This is the last can of infant formula Genevieve will ever consume.
Let’s be frank: I’ve never mastered breastfeeding. No matter what I did to make more milk, I never made enough. This has meant that, since day three of her life, Genevieve has consumed formula to survive. And I’ve never forgotten it. There was no escaping the constant, needling evidence of my inadequacy at lactation: the omnipresent red can on our kitchen counter, the screwtop cylinders of white powder in my purse, the need to have a bottle at the ready as soon as Evie nursed me dry. Every time my baby drank formula, I was reminded that it, and not I, was keeping her alive.
On the other hand, I’ve succeeded beyond my wildest dreams at breastfeeding Genevieve. She’s almost a year old and we’re still going. Yes, she had formula early and often, but then something amazing happened: she kept nursing anyway. We didn’t quit when she moved to her own room, started on solids, slept through the night, cut teeth, forsook bottles for sippy cups, or even learned to walk. To this day, in what may be the last remaining vestige of Genevieve’s infancy, we still nurse at least twice daily. And now she will never taste formula again.
[Let us pause and indulge in a brief, exultant victory-rage. Farewell, formula, and to hell with you! You have been exhausted and supplanted, and it is we who endure! Thanks again for ensuring my child’s survival, and don’t let the doorknob hit you on the way out. We’ll be blowing goodbye kisses from the nursery glider.]
We’ve made it. With Genevieve, I have fulfilled (finally) my ancient (pre-Natalie) goal to breastfeed for a year. (A year! We’ve breastfed for a year!!) I’m surprised at how much this actually matters to me, after I’d already made my peace with failure, even come to take it for granted. I mean, how is it possible that we’ve nursed this long, when I sucked at it and Evie had alternative sustenance on demand? And yet we have done it. In this I take no small measure of pride.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t confess an equal measure of fear of the unknown. I cannot predict how long we will continue to nurse. I have no idea how to wean an actual sentient being, someone who is already able to point to things and say “Dat!” and may soon be requesting breastmilk by name. (Right now I call it “mommy milk” but may soon need to resort to the baby-talk euphemisms common among extended breastfeeders, “mimi” or “nunu” or suchlike.) I never intended to become one of those attachment-parenting types who still breastfeed their preschoolers. But what if it happens? We could theoretically keep doing this for a long, long time. I don’t know how to stop it. And at this point, I’m not ready to try.
I’m not ready to lose that moment when you’re in a dark room lit only by a nightlight, rocking your baby, smelling her hair and listening to her breathe. Of course, breastfeeding is not an essential component of this moment (I actually prefer it once she’s drifted off to sleep and is no longer latched on). But Genevieve is outgrowing so much, so quickly, that maintaining this connection to her babyhood is a gift to myself that I’m not ready to give up. I’m not ready to wean myself from being the mother of an infant. I rock her, and through the wall I hear & reading stories to Natalie. Soon enough Evie will be a child who gets bedtime stories. For the moment, at least, she’s still a baby who nurses to sleep, and for as long as this treasure is still mine, I see no reason to squander a moment of it.