On October 11, 2014, after many years of faithful service, I finally gave my boobs the gold watch they’ve worked so tirelessly to earn.
If my boobs were not desperate to retire, I certainly was.
I suppose my original plan for breastfeeding was to make it to 12 months but somehow that time seemed to come and go very quickly with all three of my kids. And anyone who has had a 12-month-old will know they are still a baby in so many ways - it seemed very natural to keep going each time.
None of my babies showed even the vaguest hint of wanting to self-wean and given that I had no cycle for pretty much the entire time I breastfed, it became necessary to force the weaning issue just so I could get knocked up again. Yes, I know, you can get pregnant when you’re breastfeeding but if you don’t have a cycle, there are no fertile dates to circle on a calendar which would mean you’d have to be shagging every day in the hopes that you might get one past the keeper – yeah, no thanks. My vagina likes to do other things – like watch Netflix and sleep.
So I didn’t feel especially nostalgic at the time of weaning each of my babes – it was more a case of finally mustering the strength to snatch my boobs back and say, “They’re mine and you can’t have them!” to a mightily pissed off toddler. I was sort of hoping one of them might have self-weaned so I could experience that bittersweet feeling of a closing chapter but it wasn’t to be. I have fabulous boobs and can’t really blame anyone for feeling angry about losing them.
When I look back now, and especially knowing that I will never breastfeed again, I feel deeply nostalgic. It was at the heart of my becoming a mother and one of the reasons I think I found my feet so quickly after my firstborn, Luca, came into the world.
Breastfeeding was such a revelation to me. Having been adopted, I had no experience with it and obviously Mum was unable to offer any advice. Reading online pregnancy resources played a huge part in solidifying my commitment to at least try it. The evidence of its benefits was overwhelming, but I worried that I would hate the feeling.
And I think that’s okay to admit. Since puberty, I had seen my breasts purely as ornamental. And society made sure I knew they were what made me sexy. So the idea of a tiny human sucking on them was initially a weird one. I would say to every woman pregnant with their first child that these feelings of apprehension are completely normal, but that the reality of breastfeeding will probably be very different to whatever they’re imagining.
Breastfeeding Luca for the first time, an hour or so after he was delivered, was a weird sensation, but I felt exhilarated to have made a start. We weren’t immediately great at it, but in terms of difficult starts, I consider my grazed, misshapen nipples an excellent result. It didn’t really start to make sense until my milk came in. Before then, it was so hard to gauge whether Luca was getting any colostrum or not because the volume was so miniscule. I’d watch him at my breast, he little mouth going and I assumed he was doing all the right things, but it was a confusing time, particularly because Luca had low blood sugar and every feed was crucial in the beginning.
By the second week, I was home and answering the door to the home visit nurse cradling a feeding Luca in one arm. She was astounded. And I was thrilled. My baby and I had found our breastfeeding groove quite quickly.
Obviously, not all mothers have this kind of beginning. But a rough beginning does not have to set the tone for the future of a breastfeeding relationship. Women feed through mastitis and bleeding nipples, with thrush and inverted nipples – and then they get to the other side where breastfeeding can be pure joy.
Until it isn’t again. And that’s the other thing they don’t tell you. A breastfeeding relationship is not a static thing but always changing and evolving. Around the 8 month mark, breastfeeding begins to feel a lot like a contact sport. There’s nothing quite like being slapped in the face and having your nose picked for you as you feed a child from your own body.
But then that settles down again and another adventure begins. All the while though, I was reminded that I was feeding my baby from my own body. For the first six months, ONLY FROM MY BODY. All that gorgeous baby chub was courtesy of me and me alone. That felt – and still feels – like an incredible privilege. My tits kept three humans alive. And I thought their best moment was when I was 25 and they sat about 1cm below my chin. Little did I know how much more they were capable of than just being perky.
I breastfed three babies for a total of 72 months. That’s six years! And it was a journey like any other – filled with highs and lows. There were times I felt so touched out, times I desperately wanted my body to myself for just a moment. But I pushed through. I’m not going to be a sanctimonious fuck and tell you I believed the sacrifices were worthy and that I did it because I wanted the very best for my child. Sure, those things are kind of true but that’s not what consciously kept me going. I kept going because that was all I knew how to do. Breastfeeding my babies just made sense. And along the way, I collected some of the most precious mothering memories.
For every slap in the face, there was the softest little baby hand caress. For every distracted feed, there was one where we gazed endlessly at one another. And the majority of my breastfeeding moments were an opportunity for stillness in an otherwise frantic life. This was particularly important with my second and third babies where the days just collapsed into one another in a blur of busyness. I will always be grateful for those quiet moments of just being with my babies.
And whenever my babies were sick or unsettled or sad, breastfeeding was the ace up my sleeve. I don't know how I would have managed without it. It took a little while to adjust after each of my bubs was weaned because for so long, breastfeeding had been my natural instinct. But as mums, we adapt and change to meet the needs of our kids. Our relationships evolve at a pace that's right for our families.
On World Breastfeeding Week, I celebrate breastfeeding mothers everywhere. It's a tough and beautiful gig. I also celebrate those mothers who gave it a go and then made another choice -because nothing is “best” for a baby if the mother is suffering.
I talk about my breastfeeding journey in the hopes of encouraging new mums to try it because I think when it works, it’s so bloody wonderful. I talk about my breastfeeding journey to support those mums who are feeling pressure from well-intentioned family and friends who have seriously twisted misconceptions about what breastfeeding is. I proudly talk about my breastfeeding journey because doing so helps to normalise it.
Whether it is best or not is personal to each mum and their baby, but breastfeeding is always normal.
My breastfeeding days are behind me and my tits are well below me, but I wouldn’t change a thing.