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When I got pregnant the first time, I was determined to be a nursing mother. I read all the books about breast-feeding, how it provides all the right nutrients for growing brains, how nursing promotes a strong mother-child bond, how it gives the child antibodies galore.

All true.

After all that homework, however, I had zero success breast-feeding my first child. The hospital lactation consultant tried for hours, but my daughter would not latch. (That’s techno-speak for when a child attaches to one of your most sensitive parts of your body with the grip of a piranha.)

I was determined not to give her a bottle. But she was starving and she was angry. I finally gave up after two days. She latched onto that fake nipple like she’d seen the Trinity emerging from the heavens. She was happy, finally, but I felt like such a failure.

But you know what? She turned out fine.

When my second child came into the picture, I was determined to nurse. This time? Sweet success.

Truthfully, I didn’t have much of a choice with the second one. He refused to take a bottle — ever. When he was born, the doula placed him on my chest. He wriggled his way up to the breast like a salmon swimming upstream and latched on firmly, without any prompting.

And then he didn’t want to let go.

I had to go to a La Leche League meeting to find out how to wean him. Surely, I reasoned, they would be the best resource to help me wean my son. I walked in confidently.

“Hi, I’ve been nursing for two years now, and I need some advice on weaning him,” I said. “Can you help?”

To judge by the horrified expressions on their faces, you’d think I’d offered to decapitate their children.

I slunk out and never went back.

How did I finally wean him? He caught his first cold at age 2. I guess those breast-milk antibodies worked. You can’t simultaneously breathe and nurse if you have a seriously clogged nose. At the end of his cold, I told him the milk had run out. We were only nursing at bedtime at that point anyway, and I was able to substitute a book and snuggle time for milk time.

And you know what? He turned out fine too.

Just like parenting, you can’t really describe nursing. You just jump in with both feet.

Or both breasts.

I’m not going to lie to you — it just plain hurts the first two weeks. But once you pass that stage, it doesn’t hurt anymore.

I’ve woken up with blood streaks on my pillow. I endured mastitis — which sounds like something a cow would have, not a nursing mother.

I discovered cabbage leaves in your bra really do help alleviate the pain of engorgement.

I found that having your breasts leak every time you hear any crying child is fun, especially in front of your visiting neighbor. Not.

Finally, know that half of your friends will despise you for nursing so long. The other half will despise you for weaning so soon. You will get useful advice, crazy advice and annoying, useless advice. Just do what works for you.

But your child will be fine.

When you are nursing, your breasts become faucets and fridges, more useful than alluring. I’m very glad I nursed one child, and I wish I’d been able to nurse the other.

I did my best. And my breasts are my own again. This time, for keeps.

There’s more!

Follow Karen on Twitter @KarenLeeGamble. Read additional Renaissance Mom columns here. You can also follow Karen’s blog here.

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