Having settled on a breastfeeding routine compatible with my newly pump-free lifestyle (feeds before breakfast on the three mornings each week when I'm home and before bed each evening, thus adding up to a grand total of ten a week), I'd tentatively planned to continue this until around April-ish, give or take a few weeks. The idea was that this would give Katie the extra blast of antibodies over the winter in hopes that it would be at least some protection against the many germs, while stopping at a time when she was (hopefully) too young to have formed any very strong opinions about the way morning and evening routines were expected to go, and thus not likely to be excessively troubled by the sudden absence of nursing.
However, the evening feed was an early casualty of Jamie's toilet training. The first few weeks were pretty intensive and hands-on, with someone needing to take him to sit on the toilet at regular intervals and to hover over him almost constantly in between those trips in order to notice as soon as possible if he wet himself and rush him straight off to the toilet again in hopes that he'd make the connection. Trying to combine this with taking care of Katie was a constant logistical difficulty which peaked at mealtimes and bath/bedtime, the times when we had to be doing something more for her than just keeping half an eye on her with the rest on Jamie. Her bath-and-bed routine was rapidly trimmed to the essentials, and that meant the breastfeeding went. It was no great loss – by then, it was a pretty token feed. I'd started her on a top-up bottle after the breastfeed back when we night weaned, and her interest in being breastfed before it had dwindled to low levels. Neither of us were greatly troubled at stopping that one.
Since her morning feed was before Jamie woke up, I could keep that one going, and thus the breastfeed-through-the-winter goal remained potentially on the cards. However, this did have us down to a mere three breastfeeds a week, and she was hardly getting much to speak of on that regime. She did seem to still be getting the odd mouthful (which does supposedly mean about a squillion antibodies, if pro-breastfeeding polemics are any guide), but, as her thirteenth month progressed, I found myself revisiting the when-should-I-stop decision and reweighing the pros and cons of my original plan.
In the pros column: I still enjoyed nursing, stopping would be the end of an era and was therefore rather sad to anticipate, and there was always the possibility that the milk might be contributing at least some degree of boosting to her immune system (in all honesty, I had to admit that I didn't realistically believe that to be the case by then, but, what the heck, I could be wrong). In the cons column, I didn't know how much longer I'd maintain any sort of supply on this level of nursing; if stopping was inevitable, I'd prefer it to be me rather than my body taking the final decision to call a halt. More importantly, that time first thing in the morning on those three days was about the only time in which Katie had a chance for some un-Jamie-interrupted maternal attention, and, while spending that time nursing was all very nice and I supposed possibly beneficial to her, I did feel she'd reached the age where she'd get a whole lot more benefit from spending it playing together. And, behind all those pros and cons, I simply found myself feeling increasingly strongly that the trajectory of the whole experience was taking us quite naturally to an ecclesiastically time-to-wean point, and that perhaps I should simply accept that that's where I was now. Katie was due to turn fourteen months old on Sunday, January 25th; it seemed like a nice round age to nurse to. By about a week before that I decided I'd keep going until then, then stop.
On January 25th, Katie woke up at some godawful hour of the morning and wouldn't settle. I eventually took her into the bathroom for some painkiller in case she was teething, and then, not wanting to have to get up again if it turned out that hunger was actually the problem, figured I might as well park her on the breast before going back to bed. So I did. Then, when the morning got started properly, we were rushing around enough doing other stuff (Barry's parents were staying and we were heading out to a nearby town for a shopping trip) that I just didn't get a chance to feed her again that morning. I thought, sod it, I'm not having my last ever breastfeed be in a bathroom, and so we had a proper Last Breastfeed on the following Tuesday morning, snuggled up together in my usual armchair downstairs as we had so many times before, and I bid the whole experience a fond and nostalgic farewell (sniff) and prepared myself to do something other than breastfeeding her when we came downstairs on the Saturday morning. Then, on the Friday, she came down with a tummy bug. Oh, what the hell – breast milk is reputed to have healing properties on the gut, there was always the off-chance that she might recover a bit more quickly if I kept breastfeeding her, I'd kept going this long, I might as well keep going for longer. So, instead of stopping, I breastfed her for another week (whether it made a blind bit of difference to how quickly her tummy bug cleared up, I don't know). Which took us through to the week of Friday, 6th February (not March, despite what I previously wrote and have only just noticed – apologies for error, now edited), on which date, as it happened, I had the morning off for one of Jamie's hospital appointments. It snowed heavily most of that week and was snowing again when I came downstairs on the Friday morning; the whole scene was so beautiful and peaceful that, somehow, I couldn't resist breastfeeding just one last time. And so we had a last Last Breastfeed, with the snow falling outside as Katie curled nursing in my lap that one last time.
By which stage, as you can probably imagine, I had something of a "Hmmm… well, let's just wait and see how it goes" reaction to the thought of finally stopping. However, when I did get as far as the actual cessation after all that, it went perfectly smoothly. On the Saturday morning, and on mornings thereafter, I gave Katie a drink of diluted apple juice from a cup before breakfast instead of a breastfeed, which she accepted with perfect equanimity. For the first few mornings of doing this, I went into my study instead of the living room to give her her drink, in hopes that the unfamiliar setting would make the other change in the morning routine less obvious; after that, I just went back to sitting in the same old chair, holding her on my lap to give her her drink. My breasts ached on and off in the weeks after stopping, the
satisfying, untroubling ache of a well-used muscle relaxing into
inactivity. A couple of times Katie did seem to be eyeing them, but she never seemed troubled by their new lack of participation in the morning's events.
And that was it for both of us. After two children, an aggregate total of two and a half years of lactation, and several gallons of milk donation, my breasts have gone into honourable retirement. It wasn't quite the ending I'd originally planned, and I'm glad it wasn't; I'm so tired of planning parenting goals, of obsessing over whether I'm doing things Right according to some irrelevant or invented standard, of turning parenthood into a project. This time, I let go of all the goals and went with what was right for us. After the obsession and stress and misery of the first time around, I got exactly what I most wanted for my second and last experience of breastfeeding; a straightforward, relatively uncomplicated experience. And now, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it's been that way from the start right through to the straightforward, uncomplicated end.