“No one could give her such soothing and sensible consolation as this little three-month-old creature when he lay at her breast and she felt the movement of his lips and the snuffling of his tiny nose.” ~Leo Tolstoy
It’s hard to believe that my journey with breast cancer, in a way, started a year ago. Memorial Day weekend. With saying goodbye and opening up a new chapter of motherhood.
Whenever I would imagine myself as a mother, breastfeeding was always a part of it. I always knew it was something I was going to do. After a difficult delivery that didn’t go according to plan, breastfeeding was a challenge. I always thought it was supposed to be easy. Natural. I would just put my baby on my breast and he would suck and that would be that. But for me and Oliver, it took time. A lot of time and a lot of money seeing lactation consultants and a cranial sacral specialist. It took six weeks until we finally got the hang of it. But when we did it was utter bliss. I wasn’t one of those mothers who would cover up in public. I loved breastfeeding and I think I did it uncovered almost anywhere. In fact, if you live in Brooklyn, you’ve probably seen at least one of my boobs! The only place I didn’t feel comfortable was on public transportation. But I did it in restaurants, the library, a bar, the park, a bench in the city…you name it. I was a 24 hour diner. I was never closed and I loved it.
Fast forward 17 months or so, and I was still breastfeeding Oliver. In my mind, I would do it for 18 months and then assess whether or not he still needed it or was beneficial in any way. Or if it even fit into my lifestyle at that point. But somewhere at around 15 months old, breastfeeding became less about nutrition and more about keeping calm. Suddenly, Oliver was pulling my shirt down when I knew he wasn’t hungry, begging for my breast. He was using me as a pacifier. A human pacifier. I was totally down with breastfeeding because of the close bond it creates between mother and child and continuing for as long as he would allow but I was never prepared for being a walking binky.
As a result, I started to offer the bottle more often. We had started him on cow’s milk by then so getting him to drink from a bottle that wasn’t breast milk was not a problem (I was also so over pumping and had stopped by the time Oliver was 14 months old). By the time Oliver was 17 months old, he began asking for a bottle for sustenance and the breast for comfort only. I tried nursing him only in the mornings and the evenings but that didn’t work out. He wanted to be latched all the time and it was starting to get in the way of living life. I started to get frustrated by this and wishing for it to end.
Be careful what you wish for.
It was Memorial Day weekend, 2014. I was trying to nurse Oliver so he would go to bed. That is how he usually fell asleep and I would put him in his crib either drowsy or passed out from a milk coma. But that night he just couldn’t be satiated. I’d attach him to the left breast (the strong producer) and after a few minutes he’s say “that side (da sih).” So I’d switch him to the other breast and after a few minutes he’d say, “that side,” again. We did this over and over. Back and forth. Back and forth until finally I asked him, “Oliver, would you like mommy to go get you a bottle of milk?” Oliver perked up, started kicking and squealing and said, “yes.”
And that was it. He never breastfed again.
It was the right time to stop breastfeeding because it was Oliver’s choice. He’d had enough. We had done well. 17 months of breastfeeding is an amazing accomplishment, one of the things I’m most proud of in my life. And maybe it’s good that we stopped when we did because one month later is when I felt my lump. Two months later I was diagnosed. So along with mourning the loss of a child that needs me for nourishment, the loss of that amazingly cozy, warm and tingling feeling of a baby on your breast, I also had to mourn the loss of the breast itself.
I still miss breastfeeding and sometimes wish we were still doing it. But where would that leave me? Would I have ever caught the cancer in time for it to be curable? Would I have had to wean him suddenly, causing shock and grief for us both? Or if I had weaned sooner, would I have caught my cancer sooner and avoided some of the harsh treatments I’ve had to endure? I’ll never have these questions answered. That’s ok, I guess.
It’s not all sad. Breastfeeding has been replaced with so many other wonderful things like reading books, snuggling in my bed, playing with trains, trips to the zoo and more. Life goes on. We all move on. That’s the way it should be.