For the first time in over three and half years, I am wearing civilian clothing. Well, the maternal equivalent of it, anyway. I'm not wearing stretchy maternity pants or nursing tanks with their little clasps. I don't pick my wardrobe based on whether or not it covers that lower portion of my belly that I can't see without a mirror, or if it affords easy access to my milk jugs. I don't need to shop in stores with quaint and warm names like Motherhood or Bellies to Babies.
Tonight, I nursed what is likely my last child for the last time. For the first time in over three and a half years, I am neither pregnant nor nursing. For 44 continuous months, I have either been growing a baby inside my body or feeding a baby with my body. It has been almost four years, but my body now belongs entirely to me.
Here I sit, drinking a beer, wearing a boring old sensible bra and straight-cut top, openly weeping.
When I weaned my first kiddo, I found out almost exactly the same day that I was expecting my second. Knowing that I would get to do it again in nine short months made it easier to say goodbye. But this time, I'm simply moving on. It's not that I want to keep nursing. I was able to nurse both my kids to about 14 months, and I'm very satisfied with that. I'm not even sure I want to keep having kids. I don't love the infant stage enough to be sure that I want to do it again. So why am I mourning?
It's less that I'm given purpose by pregnancy or empowered by my body's ability to nourish an infant. It's more that I don't have babies anymore. And I reiterate: I don't even really love the infant stage, although I'll confess it is not without sweetness. Whether newborn, infant, toddler, or preschooler, the truth remains: my kids continue to change. I look forward to the joys and celebrations that come with raising a child, and right now, on this momentous evening, I mourn that which I will never experience again.
I don't miss morning sickness and ungainly size, but I'll never again feel a tiny person nudge me from the inside. I don't miss five wake-ups a night and desperate, senseless squalling, but I'll never again have a squishy creature curled up and snoozing on my chest. I don't miss worrying about head strength and sitting ability, but I'll never again celebrate so momentous an occasion as a first step. I don't miss being chained to a breast pump at work or a infant's shifting eating schedule at home, but I'll never again be completely bonded to my baby, her curved against my middle, connected by her need and my ability. While I have many, many milestones yet to celebrate, and I will never ever wish my girls to be anything other than exactly what they are and exactly where they are, this remains an enormous shift.
My body no longer gives life. My babies are independent of my physical self. I know they still need me. More than that, I know my self worth does not depend on being needed. And yet, this has been so definitive of my ever decision for so long. I have been gestating or nursing about as long as I spent in college, and I'll be damned if that transition didn't almost ruin me.
I've never been terribly good at transition.
It's hard to know how to feel. I rejoice that my body is mine again, but I also rejoice in all that it has done. I give thanks that my children grow healthy and strong, but I also give thanks for all the treasured memories of that which will never happen again. I mourn yet another all-too-short stage of parenthood, but I also mourn all the life and self that was lost or changed while I did it.
So I won't overthink things. I'll just cry, since that's generally my reaction to any big emotion anyway. I will cry and I will have a beer and I will close my eyes and remember the sound of a baby gulping from my breast or the sound of my nursing tank clicking open, the sweet smell of a baby close to my skin or the sour smell of my own milk-soaked nightshirt, the feel of a baby's mouth tugging at my nipple or the feel of a sleeping infant cuddled to my waist. I have been given a gift. It's okay to let it go.
The Long Winter
2 months ago