Looking down at my son at my breast, his big eyes staring up at me, one hand in my hair, the other resting softly on my chest. And knowing that this would be our last ever feed, I felt a deep sense of loss. No more quiet moments in the night - just me and him and my husband’s snores. I would never get to breastfeed my baby again.
Yet this ending was also an amazing beginning. Somehow, as I reclaimed my breasts, I rediscovered part of my non-mum identity. Waking the next day, my mind raced as it hadn’t in the last 18 months. I had plans, projects, energy. I had my brain back.
It’s amazing how quickly you forget the pain of labour. The body doesn’t allow you to remember – or you’d never do it again. Just hours after I first held my son in my arms, I could barely remember how a contraction felt. When my son finally arrived, the immediate sensation was relief – relief that the wait, the 28 hour labour, the focus, the pushing, the pain, was over. And my new life could now begin. Of course the pain was only over for a few moments – then it was out with the placenta and in with the stitches, followed by weeks of painful recovery.
After that initial relief came amazement. And confusion. On the journey home from the hospital, a strange sensation. As I looked into a huge car seat dwarfing the tiny creature next to me, I wondered ‘whose baby is that?’ Logically, I knew he was mine of course. But somehow it was too huge a concept to grasp.
The next few months were a challenging time of transition. The lingering pain replaced the intensity of labour and I struggled to absorb my new identity as a mum. I kept thinking back to problems during the birth, I couldn’t sleep – my mum looked after my son for two hours while I wrote every moment of my labour down so I could stop reliving it. It was as if my mind was trying to grasp what had happened, to make sense of this huge change in my life. Having been so defined by my career, I no longer had that role. Instead, I had feeding problems, responsibility for a tiny creature, and no idea whatsoever who I was. I was exhausted. I was lost. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want visitors.
As my wounds healed, I regained energy. I came to connect with my son and with my new identity. Only now I swung too far in the opposite direction. I aspired to be the perfect mum, setting myself the same level of unachievable standards I’d always set myself at work. I embraced the role of mum so wholeheartedly that I lost all sense of who I was before.
While it was a gradual rites of passage, I remember that moment I stopped breastfeeding as the moment I found balance again. My brain literally woke up. I realised that while being a mum was transformational, I didn’t have to change beyond all recognition. I could be a mum, and still be myself. I could care for my child and still enjoy personal challenges and work. The thrill of creating a new project is not so very different to the thrill of creating a new person after all. I now have a four week old daughter and although breastfeeding has already been fraught with difficulties, I’m loving having that connection again. Only this time round, I’m a little closer to finding that elusive balance.