This is the story of the night I stopped breastfeeding my oldest son and what PPD had to do with it.
I haven’t really shared this whole story before. Not in its entirety, anyway. And not because it’s a hard story or particularly shameful, but rather that—like a lot of things where PPD is involved—at the time I didn’t really realize the role it played.
This isn’t about struggling with breastfeeding (I didn’t) or how it contributed to sleep deprivation (it did, but that’s not why I stopped) or medication (though admittedly one of the reasons I avoided medication for so long was that I was still nursing; now I know better, and that there are safe medications to take while breastfeeding). No, this is mostly about hitting.
I’ve written here before about how physical a child my first is, and how difficult that has been for me. He really was that way from early on; he had two teeth by the time he was three months old and it was around that time that he first bit me while nursing. When he was eight months old he went through a phase where he bit me, hard and often, and it lasted for weeks. Nothing I tried deterred him but I was stubbornly unwilling to quit nursing him at that age, so I continued on.
When he was 11 months old my maternity leave ended and I went back to work. He was still nursing at that point, so I figured we’d just transition into three times a day – in the morning, after work, and at bedtime. The after-work session lasted two days, maybe three. My return to work—and subsequent re-entry through our front door in the evening—left him unsettled, I suppose, though the only way you would have known it was that my attempts to let him nurse were met with a lot of wiggling and some biting. I quickly decided it wasn’t working very well, and dropped that session.
A couple of months later, the morning nursing session disappeared too. I can’t really remember the reason for that one, though I suspect it had to do with sleep deprivation and the fact that I was having lots of visits with him during the night and no longer really felt like having a cuddle in the morning.
The common thread with the ending of both of those breastfeeding sessions was that I was overwhelmed – with the physicality of motherhood, with tiredness, with change. For the better part of a year I had fought to find my equilibrium with a baby I couldn’t figure out, every bit of anger, every flinch, every wave of tension in my shoulders fuelled by unacknowledged and untreated postpartum depression. I couldn’t cope.
And then came that night when he was 16 months old. We had continued on nursing at bedtime, and that time of day was rough. After a day at work, I needed space and quiet and time alone, and I didn’t get it. Instead I fed and bathed a rambunctious toddler and got him ready for bed, knowing that actually getting him to go to sleep might take hours. And before I finally found quiet at the end of the day I had to nurse a child who had a habit of scratching and pinching and slapping me across the face.
On that night, when he was 16 months old, I’d had enough. He was especially physical that night, and when he slapped me across the face I thought, Enough. I’ve had enough. So I stopped. That night was the last time I nursed him. I simply stopped.
I’m not actually sure he even noticed, and he certainly won’t remember. But I do. In the four years since I’ve thought countless times about that night and the abrupt ceasing of something that was meant to be beautiful. That, for a time, was beautiful.
It’s another thing that PPD took from me, and my tears as I write this remind me of what that means. We had a good run, I know, and I have no guilt for stopping when I did. I just wish it could have happened another way.