Childbearing women pass a lot of milestones, from the first time we hear our baby’s heartbeat to the big twenty-four-week gender-revealing ultrasound. There’s that magical thirty-seventh week, when the baby can be born without being called premature. Then there’s the birth itself, and the two-week-old mark at which our previously angelic sleepers turn into fussy, non-sleeping demons. There’s the point at which we can have sex again, and the day we resume menstruation.
But there’s one significant milestone that we don’t talk about. It’s an intense, emotional moment that can be both bad and good all at once. It’s the day the last drop of milk we’ll ever make falls from our breast.
That’s it. You’re done. You’ve had your children and you’re not having any more. Whether your baby is four months, a year, or two years, you’ve transitioned from supporting that baby with your body.
These thoughts have been on my mind as I move toward complete weaning of my last baby. I don’t mean weaning from breast to a cup. My baby is no longer much of a baby at nearly two years old. He’s talking and laughing and somehow saying “butthole” in front of guests. He’s also still nursing once a day. I have only a trickle, but still we hold on because bidding adieu to those sweet days forever isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. He’s my second and last child. I’m moving into a period that is officially classified as perimenopausal. It hardly seems fair when I could still pop out a few more kids if I wanted.
I liken the feeling about the last drop to how I have a hard time giving away the last baby outfit or baby book, even though my kids clearly aren’t going to wear or read them. That little zippered sleeper with the Winnie the Pooh adventure map printed all over in size 0-3 months? Yeah, that’s tucked away in a box. It’s not going anywhere. When I’m eighty, I’ll pull it out and hold it and remember my children’s babyhood. We become sentimental hoarders as our children become kids with their own personalities and wills. And although you might keep a frozen bag of breast milk that you pumped out in the early days of nursing, when your boobs were spraying milk like Tommy guns, hidden in the bottom of the freezer under a package of short ribs, you know you really can’t keep the last drop.
Emotion over the end of nursing your baby picks up speed when you see other people continue to drip. My neighbor and I were pregnant at the same time with our second children. Both of us experienced aching, stiff pregnancies that left us cranky and less than eager to go through it again. I knew my second would be my last. My neighbor wasn’t so sure. Less than two years later, she’s pregnant again with her third. At first this horrified me.
Three kids? The expense! The chaos! The toddler tantrums compounded by three! But of course, that’s three children to love and kiss. Three people sharing the cost of your nursing home is surely better than two, right? I could have another one! I’m healthy, still in my thirties. But I’m not going to. Instead, I’m moving on to a place of physical freedom, and my toddler is moving on toward school days and interests of his own—none of which will include my breasts.
The last drop my baby drinks will be my very last connection to the world of childbirth and babyhood. In her book The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning, author Kathleen Huggins says that the last drop of milk is our last connection with our childbearing bodies, and it’s an unmarked but incredibly poignant moment. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding your baby for two years. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first year. However long we do it—even if for a few days—the last time your last baby sucks is the last time we have a part in that special babyhood time.
There’s an emphasis in Western culture on moving quickly from nursing to fast, big-kid stuff, and we don’t talk about this. We don’t say, “Wait a minute! The last time we nurse matters!” It’s the remaining connection to those nearly ten months the baby spent inside you. It’s the last link to our ability to nourish and grow another human being, and maybe even the last time the bond with our baby will be as thick. Some women aren’t as affected, of course—some don’t consider it a milestone. Some are glad to be done with the mess and the tied-down feeling. I can certainly understand that. But when my friend Kate could no longer squeeze a drop of milk from her breast, she cried. For women who are forced to stop nursing before they want to, it’s probably devastating.
There are good things that come with the end to nursing. We’ll have more freedom—fewer ties to the baby, more time for ourselves. The physical toll on our bodies will decrease. Pregnancy and nursing gingivitis, we hope, goes away. The suck, if you’ll pardon the pun, on our calcium supply lessens. When we take medications, we no longer have to pause because we’re not in the “if you’re pregnant or nursing, ask your doctor first” category. We can have guilt-free glasses of wine. And yet, that last drop is so final. Maybe it’s because after we stop having children, we’re old. We might as well be grandmothers. It’s like saying we’re no longer able to have children, which is a terrible feeling if you want to have them. Maybe it taps into a primal desire to reproduce, to mother, to nourish.
Whatever it is, my last drop of milk will truly be my last connection to that sweet quiet that descends when your baby leans into your breast to suck and the only sound is the gentle drinking sound and your heart and your baby’s heart. I’ll no longer be in the childbearing game. As my mother-in-law advised, “Enjoy that baby now. You won’t get to again until you have grandchildren.”
So while I look forward to that older stage of childhood, the interaction and conversations, the running and jumping and all-day adventures, and their ability to wipe their own butts, I’m going to have a moment of silence for that last drop.
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