I breast-fed my first child exclusively for seven months, and I couldn’t wait to be done. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it or acknowledge the health benefits, but he refused to take a bottle, and as a first-time mother, I felt that I would have to nurse him forever — or, as some of my “helpful” friends pointed out, at least until he was 2.

That seemed endless, and after seven months of nighttime feeds, leaky breasts and the appearance of small, razor-sharp teeth — not to mention feeling occasionally smothered that I was the only one who could take care of my child — I was done.

I had tried everything to get him to take a bottle, and he stubbornly refused. He was happy to go on a hunger strike for half a day until a breast was procured. I even resorted to filling a bottle with water and walking around the house sucking it happily — and noisily — in front of him, making exaggerated “mmm mmmm” noises (oh, to know what the neighbors thought). When he finally transitioned to a sippy cup around 8 months, I was elated. I was done.

That was not the case with my second son. Everything was easier with him; my milk didn’t come rushing in to make me engorged, I didn’t suffer from borderline mastitis, and I didn’t need a small army of lactation consultants to help me figure out what to do. He latched on quickly at the hospital, and we settled into our routine of exclusive breast-feeding. It was good and it worked.

But I was determined not to make the same mistake with my second child. I would introduce him to a bottle early, and we would not have any problems transitioning from breast to bottle. I decided I would nurse him for the same amount of time as I did my first, so that each child would be treated equally.

When he was about 6 months old, I started to introduce a bottle. Miraculously, he took it. I cheerfully stocked up on bottles and formula, and was even happy that my kitchen counter was cluttered with drying racks and bottle paraphernalia, as I never had that with my first. I decided to drop one feed at a time to make the transition easy for both of us. I had also started to work again from home with the help of a baby sitter, and was elated that a bottle meant I could work for a longer stretch of time.

I wanted to high-five myself every time a feed was dropped because I couldn’t believe it was actually working. Before I knew it, we were down to just a couple of breast feeds a day, and once my milk production starts to slow down, it reaches a point where it falls off a cliff.

One night when the baby woke up crying and I went into his room to nurse him, it hit me: This could be my last breast feed — ever.

As I cuddled my baby in the dark, hot, salty tears began streaming down my cheeks. It had all gone a little too well — I was so focused on reaching milestones (I’ve dropped the 11 a.m. feed! And now the 2 p.m. feed! Only two to go!) that I had forgotten to savor these last few feeds together.

All of a sudden I panicked. Did I really want to stop nursing? I had already proven to myself that my baby would take a bottle, so why not nurse for a little longer? Why not extend this cozy, cuddly time that was only between us?

For the first time as a 30-something woman, I felt that a door was closing on my fertility, and well, my femininity. I didn’t think I was ready to accept that the childbearing chapter of my life was drawing to a close. And during that late-night, emotional (and no doubt hormone-crazed) moment, I briefly thought the solution would be to have a third child. But I’m 37, so it is not as if time is on my side. Then I started to cry even harder thinking I might never have a little girl (for the record, I don’t feel that way anymore).

Today, that baby is a happy, thriving 1-year-old. Looking back, I don’t know if that truly was my last breast feed, or my second or third to last. As with so many baby-related things, it is all a little bit of a blur. I know that I did grieve for the end of our nursing time together, and perhaps this is indeed the end of my childbearing years. And that’s OK.

Whether I had stopped nursing that night or prolonged it for another two months, the last breast feed will always be bittersweet. But that tearful night served as an important reminder for me that his babyhood was slipping away too fast, and I needed to slow down and savor each moment before it slipped away from me.

— The New York Times



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