A pregnant friend called last week. We talked about co-sleepers, and pants with expandable waistlines, and what types of excretions to expect during labor. As we said goodbye we made plans to speak again soon. “Next time,” she declared,  “I want you to tell me what nursing is like.”

I hung up the phone with a mission. I was going to come up with the ultimate breastfeeding metaphor. This was a friend who had been with me throughout every step of my pregnancy, she listened to my freak-outs, brought me crackers when I felt nauseous and offered feedback on my endless lists of three-syllable baby names.

But then I moved, and now we live in two different cities, we don’t have the daily contact that we used to. We’ve lost touch. I wanted to give her something spectacular to make up for the distance; something that would paint a perfectly perfect vision of the bonding, and the sensations, and the mechanics of it all. Like the way Shakespeare summed up the journey of human existence simply by saying” All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Like that…but with boobs

Try as I might every attempt turned into a horrendously epic run-on sentence. I could not distill the experience into a concise statement. There was no metaphor that would capture the many phases I went through as a first time nursing mom.  I decided I’d make a list- sort of like the “ages and phases” stuff that baby center offers the expecting parent.

It would be my Eriksonian attempt at capturing the mammary glands in all their glory.

The first three days – were like puberty. I was massively sweaty and my shirts were way too tight. My breasts felt suddenly powerful yet completely overwhelming. I cried all the time.

Days 4-6 – were like assembling a bookshelf from IKEA. I knew if I could just get the fucking positioning right it would all come together. I looked at diagram after diagram and it appeared so easy in the pictures. But each new attempt left me bruised, demoralized, and frustrated.

Days 7-18 -were like S&M. The pain was so bad I wanted to puke but I went back for more every two hours. Many people told me that my experiences did not sound normal; they speculated that perhaps there was something very wrong with what I was doing. They suggested I seek professional help.

Days 19-50 – were like learning the guitar chords to your very favorite song. It was hard, there were blisters, but they weren’t too bad; certainly nothing that would stop me. Each day it got easier. Eventually the blisters were gone, my hands moved with ease, I just knew what to do. I could finally experience it, like a song. I felt so proud, I felt like telling everyone, “Do you see this! Check me out. I’m going to do this everywhere. I’m going to do this right in your face! I’m a total rock star!”

Fifty-one days to two years – were like one amazing conversation. Like the kind of chat that leaves you knowing everything about someone. The kind that ends with you staring into someone’s eyes and feeling like the entire world is being held somewhere in-between your gaze.

Two years to two years, four months- were like the last two hundred pages of a very good book. I slowed down, I paid very close attention, I did not want it to end. I was not sure what would happen after I finished. I sensed that I would feel a little bit empty.

The other night was like saying goodbye to a very close friend who suddenly has to move.

After stressing over whether or not to finally wean my daughter, she announced while nursing, “Mommy, your boobies aren’t working any more.”

And just like that, the entire experience shifted

Somewhere

Into

The distance.

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Some say it’s time to stop nursing when your child can ask for it. Other’s say it’s when your kid can walk or hold a cup. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends shooting for one and the W.H.O. sets two as its benchmark.

I ignored them all.

My daughter is now 2.4 and I’m still holding on. Just before her second birthday I declared that weaning should begin “But only part way,” I said, “I’m doing it in stages to minimize shock.” Nursing her to sleep was the first to go. It seemed like a good strategic move. It would make bedtime easier and would save her teeth from inevitable rot. Next went the morning nurse and, shortly after, nap time indulgences were eliminated. With the extinction of those two snacks went my extra sleep. There were no more leisurely mornings spent suckling my offspring while falling in and out of sleep and my mid-afternoon nursing naps gave way to long car rides trying to get my daughter to drift off. “Let’s do Boobies in the car!” she’d howl as I pressed my foot down on the accelerator. There were so many times I was tempted to pull over and give her what she wanted just so we could both fall asleep on some side street. But I held fast. I meant business. My family and friends took notice. They started keeping track. “Just one more nurse to go,” they’d remind me. “You’re almost there.”

“Yeah,” I’d say, “I’m going for the last one just after my husband finishes school.”

But then he finished.

“Is it time?” they’d ask.

“Just as soon as my mother-in-law visits,” I’d say.

But then my mother-in-law came and went.

“Is it time?” they’d ask.

“Just as soon as we go on that out-of-town trip,” I’d respond.

But when the trip was over I changed my tune, “Well after the moon is full…well some time following the third game of The World Cup…if a black cat circles around my stroller… if I have a dream about a cow…” The excuses just kept coming and coming like I was in high school and trying to get out of family game night.

I tried everything to avoid the inevitable.

Then last week it happened. I got the sign. It was clear as water. It was like hearing a man with a bullhorn shout through another bullhorn that was attached to a third bullhorn. “STOP NURSING” he cried. “S.T.O.P”

Sage was lying next to me. We had just finished dinner and we were doing our pre-teeth- brushing nurse; the only nurse of the day. Suddenly she pulled away, “I wanna listen to ‘Paleontologist ,'” she said. My husband heard her in the next room and shortly delivered the ipod cuing up her favorite They Might Be Giants song: “I am a Paleontologist.” At first I zoned out and just enjoyed the music with her. But then somewhere around the second verse I glanced down at my daughter and it hit me that she was pressing an ipod to her ear with one hand and was holding my boob and nursing with the other. She was rocking out with a mobile device while breast-feeding. Suddenly, I could imagine her nursing at twelve, “Oh my god! Jamie was a total bitch to me and I’m like totally depressed because I was going out with David but now he likes Olivia and we’re probably gonna break up and I really need some boobie to take the edge off.”

It was scary!

Later that night I called a friend and recounted the events, “So, Sage was nursing and then she asked to hear “I am a Paleontologist” and started dancing with an ipod while nursing. An ipod!!! If that isn’t a sign that I should stop nursing, I don’t know what is.” My friend listened to the story and then responded quite simply. “You know, it’s funny. I thought you were going to say that you should stop nursing because your daughter can say the word ‘paleontologist.'”

I was silent.

“I guess that makes two reasons.” I said.

So Monday I set out to wean my daughter for real.

When Monday didn’t pan out I shot for Tuesday and when Tuesday came and went it was Wednesday and then Thursday and then Friday and next it was the weekend.

Now it’s Monday all over again. And all over again I nursed her. It’s like I’m a junkie just trying to get that last fix. “It’s one nurse,” I tell my husband, “why can’t I shake it? It’s only one.” But as I hear myself it occurs to me that it’s not “one last nurse” that I’m struggling to let go of, it’s my daughter’s infancy. It’s her dependence. It’s her first words and her first steps. It’s how she used to sleep on my chest. It’s how she once fit in the crook of my arm. It’s the extra soft skin she had above her wrists. It’s the time she stayed up all night just because the world was new and there was so much to look at. It’s the first time she spotted the moon and heard a guitar. It’s how she always tried to close her tiny hands around the wind.

Something about nursing keeps these things real. If I stop, I don’t know where they’ll go.

Still, I know it’s time.

So as I fall asleep I make the promise that I’ve made each night for the past week, “I’ll wean her tomorrow” I say. “Really. Really.

Tomorrow…”

“I NEED TO DRINK BOOBIES!” screams Sage as she crawls into our bed at 4:45 in the morning. “No boobies” I say and then I proceed to give my weaning speech, “I can get you water or milk…do you want water or milk? How about you drink right out of a cup, you’re getting to be such a big girl you don’t even need boobies.”

“I NEED THEM. I NEED THEM” she responds desperately.  Then she begs, “Take them off. Take the boobies off!” like if I’d only give her control of them we could avoid this whole conversation and all get back to sleep. I take a deep sigh, knowing that if I am going to hold my ground there is only one thing I can do. “Sage,” I say wearily,  “how about we just wake up and play?”

“Yeah,” she whimpers. “We can play.” And so the day begins, still dark, so quiet. We go into her bedroom and just stare at each other as we try to adjust to the light. “Maybe boobies, just a little bit?” she asks, as if she just has to be sure that I am for real. My heart sinks. I want to say yes, but that is not my answer, “No boobies.” I respond. Then I rally. I become determined to change the energy. We begin playing and I pull out all the stops to keep her mind off nursing. Complete and utter distraction is my only tactic.

I let her ride me like a horse. We go round and round the apartment till my knees start to give. We dance to Prince. Mostly we dance to “Let’s Go Crazy” and we do go crazy. Every time. I put on play after play, I balance all sorts of things on my head, I pretend to run into the wall and fall down, I bust out the guitar and somehow (even though I only know three chords) I sing every song she knows. I pretend to be Elmo, I pretend to be Miss Piggy, I pretend to be a talking washcloth, a talking snow boot, a talking spoon, a talking binder clip… the routine is elaborate and intense. We both work hard.

At one point during one of the puppet shows or horse rides it strikes me that this game of distraction is not only for her. It exists for me too. I am so utterly insecure about what will happen once I have weaned her. I worry that my magic as a mom is completely dependent upon my boobs. I’m like Sampson about to get his hair chopped off, and I can’t stop thinking about what will happen when it’s gone. Will my daughter still lie on my chest at naptime? Will she still gaze up at me like I’ve got all the answers and am the keeper of all the secrets? Will she still run to me when I round the corner or walk through the door? Will she feel betrayed? Will she lose her spirit of adventure? For the past two years, nursing has been our private language. It’s the way we are quite, calm, and still. It’s how we take each other in at the start of each day.

To stop means that I will have to run after her in order to catch my glimpse.  She is always on the move and I know that this is not going to stop. She is just going to keep getting faster and faster. And time will accelerate too. And soon she’ll have a “do not enter” sign on her door and a diary with a lock. She’ll have a gaggle of friends who all think I’m lame, and a closet full of boxes with little skulls and crossbones on them, and I’ll start finding empty beer bottles hidden in ridiculous places like the laundry machine (in a panic my friends and I did this once), and she’ll start using catchphrases like LOL and OMG except I won’t understand them. And she’ll say “fine” when I ask her how she’s doing, and she’ll say “fine” when I ask her how school was, and she’ll say “whatever” when I ask her to please elaborate on what she means by “fine”.

And so, to avoid thinking of how my two year old will some day become a twelve year old and then a twenty year old I slip on a hat and I twirl a banana and I cheer, “Let’s have a parade!” And on, and on, and on we go…

At my daughters request I nurse a rubber horse every night before bed. I also nurse three dolls, a tiny Elmo puppet and a plastic Big Bird as part of our regular bedtime ritual. On other occasions I have been asked to nurse a fork, a poker chip, a salt shaker, a tiny statue of The Buddha, a slightly larger statue of  The Buddha and a pretend baby bottle (very meta). I have obliged every request. I have nursed Sage on the Subway, while walking through Time Square, in a moving car while still belted into my seatbelt, on playgrounds throughout the country, at a Four H fair (Sage got inspired by watching a pig nurse her piglets), while puppeteering for a show to be aired on national television, in taxi cabs, telephone booths, dressing rooms, moving escalators, and bathtubs. My daughter cries “Boobie! Boobie!” and my tits are out.

When Sage was eighteen months my husband and I decided that we were going to institute a no nursing throughout the night policy. It had simply gotten out of hand and we needed to reclaim the nights.  Instead of a gentle phasing out we decided to go cold turkey. She’d wake up and cry for boobie, we’d rub her back and sing to her and gently whisper “no boobie till morning.” She’d cry louder, we’d sing louder and then slowly, sleeplessly morning would arrive.  After three days of this Sage had had enough. She turned to me at first morning light and said with the angriest look I’d ever seen on her, “I kick you in the eyes, I kick you in the head, I kick you in the feet, I kick you in the mouth.” Then she rolled over defiantly giving me her back. The next night I caved. I nursed her numerous times; I just needed sleep. That morning she woke up and beamed, “Happy Birthday Boobie!” The boobies were back!

When we first brought Sage home from the hospital I would have thought these nursing tales to be utterly impossible.  Every time she nursed, I bled, I screamed. I told everyone that nursing was far more painful than labor; and it was. I cried constantly about it, I met with lactation consultant after lactation consultant. I soaked my nipples in every cooking oil known to man. People would call to congratulate me on the baby and I would just bust out sobbing about how much my boobs hurt. I felt like right out of the gate I was a complete failure as a mom. I could not even provide the most basic of things. In my birthing class they talked about the importance of those early days of nursing, they warned us that this is where bonding began. They showed us videos about how the baby would just shoot right out of the uterus and then begin crawling his way up the mother’s stomach till he found her breasts. He’d root around, basically blind, until he found the nipple. Then he’d nurse and the music would swell. They told us about how the areola became almost black at childbirth. They said that this was so the baby could find the breast right away. “You were born to nurse,” they told us. “Biology is on your side”! So how was I supposed to feel when after several weeks of trying I thought I was going to need a morphine drip if I was ever going to be able to nourish my child.

I called my mother hourly. She swore that around six weeks the pain would just shut off like a switch. She swore it would get better. She swore that she went through the exact same thing. I wanted to tell her to fuck off, but I was usually crying too hard to get the words out.  I hated anyone who had words of encouragement, anyone who had nothing to say on the subject and anyone in-between.  At one point I actually had a friend over who was the mother of two and a nursing rock star. I took my shirt off undid my nursing bra, took out my nipple, put my daughter in my lap and said, “Don’t speak. Just take my boob and put it in her mouth the way it is supposed to go. I pointed to a diagram in my breastfeeding book and said, “Make it look like this!”

Despite my many attempts nothing worked. Then one day, about two months AFTER my mother said it would happen, the pain was gone. She was right, sort of. I became suddenly brave, nursing on my side, nursing with the light off, nursing without some sort of latch diagram open on the table. It was, as my mother had promised, magical.