We’ll go until the trip, then it’s time.

It was a promise I made to myself in November and as I made it I felt a relief so pure it made me sick. No more breastfeeding. Briar nursed for 18 months, allowing me two months before Avery’s arrival to recuperate. Avery is now just shy of 20 months, the new baby will be here in seventeen weeks. I am loathe to admit defeat or the need for help, often to a fault. And though I am not sure that I am ready, I know that it is time. The last few weeks have been excruciating in their exquisite clarity, the reality of my physical limits tries my soul.

I am raw with mourning and fatigue. My breasts, for so long a source of energy and pride, nourishing two incredible girls, seeing them through from that first tentative suckle amidst scratchy, faded blue bed sheets and gawking nursing students to honey-hued moments carved in moonlight, burn as if in the last mile of a marathon. Whimpers in the night, gentle fingers at my side, and the silky head pushing against me and a whispered, “mowk” all make me cringe. The thought of nursing makes me burn, the sharp darts of pain that shoot from right breast, or the slow-building ache on the left, they radiate even before her lips are upon me. The baby inside turns, not a thrash, but not an easy swirl, either.

Last night as I carried Avery to her room I braced for what I knew was an inevitable milestone. An ending. My bare feet met the soft braided rug, the warm glow of night-lights enveloped us and we swayed together on the eve of a new year. I wanted the moment to go unmarked, just another goodnight, but for all its simplicity and purity, there is an inherent heartache in each moment.

Her little hands squeezed into my back, her head pressed against mine and then tilted, her dark blue eyes bore into me and she whispered, “Mowk,” and smiled, as sure that she would nurse as she was that I loved her.

“No, honey. Mama doesn’t have any more milk,” I held my breath as she looked at me, her eyes searched mine, “No milk?” they seemed to ask. I rocked us side to side, my body oddly rigid, trying to hold us up, and then she laid her head upon my shoulder and twirled my hair against her face. I collapsed inside, relief and sorrow twisting, as her body formed to mine. Hearts beating against one another, she found solace in my arms, something I had hoped for, but had not believed could pass.

I laid her in her crib and cooed as she whispered, “mama” into her sheets. She pulled her knees to her chest and stretched her arms out, one hand clasping her baby doll’s neck and the other pressing Cookie Monster into her beloved pink bear. “Mommy?” she called. “Yes, baby,” I replied as part of our routine, “Mommy?” and then “Right here, baby.” She sighed and declared contentedly, “Mommy.”

I crept into the hallway and leaned against the wall, my bare arms pinching as I slid to the floor. I waited, willing her to call for me. Stop me, stop this. We can go back. I waited in silence. The eerie quiet of fresh snowfall rang in my ears, the muted voices of merrymaking downstairs and then the sound of her steady breathing. My forehead sank against the molding and I wept as she fell asleep without me.

I am so proud of her, of us, but the ache I feel on this first morning of a new year, a year without nursing my Avery, is unlike anything I have ever felt before.

I am bereft.