The day after Grady's birth, Shawn and I shuffled down the hospital corridor pushing Grady in his little hospital bed because according to hospital policy, walking while holding a baby leads to doom (and lawsuits, apparently.) We filed into a small room with two other bleary-eyed couples and a cheerful breastfeeding instructor who was cradling a terrifying plastic doll and a large crocheted breast. The instructor proceeded to demonstrate the proper method of getting the crocheted nipple into the mouth of the demon spawn doll while Shawn and I stifled our (sleep-deprived) giggles. At one point she explained to us that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years and I vividly remember rolling my eyes at Shawn. Like, yeah, okay, hippies. I'll give up my boobs for a year - max - and then I want my life and my body back.
Except that you don't ever really get your life or your body back, do you? I mean, you have a life. A body. But it's not the same as your pre-baby life or pre-baby body. Priorities and joints shift. Goals change. Shoe sizes change. There may be a softening of ambition and of your hip region. Or maybe the opposite will happen and your focus will sharpen, just like your sense of hearing. Motherhood is fluid.
Grady is two years and one week and four days old and is still breastfeeding. Unless I need to stop breastfeeding for medical reasons, I will allow him to wean himself when he is ready. I do not expect a gold star. I do not think I am a better mother than you. I do not think my choices are better than your choices. I think my choices are as valid as your choices. I also think that there is a lot of shame surrounding how we feed our babies and that needs to stop. Right now.
When I was in pre-op before my first surgery, the nurse filling out my chart looked at me and said, "you're still breastfeeding? But don't you want your life back?!" And I couldn't respond because I was about to have surgery and I was terrified that something would go wrong and my son would grow up without me. So I said nothing. But I wish that I could tell that nurse that no, I don't want my life back. At least, not from my breastfeeding. I want my life back from cancer. I want my life back from all those months I spent suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety. I want my life back from all those years I spent at a damaging and abusive work environment. I want my life back from all the years I spent in meaningless and unhealthy relationships. I do not want my life back from breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding a toddler is nothing like the marathon breastfeeding sessions required to satiate an infant. Grady usually breastfeeds twice a day and once at night, and our sessions last less than five minutes each. They are sweet little moments of connection in an otherwise chaotic existence. Grady is two years old and somedays he is just *so* two. Breastfeeding is a way for us to connect and sort of hit the refresh button when toddler feelings get out of control and life is too big and too scary to comprehend.
I used to know so much, you know? And then I became Grady's mom and I realized that I don't know much of anything at all. But it's okay because we're all figuring it out together. And it's okay that Hillary of two years ago would roll her eyes at the dirty hippie Hillary who now believes in full-term breastfeeding because Hillary of two years ago was kind of a mess. If there's one thing I've learned in the last two years it's that when we know better, we do better. And Grady is the best motivation there is to learn how to do better.