I turned off the bedside light and was quiet for a moment, then said, “I think we’re done nursing.” My husband, who falls asleep practically the moment his head hits the pillow, replied, “Well, you guys had a good run, right?” Then sleepily kissed my forehead in the darkness, turned over and fell asleep.
Sleep didn’t come so easy for me, like it does most nights out of the sheer exhaustion that comes from mothering and working and life in general. There I lay, awake in the dark, with a lump in my throat and a couple stray tears sliding down my face. That was the end of it, with those couple of words to my husband I realized that a major chapter in our lives had ended. For my husband, it was simply the end of my nursing our third baby in a short span of six years. In his eyes this was just a routine transition we had gone through two times before in our parenting journey. No big deal. For me, it was different. Patrick was our last baby. Really, it was the end of an era.
It wasn’t sudden. It was a slow and gradual weaning. Nursing came easy to us the first year of his life, so we were lucky. A couple months after his first birthday, Paddy started to only nurse at bedtime and sporadically in the middle of the night. As we approached 18 months, the bedtime nursing sessions became shorter, and the middle of the night waking became non-existent. In my sleep deprived state, you would think that I would gladly welcome back these full nights of sleep. I did, but with a nagging sense of sadness in the background.
I had fought to keep my supply up so that I could continue nursing beyond the first year. I drank Mother’s Milk Tea religiously every night. I pumped through two business trips, even though I had stopped pumping months ago. Pulling out my retired breast-pump and taking up valuable carry on luggage space. Each time I took a business trip, I thought it would be the end, but it was not. He still snuggled up to me at bedtime and nursed himself into a sleepy state up until his 20th month.
It was a bedtime like any other. On go the pajamas with dinosaurs. Wrestling through teeth brushing. Then snuggling in the rocking chair that we had spent every night in since the night we came home from the hospital. The top of his freshly bathed head smelled sweet all tucked under my chin as we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar. After the book I curled him to my left side, into the crook of my arm, like I had so many hundreds of nights before. He was so big now. The tiny, bald baby that used to fit in the length of my forearm was gone. In its place a tousled blond halo of hair against my chest and chubby legs, smooth and tan from the summer sun, hanging off the side of the chair. He was tired and his eyes were already closing as he began to nurse. After just a couple minutes he held out his small hand for his pacifier, like he usually did when he was done. He stuck it in his mouth, laid his hand on my chest and promptly fell asleep. I knew, at that moment, that it was our last time. It ended so quietly. So completely opposite to how it began, literally seconds after the exhilaration of birth with all it’s excitement and pain and joy, which heralded the beginning of our nursing journey. But I suppose that is the best way for it to end, in the quiet content of dreamy sleep.
It’s these quiet final moments in which I feel the depth of the pain and joy of parenting the most. There is so much joy in knowing everything is going as you had hoped, that you did your best, and now the natural progression of life moves to the next step. But deep down, in the back of your throat, in the pit of your stomach, in the tears that gather in the corners of your eyes to be blinked away, there is the reminder that these are all tiny steps toward their growing up, a parent’s most fervent hope and fear.
My baby is only a year and a half, and of course he still needs me and will for years to come. The end of this chapter is just one of his many tiny steps, or toddles in this instance, down the road to independence. From where we are now it is still a long road, and I will still hold his tiny hands in mine and walk with him for many miles. It’s a road that, thankfully, I cannot even see the end of from here. But I know it’s there, which explains the tears. The end of these chapters remind me that life continues on in the most wonderful and heartbreaking way, and baby, as your daddy says, we sure did have a good run. I’m looking forward to keeping up this marathon alongside you as long as you need me.