My daughter Ada, my third and very likely last baby, is thirty months old and just about weaned (I think). The morning feeds have been becoming less frequent as the months pass, and they've been short (though very sweet). And this week it feels as though the end is nigh; this morning she said 'Milks?' when I got her up and I said 'Ok', but she shook her head, and squirmed to get down, and spotted her brother through the banisters, and went off to play instead.
|Ada's first feed, November 2010|
I find myself with mixed emotions: pride when I see how my daughter is growing up and becoming her own person, more separate from me; wistfulness when I recall her babyhood and realise how quickly it has passed; and a gentle sadness that my own experience of breastfeeding, which has brought me so much, in all aspects of my life, is coming to an end. When I wrote up my breastfeeding experiences for my collection of positive breastfeeding stories, Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform (published when Ada was eighteen months old), I concluded: 'It seems strange to think that I might be approaching the end of breastfeeding when it has been so central to our family life over the last few years. There's no doubt I will look back on it as one of my most precious experiences of motherhood.' I feel very lucky to have had almost another year of breastfeeding since I wrote those words, and that Ada has had such a gradual, gentle weaning. It will be fascinating to see whether, as she gets older, she will remember breastfeeding. A few weeks ago, my older daughter, aged six, came into the bedroom in the early morning while I was feeding Ada. 'Mummy!' she exclaimed in shock as she looked at us, 'I'd completely forgotten that you breastfeed Ada! How could I have forgotten that?' We all laughed, but I was struck by how, when we don't have constant reminders, even things that were once a completely integral part of the family 'furniture' can slip into memory.
Ada's favourite book at the moment is The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. We currently read it every single night. It's a beautiful book and the part that brings a lump to my throat, even on the umpteenth reading, is the part where, after the paper dolls have been snipped into pieces by a little boy with scissors, they continue to sing their song:..
'And the pieces all joined together,
and the paper dolls flew...
...into the little girl's memory
where they found white mice and fireworks,
and a starfish soap,
and a kind granny,
and the butterfly hairslide,
and more and more lovely things
I'm hoping that buried in the corners of my children's minds, along with all the other lovely things, there are some memories of breastfeeding that will be there all their lives. As for me, it's not so much a corner of my mind as an overflowing treasure chest.
And in some ways it's definitely not the end of the story: with publishing, writing, peer supporting and campaigning, I think I'll be busy with breastfeeding for a long while yet.