Breastfeeding is one of those things which looked very different to me before becoming a mother, compared to what I ended up actually experiencing after my babies were born. That and many other things.
Wanting to breastfeed in general felt like a natural choice for me when my first child was born. I know this is not an obvious choice, or even possibility for everyone, and I believe this is a personal choice that each and every mother makes based on her wishes and circumstances.
In my case, the process of starting to breastfeed was very smooth and natural. My daughter latched on shortly after she was born - and there she stayed!
Before becoming a mother I had this image of breastfeeding as something which would naturally happen every few hours during the day when the baby would be hungry, and I had some vague idea (based on nothing special) that this would continue until my baby would be about one year old, and then we would stop, because that's what people do. Right?
In reality, my baby latched on and seemed like she never wanted to stop breastfeeding ever. Those first months turned into a 24/7 breastfeeding blur, while I was also reading up on research and the experience of others, trying to wrap my head around this new reality I found myself in.
Slowly I accepted that my objective pre-baby opinions had little purpose in my new life, and I tried to give in to my mothering instincts, and open my mind to the many possible breastfeeding options available to me. For me this meant breastfeeding on demand around the clock, and using breastfeeding not just as a means of getting nutrition into my baby, but also as a means of comforting her, helping her sleep, or reconnecting after time apart.
I ended up breastfeeding her for almost 3 years. That arbitrary one year mark lost it's importance along the way.
I had decided that I would continue breastfeeding her for as long as it felt right for both of us. Part of me hoped that I would be able to continue until she would be ready to self-wean.
However, during my second pregnancy, I slowly started to feel that breastfeeding my oldest became more and more difficult for me. Something in me started to want to reject her requests to breastfeed, as if my mind and body was trying to make more space for the new baby who was soon to come. I was struggling, but I did not have the heart to tell her no. I thought that maybe my feelings were due to pregnancy hormones, and if I just pushed through until the new baby was born, perhaps my mindset would change and I would be able to continue breastfeeding them both. So that's what I did, I pushed through.
My son was born, and I attempted tandem-nursing. This went on a for a few weeks. But unfortunately my negative feelings towards my older daughter breastfeeding did not go away. In addition, she went from having been okay with nursing once or twice a day, to wanting to nurse every time her newborn brother did.
I had to admit to myself that that point had come, when breastfeeding was no longer right for both of us. I had to realize that our breastfeeding relationship was not just about her needs and her being ready to stop or not, it was also about my feelings and my ability to cope. So with as much love and compassion I could, I sat down to explain to her that the time had come for her to stop breastfeeding. I decided to be honest, and said that it was too hard for mommy to breastfeed both her and her new brother, and right now her brother needed it more.
The process of weaning her was not easy for either one of us. Every time she asked and I said no, again explaining the reasons, I felt guilty and my heart ached for my daughter and our almost three year long breastfeeding journey. But I also knew this was the right thing for both of us now, and I felt happy she was old enough for me to be able to talk her through it.
I am now continuing my breastfeeding journey with my son. We also past that arbitrary one-year mark by now, and we will continue for as long as it feels right to both of us - a goal that changed it's meaning after my daughter was born, and then changed again after my son was born. As I reflect on this, I realize the beauty in all what we can learn about life and ourselves, our capabilities and limitations, through our children.