid-long miscarriage in the past five years. I just had my first period since 2011 and boy, those 3.5 years without a cycle were glorious. And I'm sure that the hormones of breastfeeding cessation plus my first period in years, and saying goodbye to my family after an awesome Christmas visit are combining to make one giant ball of melodramatic overanalyzing.
It was the best I could do and it was enough. I did what was best for my son by feeding him from a bottle and giving him formula, and he obliged me by nursing this long.
Thank you, Porter, for giving me those six months of nursing. I love you and look forward to many other ways of bonding with you, sweet boy.