I suppose that my parenting style could be best described as “Rip it off like a Band-Aid.” I’m not one for long transitions. A week before Honest Baby’s first birthday, I decided to start weaning her straight from breastmilk to a sippy cup. For six weeks, this method seemed to be working pretty well. I had gotten her down to just nursing before naps and bedtime. Then, the poor thing came down with a double ear infection. She was miserable, and I couldn’t deny her when she wanted to nurse around the clock. The timing was terrible. We were in day 3 of potty training her older sister, and I suddenly had to be both physically attached to my infant while sitting with my toddler in the bathroom, celebrating every single drop that landed in the toilet. Honest Girl would end the days, exhausted from learning this new life skill, and flop into bed, while Honest Baby, nose dripping, head pounding, and ears hurting, would want to nurse to sleep, then would wake up several times at night to be comforted again. My breasts were becoming full again. I had to pull out my D-cup nursing bras.

One day, she nursed 15 times. Seven times right in a row. I was trapped on the couch for two hours. I had to ask Honest Husband to help feed me dinner because I couldn’t move.

The last time, right before bed, she didn’t even suckle. I watched as she chewed—literally, chewed—my nipple. I became angry, broke her latch, and said aloud, “That’s it! I’m done. You don’t need this, and I don’t need this. You’re finished, kid.”

And that’s how I stopped breastfeeding my last child.

I had to stop breastfeeding Honest Girl cold-turkey when she was nine months old. I had come down with a horrible UTI that had landed me in the ER at midnight. I had gone from fine to pissing blood within the span of an hour, and had to be placed on a strong antibiotic. When the lab work came back, it was discovered that I had caught a drug-resistant bacteria, and I was put on two more antibiotics simultaneously.

“Can I still breastfeed my daughter?” I asked the nurse over the phone as she told me the news.

There was a long pause. “Technically, yes. But essentially she’s going to be getting these antibiotics, too. The doctor knows that you’re breastfeeding, so he prescribed ones that can be used while you nurse. But, honestly? If it was me? I wouldn’t.”

So, I stopped. It was a surprisingly easy transition. The antibiotics made my supply disappear almost instantly, and Honest Girl was already taking bottles at daycare. We just switched her bottles over to formula, and Honest Husband took over bedtimes. After three days of being cranky, she had moved on. I was freed from being attached to my child, and I had a “good” reason, the “right” kind of excuse, to tell the hardcore breastfeeding advocates in my life why I just didn’t make it through the full first year. I was unconcerned.

Besides, I knew that I’d have another child.

And I didn’t want to wait any longer.

Almost instantly, I got my first period.

And six weeks later, I was pregnant with Honest Baby.

For 13 months, I breastfed full time. She’s never had formula. I bought two containers of it, for a “just in case” supply, and when she turned 11 months, I gave the formula to my neighbor (the same one who also received my donated milk), unopened.

In that time, I also donated thousands of ounces of breastmilk. Three babies ended up using my donated milk. My neighbor’s, and two small children at my kids’ daycare who had some terrible digestive issues. My milk was the only thing they could eat without throwing up.

I stopped pumping a week before I started to wean Honest Baby. When my neighbor stopped by to pick up the last of my frozen supply, I apologized for not having very much on hand. “Hold on, Rachel. Hold on.” She counted what was there. It was over 100 ounces.

When I look at these numbers, when I think about what my body has produced, about the life it has sustained (and maybe even made better), I am content. I worked hard. I gave my time, my body, my needs to these small, burgeoning human beings. I lost sleep. I lost inches. I lost the wonderful sensitivity of my nipples. I lost my sex drive. Hell, I even lost my periods. I gave it all to them.

And I want it all back.

I really do.

I was ready to be done.

Done, done.

So why does this hurt so much?

Why, during those first two days after cutting off Honest Baby, did I physically ache—not just in my full, heavy breasts, but all down my sternum and into the pit of my stomach—to nurse her just one more time?

Why did I have to clench my fists in order to keep my arms from reaching out, from cradling her, and giving her exactly what we both wanted more than anything else in the world?

Why did I weep when I sent my husband to her at three in the morning, sad and jealous that it wasn’t me?

Why does it sometimes feel as though someone has taken a giant ice cream scoop and hollowed me out from shoulders to hips, leaving behind a gaping cavity?

Last night, when my husband put Honest Baby to bed, I started to cry. Over the monitor, I heard him read her a story, then rock her, making up lyrics to Brahm’s Lullaby. Softly, he placed her in her crib, put her favorite lovie close by, whispered, “I love you,” and walked out the door. She rolled over, and promptly fell asleep.

For 13 months, I could never get her to quietly go to sleep. I would nurse her until she would sweetly snore in my arms. Then I’d break her latch, and put her down.

And she would cry the second I closed the door behind me.

When my husband came downstairs, I sobbed, “I’ve been making her miserable for a whole year. I make her miserable!”

He held me. “She’s just ready now. She wasn’t ready before. You’re both ready now.”

It’s true. I am ready.

But I’m not.

This morning, a week after I finally pulled away from my baby and cut her off from my breast, I squealed with delight upon seeing my now-empty breasts in the mirror in the morning. I came rushing out of the bathroom, flashing Honest Husband.

“Look at my boobies! They’re so little and cute! And so soft!”

He looked up and smiled. “You look like you again.”

I’m feeling more like me again.

But also not.

Because “me” is now also a mother who holds her child in her arms and offers the sweet, sticky milk that her body has produced, that her body wants to give, to pour into her baby.

“Me” is now a woman with an emptiness where there once was fullness.

“Me” now has nothing—idle parts—where there once was life.

“Me” is still working on being okay with that.

I do love my new, small breasts. I love the softness. The sag. The way that the skin falls down, relaxed. I even love the darkness of my nipples. Signs of the beautiful, strange, powerful elixir they once contained, and the sweet, toothless mouths that once sought them.

I love that Honest Baby is falling in love with her daddy in a whole new way.

I love that I now get to have bedtime with my smart, funny minx of a toddler while my husband rocks our baby in the next room.

I love that my baby is growing into an independent child.

I love that I’m able to try to become me again.

I love that I still have that opportunity.

But, yes, I’m still crying.

Being a parent is sometimes like being a recovering addict. I’d give anything to have just one more time. Just once more with breastfeeding. Just once more to see that second blue line appear on a pregnancy test. Just once more to feel that first kick from the baby growing inside of me. Just once more to watch a child that is loved and wanted emerge, like a gooey miracle, from the deepest part of me. Just once more. Just once.

But, sometimes, you have to stop. You have to decide that this will be the last time. It has to end.

An end.

It’s the only way to make a beginning.

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