I hardly remember the first time I nursed Selah. I know we were in the delivery room; I don’t know if it was before or after they whisked her away to do tests and measurements, if it was before or after the doctor finished her endless pushing and tugging and stitching. I do remember that Selah’s mouth felt like a thousand tiny knives cutting into my breast, and I remember not being able to get her to open her mouth wide enough to latch well. In that moment, I wondered how on earth we’d make this breastfeeding thing work—if we’d even be able to make it work.
That same wondering would cross my mind many times throughout those first few weeks: In the hospital when the nurses gave me conflicting advice and implied that I was failing and suggested formula. When the pain was so deep that the tears ran hot and heavy down my cheeks while Selah tugged on my tender body. When I was nauseated from exhaustion at 2 a.m. on our first night home. When I’d work for 20 minutes trying to get her to latch—stripping her down to just a diaper, tickling her toes, placing a wet washcloth on her cheek—just to have her fall asleep two minutes into the feeding.
I also don’t remember the last time I nursed Selah. I do remember that it was sometime around 13 months and that I wasn’t willing to admit that I was ready for her to wean. I’d recently stopped scrolling social media during feedings and instead committed myself to watching, savoring, soaking up every detail of these holy moments, knowing they’d likely come to an end sooner than later, and I’d never know which session would be our last.
And sure enough, when we were down to just a morning feeding, she’d go a day without asking and I wouldn’t offer, then two days, then she’d ask and we’d nurse, and then she wouldn’t ask. One day, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time she’d nursed, and I simultaneously felt my eyes well with tears and felt a ragged sigh of relief escape my lips.
What I do remember are so many moments, the sweet and the hard, in between the first and the last time.
Christmas day, when Selah was four weeks old; when I cried through most of it thanks to baby blues and pumping woes and frantically trying to build my dwindling supply; when she latched on and reached up, her newborn hands opening and closing gently against my skin, her eyes locked on mine; the first time I felt truly connected to her during a feeding.
The middle of January, when she popped on easily without struggling to get her mouth to open wide enough, and I realized nursing had become second nature; when I realized that we’d figured it out together and achieved this hard thing as a team.
Late February, when I nursed her and kissed her goodbye as I headed back to work; when I pumped in random offices several times a day, praying that I’d produce enough food for tomorrow.
Early July, when she started eating solids and I realized our nursing relationship had lost the magical element of exclusivity.
Late July, when I contracted a violent stomach bug and wore a surgical mask while we nursed and prayed the breastmilk would build her immunity to whatever I was fighting.
December, when I wondered each time if it was the last time.
After we stopped nursing, I still had some frozen milk that needed to be used, so I continued to bottle feed her a mix of almond milk and breastmilk, gradually upping the ratio to favor the former.
I gave Selah her last bottle containing breastmilk in early January, on an ordinary day before I headed to work, and it was strangely more emotional than weaning from the breast. I suppose it was because I was never quite sure which time was the last time with breastfeeding. But this final bottle—it felt so . . . final.
I woke Selah to make sure I could feed her before work. She remained half-asleep through the whole feeding, her heavy eyelids opening and fluttering closed again. She drank deeply, hungrily of the milk while I drank deeply, hungrily of her babyhood, watching it vanish with those precious drops of milk right before my eyes.
I’d love to reminisce here about how I cherished being Selah’s source of comfort, but truth be told, she was an all-business breastfeeder. On, gulp, gulp, gulp, off. No pacifying, no snacking, no playing around.
But despite her serious approach, I do know that I was her source of sustenance. It’s amazing what the human body can do, how women’s bodies provide life—actual life—for their babies: in utero and in their arms and through nursing and through hands that hold bottles of formula.
I’ll never stop being thankful for the bond of breastfeeding I have with Selah. Now that it’s over and she’s fully weaned, it’s tempting for me to think of the bond as being severed. But when I really think about what breastfeeding was for us, I realize that this specific piece of our bond doesn’t exist in the past; this temporary season laid a foundation of love and care and nourishment.
A friend once told me that she felt as though breastfeeding nourished her more than it did her baby, and I can’t help but agree. Nursing was nourishment to my depleted heart, an anchor for my days. It was a source of centering every morning and of reconnection every night, no matter what had transpired that day, no matter how angry or frantic or anxious I’d been. No matter how much she’d cried, no matter how much I’d failed, we had this.
Selah is almost 14 months old now, and in the last month, she went from being a hesitant stepper to a steady walker.
She pops around corners and pretends to scare me.
She feeds me her play food and giggles as I gobble it up.
She eats as she always has: hungrily, quickly, without restraint.
She pets the dog and brings me her hat when she wants to go outside and shoves books in my face when she wants a story.
She’s gone from baby to toddler in the blink of an eye.
The end of breastfeeding is, in many ways, a signal to both of us that we’re separate people—with different ideas, different thoughts, different hopes and visions and desires. In the past year, I’ve watched her personality grow, but even more, I’ve watched her develop agency. She makes choices and makes things happen in her own little world, and that I get to be a part of shaping those choices and teaching her to use her agency well is no small gift.
It’s the paradox of parenting, that when we do this job well, we’re essentially raising kids who need us less and less. So as painful as each step is, the steps that often result in a tumble or simply a greater distance from me, I’ll keep encouraging her to take them. And I’ll tuck these memories away, much like I’ve put away her baby clothes and bottles and blankets, maybe sharing these stories with her when she has her own babies and doesn’t know if she can keep going.
I’ll tell her of the ways her neediness both broke me and healed me, the way the nourishment of nursing tethered me in ways that were at once hindering and freeing.
I’ll tell her of the nights we spent together, when no one else in the world was awake, when no one else in the world existed but us.
I’ll tell her that as she drank life from me, she’s the one who gave me life.