If you'd asked me 11 months ago if I was going to breastfeed my baby for a year, I probably would have laughed. And then cried.
Despite the perpetual haze of sleep deprivation, I vividly remember the early days of nursing, when it seemed like that was all I was doing. The middle-of-the-night screaming when I couldn't get her to latch, followed by my own tears of frustration. The constant whir of the breast pump as I worked to keep up my milk supply while the baby learned to nurse properly. The leaking boobs, the smell of sour milk on all of my clothes, the discomfort of engorgement if she slept for too long. The evening cluster feeds, when she'd nurse for hours on end before finally passing out. And the pain, oh the pain...I had blisters in places I didn't even know it was possible to get blisters.
I remember dreading the next feed and desperately wondering if I could palm her off with a soother instead. I remember trying all kinds of strategies to calm her down enough to wait for the milk to let down—swaying, singing, humming, bouncing, walking around....I remember the regular visits to the lactation consultant, the gnawing worry about whether she was getting enough, the continual questioning, "Is this normal?"
I wasn't even taking it day by day; I was taking it feed by feed. Three months of nursing was my goal; six months was my stretch goal.
And then one day, it got a little bit easier. And then a little easier still. Once we got past the three-month mark, I began to feel like I knew what I was doing. (Remember, I never succeeded at breastfeeding my first child, so even though it was my second, I was still a total rookie.)
Then I blinked, and she was six months old.
I blinked again, and now she's a year old.
Obviously, I'm cutting down on the nursing sessions so that I can go back to work without causing her undue stress. I plan to keep breastfeeding in the morning and at night for a while, as long as we're both still happy with the arrangement, but she's getting better with her sippy cup every day and she eats more than her three-year-old sister. She's going to be just fine.
Women don't always talk about the difficulties of breastfeeding—perhaps because we're embarrassed to talk about that part of our anatomy, or because we're too ashamed to admit that something so "natural" may not come naturally. But I think it's important to share the challenges as well as the benefits, so that other women who are struggling know they're not alone. The beginning is hard, but it does get easier.
I never thought I'd breastfeed for a year. But here we are.