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The End Of Breastfeeding (Featuring A Pair Of Great Tits)

A heavy frost had settled overnight. The sun crept over the cottage roof across the lane and the frost crept back towards the slates in the shade. I was wondering how the crooked aerial was still clinging on to the crooked chimney stack, as Little Juniper sat on my lap and watched the news channel. I croaked Mr. Juniper’s name, managed to say it with just enough volume for him to hear from the kitchen. He came through and I broke down. I had been saying for months that maybe the end of our breastfeeding journey was nigh. Staring out the window, I knew the day had come.

I’m not sure how long I cried for. Half an hour, maybe more. I managed to say through the tears that I couldn’t do it any longer. Little Juniper seemed to wonder why I was making such a fuss and instead watched the reporters talk about job losses at the ship yards. I don’t know what the thoughts were that led to me calling for Mr. Juniper. What I remember was the feeling. The feeling that I couldn’t do it any longer. The “it” being expressing breastmilk for Little Juniper. To begin with, Mr. Juniper didn’t say much beyond soothing words. Goodness knows what the poor man was saying, I just kept crying.

I was tired, so very tired. Little Juniper has been teething like it’s going out of fashion. Even Juniper Puss has been cautious about coming to bed, he jumps up onto the bed, pads up near Little Juniper, then looks at me as if to say, “If he’s in a yelling mood, I’m off to Juniper Junior’s bed.” I was too tired to cry for long. Eventually, I managed to talk. At least, talk in that slightly strangulated way that comes after crying. Mr. Juniper had heard it all before, but I was putting it together into one big acknowledgement: all the reasons I couldn’t carry on expressing. Or rather, all the reasons I couldn’t put myself through expressing any more.

“Do you want me to call your mum?” said Mr. Juniper. “I just want you and the boys,” I said, before realising he meant my mother could come down and pick up Juniper Junior from school later in the day. It could almost be guaranteed that this would be the day that whilst waiting at the school gate, someone would ask how feeding was going. I’d like to think I would have smiled sweetly and said we were doing well. But all I wanted was to be at home. To be gentle with myself for once. I agreed that maybe it would be wise for my mother to come down, and with that, Mr. Juniper disappeared to the kitchen to call my parents. I can’t remember what he said, I just remember hearing the tone of his voice. It was his “I’m worried about Juniper” voice. He came back through saying that my mother would be over later. He hugged me some more and my composure broke again.

This decision had been coming for a long time. Mr. Juniper said gently that he knew I’d been trying everything, that I couldn’t have done more. My darling husband, these days he is quite well informed about galactagogues and pumping schedules. Little Juniper hasn’t fed at the breast since he was about 16 weeks old. He’s 8 months old now. We snuggle up in bed together. We’re wrapped up together every day. And I still felt like I’d failed. This fundamental and defining act of motherhood was something I had not succeeded at. When my mother arrived, one of the first things she said was, “Don’t do what your grandmother does, Juniper. Don’t think that you’re a failure!” My desire not to turn into my grandmother was all the push I needed to think of trying to celebrate our breastfeeding journey instead of mourning it. I managed a year with Juniper Junior, and I’ve managed 8 months with Little Juniper.

I mean “our” journey, too. Breastfeeding is something we have gone through as a family. Are the boys aware of this journey? No, I guess not. Though Juniper Junior did wonder this morning if Little Juniper was wanting “my milk.” “No,” I said, and changed the conversation. Mr. Juniper, though, is very aware of what this journey has involved. It is going to take time for my decision to really sink in, I think. Things had been going down hill for some time, so the physical ramifications are going to be minimal if any, I suspect. The emotional side of things is going to take longer. I can feel myself grieving, but I am also realising that, in hindsight, I have been grieving for some time. This is not a decision that has come out of nowhere. It has been a decision slowly forming over weeks and months. It is a decision entangled in so much more than my mammary glands.

In light of that, I am trying to focus on a small piece of humour within all this. In our household, we often celebrate and remember with artwork. And so, I told Mr. Juniper that I wanted to commemorate our breastfeeding journey with a piece of artwork featuring a pair of Great Tits. He smiled, and agreed that it sounded like a good idea. The artwork will live in our bedroom, as that is our sanctuary. I want to celebrate the humour and happiness of our breastfeeding journey. I want to celebrate what nature can do. Above all else, I want to do so privately. For Mr. Juniper and I, there is so much of this journey that has been painful and distressing. And I want to grieve in private. I want to think about our journey on my terms. With traditional breastfeeding art, I wouldn’t have that freedom. With ornithological art, I can find peace at my own pace. I can find peace with a pair of Great Tits.

A picture of two Great Tits.
A pair of Great Tits. (Credit: Shirley Clarke and Fordingbridge Camera Club)

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

10 replies on “The End Of Breastfeeding (Featuring A Pair Of Great Tits)”

Great piece, Juniper. It made me think of my aunt. She’s gone now, but I remember her trying so hard to breastfeed my cousin Grace and just not being able to do it at all. She felt really down about it at the time, but she and Grace were as close as a mother and daughter can be. Anyway, it’s great that you were able to for a little while since that’s what you wanted, and I hope the artwork (I giggled) and your fam helps with finding peace. :)

That’s lovely to hear – thank you for sharing! It’s always so lovely to hear of mother and daughter bonds being strong, regardless of breastfeeding working. Thank you for the kind wishes, too! I’m still on the hunt for artwork, but I think peace is coming, and I am more than ready for it. x

I could have written a lot of this. I read your post while hooked up to my breastpump. Little dude never latched, so I’ve been pumping since he was born, and it’s super hard. I’m not quite ready to give up, but I think about doing so everyday.

Congratulations on making it as far as you did! I hope you find closure/peace soon.

It is hard, and I don’t think pumping gets quite the recognition it deserves. I really did think about stopping pumping for an incredibly long time, but when the time came, I really did know for certain.

Thank you for the kind wishes! I hope the decision making process is kind to you when the time comes. x

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