I am writing this post on the run, because in my particular profession this week is holy (and by that, I am supposed to mean something churchy like, "set apart," and "filled with meaning," and "intentional," and I do, but what I also mean is more like, "HOLY FREAKING WEEK I have no idea how all this stuff is going to get done").
I went to a worship service today for pastors, in which a local bishop preached a really wonderful sermon, the kind that makes you realize that even though you are so worn out you could fall asleep on your feet, you are glad you braved the rain and got in the car and ate fruit candy for lunch so you could get there mostly on time. (By mostly, I mean that I got there five minutes late during a part of the service when everyone was facing the back, so I walked in panting from having run up the street and there's the whole congregation looking right at me, which is just. sheer. awesome. in that particularly humiliating way.)
Anyway. During the sermon, he started talking about how grateful he was for everything that pastors do, and how hard it can be, and I sat there thinking of all the things I have to do in the next few days and I started to cry. Not sobbing, choking tears or anything - more like rapid eye-blinking and then a few tears down my cheek because I am a mainline Protestant and we don't really get all emotional in church - but there it was. Crying. In church. It has been awhile since I did that.
I don't entirely know why, really, because it's not that I feel underappreciated in my life. I mean, life is insanely busy right now, and there have been a few bumps in the road over the past month, but nothing life-altering, nothing terrible. Nothing that makes you want to get in the car and drive to a whole different city and set up shop someplace where no one knows your name. Just normal hard. Regular hard, like everyone's lives, which maybe is the thing - it just seemed, on that rainy morning, like everybody in the world should get to sit down in a warm room with beautiful music and a kind person standing up in the front saying to you, thank you. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for all the things nobody knows that you do. Thank you for being. This doesn't happen much in life. Which is a shame.
And when I got in the car, I realized that maybe part of my crying was about the fact that, a few days ago, we stopped breastfeeding. I had been hanging on, telling myself and anyone else who wanted to know (as well as people who probably didn't) that I was going to keep on nursing because Baby Girl and I are taking a trip to the midwest in the next few weeks, flying by ourselves, and I wanted to be able to nurse her if I needed to get her to sleep on the plane, or help her ears pop, or generally just stop the screaming, that kind that only seems to happen in small enclosed places where you have to keep your seatbelt on. That after we got back from the trip, we would work on the final weaning, because I am going on a trip in May for a week without her, and I wanted her to be done nursing by then so that she wouldn't miss me and mama milk at the same time.
But it was a big lie. BIG. Because I think she's probably been done for awhile. We were only nursing at night, and that was fine. A few days ago, my husband put her to bed and I realized that she hadn't nursed all day. The next day, he did bedtime again because I had evening meetings, and I realized it: it's over. She hasn't asked for two, maybe three days. I had this idea that I would pick a day to finish so that I could have that experience one last time, take in every second of it, mourn the loss and say goodbye to that whole piece of our mother-child story, and it didn't happen. We just stopped.
She's fine, but I am not. I am mourning it like I can't believe. I mean, breastfeeding is, hands down, the hardest damn thing I have ever done in my life, and if you had told me during the first eight weeks of her life that, at seventeen months, I would still be nursing and having a hard time giving up, I would have told you that you had lost your fucking mind. So. Hard.
But then it wasn't so hard after awhile, and then it was wonderful, and now it's over, and all I can think about is that I may never get to do that again - not with her, for sure, but maybe not with anybody, and it was the only thing my infertile body ever did on its own with regard to reproduction. I loved it. I loved it more than I could ever have imagined, and I am the only person in the world who is going to remember what it was like, at 2:00am, before naptime, to soothe her crying, to help with teething, to say ni-night - I am the only memory bank for this experience. She won't remember. She'll never know how much it meant to me.
She will never say thank you for it, and I couldn't possibly care less. It's something I did out of sheer love, and it meant everything, and I never wanted or expected to be thanked for it. You know what? That kind of thing never happens. Really. Remember that episode of Friends where Phoebe bets Joey that she can find a selfless good deed and then she can't? The thing doesn't exist.
The bishop stood up there and thanked us for all the invisible stuff, all the hard moments no one else sees, and I cried partly because that doesn't happen very often and partly because, in this holy week, I am letting go of the most beautiful of invisible, hard things I have ever known. Breastfeeding is the holiest thing I have ever done. It was sheer incarnational love, as we say in the church - love given flesh, made real. JesusMaryandJoseph it was painful too, the way holy love usually is. It was, occasionally, highly inconvenient. And publicly embarrassing too, once she started to throw the Chic Mom Cover off us and twist her head around to look at the world, leaving me hanging out for the world to see.
Now she is off into the world, without that last bit of me attached. I am so grateful for her health, for all the happy growing up she does, for the ways she is discovering the world - but oh, my child, someday I hope you find something you love, something you do because it fills you with joy, something you want to do and being thanked never enters your mind - because, let me tell you, there is nothing better. I love you.