*Disclaimer – lots of talk about boobies and breastfeeding. I’m not a member of the Breastapo – a fed baby is a happy baby and a happy baby leads to a happy mum. Feed how you want to feed mamas – this blog is just about my journey and not a commentary about whether or not breast is best.*
(N.B. These are not my actual boobs. Obviously.)
I have Golden Boobies.
I’m not sure this is something I ever expected to say. Especially considering the fact they’re little more than ticking timebombs. So maybe these are better? Bastard boobies. Deadly boobies. Menacing boobies. But nevertheless, they are golden and I am immensely proud of them.
Amongst the breastfeeding fraternity, there are different ‘awards’ given based on the length of time you have fed your baby. This is something that I only happened across whilst feeding Chlo. I am inclined to think that I could potentially award my boobies a Diamond award if I tot up the combined months I’ve spent feeding my three children. A quick calculation suggests that in the last 4 1/2 years, I have been breastfeeding for 29 months of them. Thats 29 months of night feeds and broken sleep. Of wearing ‘easy access’ clothing. Of finding darkened corners, quiet side rooms or hiding under scarves in an effort not to make other people uncomfortable. It’s also been 29 months of absolute joy and pride in myself and what my body has been able to do.
Don’t get me wrong. Breastfeeding can also be a real pain in the ass. And boob. And breastfeeding baby number 2 and 3 was certainly very different from breastfeeding baby number 1.
This week marks the end of my breastfeeding journey for good. Chloe had her final feed on Sunday morning. I didn’t allow myself to dwell too much on the fact that it was the final time as emotionally, it has been and still is, a huge pull. Even though the idea of having more babies hasn’t entirely been put to bed, I know that any future children will not be fed by me simply because my boobs won’t exist any more.
I have very little attachment to my boobs really. I want them gone now so that I can begin the next chapter of my life ‘cancer free’ life having twarted it before it can begin. I know that preventative surgery is the only way forward and I’m very confident in the decisions that I’ve made. But I do feel cheated that I have ended my feeding journey before I (and certainly before Chloe) was ready. I do appreciate that there are many people who are a little uncomfortable with mothers breastfeeding older babies. I know many people may have assumed I had stopped long ago and I’m sure there have been others who have have suggested it simply isn’t right to be feeding a baby once they’ve started eating solids. But I have really enjoyed being able to feed Chloe until 15 months. I stopped when Seth was 6 months and when Max was 8 months to allow me to go back to work full time. It has been a huge part of my life and I do feel cheated that I won’t be able to experience any of this again should we have more children. I feel cheated that something so magical had to come to such an absolute end. It has been strange fostering such a love/hate relationship with my breasts. The things which have sustained and nourished by children are everyday a reminder of the ominous BRCA cloud which hangs over me.
Even before I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my children. In my head I felt like I had to. I felt like using my boobs for something positive, something so important would have given them a reason for being. And that if the worst should happen, at least they would have done something good and decent before committing their mutinous act. When I feel pregnant and began attending my various antenatal classes, the idea that ‘breast is best’ was pushed both subtly and overtly from every direction along with the idea that it was the easiest, most natural thing in the world. And don’t get me wrong, it can become the easiest and most natural thing in the world once you’ve practiced it for a few months. But in the first instance, it’s bloody horrific. After the onslaught of childbirth, where your body literally feels like it’s been been taken to the brink of what is actually survivable, you have a newborn baby waking every 2 hours to be fed. As a breastfeeding mum, that responsibility falls to you. And on top of that, you and your baby have to learn HOW to breastfeed. And that process is one based upon trial and error which can be at best frustrating and at worst extremely painful.
However, with perseverance, it becomes a part of your whole being. There is no feeling quite like looking down at your little rooting baby and knowing that you are able to satisfy their needs entirely. Something which always stuck in my mind was the fact that when babies are born, they are very short sighted. In fact, they can only see around a foot away from them – around the same distance from the nipple to the face of their mother. Because that’s all they really need to see and to focus on.
I will never forget the hours I have spent nursing my children. Watching them drift in and out of milky stupors. Feeling their little hands grasping at me, desperate to make sure I don’t move or try to escape their little warm clutches. Watching their eyes begin to gain more and more focus. Seeing their first smiles. Hearing their happy little noises as their tummies begin to fill. The closeness and the bond that breastfeeding has created for me has been indescribable. I know that they won’t remember the hours we have shared, just us, in quiet rooms, at the dead of night. But I will remember. How could I ever forget.
I wish that those moments had never had to end and writing this now, dwelling on it fills me with such sadness. Being a parent is an odd thing. You are so full of happiness seeing your children growing up, reaching their goals and learning new things. You are so excited to see what is coming next – what they are going to become. But at the same time, you yearn for when they were tiny. You wish that time would slow down. You desperately desire to be able to turn back the clock and revisit precious moments which seemed to have passed too quickly.
To help me come to terms with saying goodbye to these special moments and achievements, I have tried to immortalise them and give myself things to remind me of the journey I have been on. So that when the memories start to fade, I will still have these reminders to look back on. My phone, my camera, my hard drive are full of pictures I have taken of feeding moments. I love that I have these personal snap shots to treasure. One of my favourite pictures is this one which makes me smile every time I see it.
I love that little Seth picked up the baby doll, abandoning the bottle and lifted his top to feed her and give her some milk. I love that breastfeeding was the natural and normal thing that I had always hoped it would be and that I had imparted this to my boys too.
I have also been very fortunate that my very talented friend Paloma of the wonderful Photography By Paloma over at http://www.photographybypaloma.co.uk has captured some images of me feeding Seth and Chlo. These are some of my favourite shots which perfectly sum up the closeness that I have felt with my babies while feeding them. The one of myself and Chlo also illustrates just how comfortable I became with feeding my babies in public. Long gone were the days when I would only feed Max underneath a scarf in a dark corner. What could be more natural than sitting in a field of lavender surrounded by the buzz of honey bees as I gave my daughter a quick drink.
I also decided that I wanted to commission some jewellery using my breastmilk. When I first heard about this type of jewellery a few years ago, I thought it was definitely a bit too ‘new age’ for me but over time, I’ve started to realise that I am probably a full on wannabe ‘hippie’ at heart anyway. I love the idea a lasting keepsake that will remind me of the beautiful journey that myself, my babies and my boobs have been on. There are many jewellery makers in this area who work with precious inclusions and I did plenty of research before beginning. I finally settled on www.milkdiamond.co.uk who I initially contacted through Facebook. I sent some milk and within a few months I had a lovely ring and necklace to treasure. Hubby is a little creeped out by them – and I have no doubt in my mind that they will be marmite to the rest of the world – but I adore them and am so glad that I had them made.
And so, just like that, it has come to an end. And now I have my 3 month wait for more MRIs to confirm I am cancer free which will then allow myself and my team at Guys Hospital to pencil in the date for my surgery. With dates being pencilled in to calendars, and increased discussions about surgical options being shared with my loved ones, it is becoming so real. And now I have finished breastfeeding, there really is nothing to delay it any further. And while my nerves are starting to fray a little and my old anxieties are starting to creep in again, I have these three little anchors to remind me that what I am doing is SO necessary. The bond I have with them is everything and I am thankful every single day that they are mine and I am theirs. Whatever the rest of the year throws at me, I know that nothing can change that.
This year, rather than ‘resolutions’, I’ve set myself goals. Things I would like to achieve. Whilst I think I may have enough on my plate this year, I would certainly like to explore the possibility of beginning training to become a peer support for breastfeeding mums. There’s no getting away from the potential wonders of feeding your baby yourself. This was shared on Facebook recently and I love it!
By no means do I consider myself an expert, but I do have golden boobies after all which I might just be able to turn into golden support and advice. Breastfeeding is as hard as it is magical. It is empowering as well as constraining. The easist and hardest thing you’ll ever do. If you are on or about to begin your breastfeeding journey, I salute you! And I’m also terribly jealous – what I wouldn’t do to be embarking on it again myself.