I can’t tell yet if it was harder to quit smoking or to quit breastfeeding. I smoked for over 15 years. I’ve been nursing for over 15 months. I had my first cigarette as a 16-year-old, on a teen tour in Israel. On our flight back to New York, the smokers in my group would take turns sitting in the back row seats of our El Al flight puffing away, as you could still smoke on international flights in the early-mid 1990s. I liked smoking from my first inhale. The occasional high school drag behind the football stadium and after Hebrew High on a Wednesday night quickly transitioned into a half-a-pack a day habit when I spent a year on kibbutz before college. This was back in the days when kibbutzim included a carton of Noblesse as part of the monthly taksiv (allowance) members and volunteers received, in addition to unlimited visits to the chadar ochel (dining room) buffet and laundry service.
I smoked in college, and after college, traveling abroad, and as a young adult professional. I smoked way beyond the time all my friends quit. My husband never smoked, and finds it to be the ultimate in disgusting habits. While we were seriously dating, I cut way back and tried a few times to fully quit. I read the “How to Quit Smoking Book” and could go a week or two at a time before I would crack and sneak a cigarette. After we got married I was down to the very occasional smoke, bumming from people on the street, offering someone $2 for one cigarette after meeting up with a friend for dinner and drinks when my husband wasn’t around. Truth be told, I didn’t totally quit smoking until I found out I was pregnant.
Of course, I shouldn’t compare quitting smoking with trying to stop breastfeeding. But, aside from the fact that smoking is the worst thing you can do for your body and breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for someone else’s body … the emotions and amount of time I think about and feel conflicted about both are strangely similar. I really loved smoking and if it wasn’t terribly smelly, deadly, and corrupt industry, and super expensive (a pack of smokes is over $10 these days!) – I am a puff away from a half-a-pack a day.
My toddler is nearly 17 months old and is at the point where she definitely knows how to ask to be nursed by tugging at my shirt and saying “BOOB! BOOB! BOOB!” I feel very lucky that she latched on at 5 minutes old and has been a dedicated breastfeeder ever since. It hurt, a lot, the first week, but overall, and compared to many of my friends who’ve nursed, we’ve had an easy go of it. I pumped when I returned to work, and we supplemented formula with my milk because despite my ample D cups, I didn’t produce enough breast milk. Go figure.
My intention was to nurse Charlotte for a year. I’ve found when it comes to my upper-middle-class lady friends and mommy circles, there is a bit of an East Coast/ West Coast rivalry when it comes to the ideal amount of time one should breastfeed. In New York, the goal is a year. Apparently, in the Bay Area, anything less than two years is considered child abuse. Of course I am exaggerating, a little. The debate over whether or not to, if you can or can’t for whatever reason, or how long to, is complicated. For the first year, I felt very encouraged. Now that we are heading towards two years, people keep ask me if I am STILL nursing. Maybe I need a lactation consultant to help me stop.
So why do I want to quit nursing? I want my boobs back. I want to stop nursing two to ten times in the middle of the night to get her back to sleep. I’ve tried twice now to quit when I went out of town and left my daughter with her daddy for a few days. She was just fine. Within a half day of my return, however, my resolve to be finished crumbled as she gazed up at me with her big blue eyes and said, “Mama …booba?”
Will she simply lose interest? Or will I have to paint a monster face on my breast like in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” to wean her for good? Lemon juice on my nipples? Is there a book I can read? I am sure that I won’t nurse as long as I smoked, but much as I could never imagine NOT smoking, I can’t really figure out what NOT nursing is going to look like. Will she ever snuggle with me again? Similarly to quitting smoking, which suppresses the appetite, will I gain five pounds since I am no longer burning those extra calories from breastfeeding when I quit nursing? One thing I am fairly certain of, my boobs aren’t going to magically look like my pre-baby boobs ever again. I do feel like after not smoking for over a year, my lungs are back to their pre-smoking healthy days.
I do miss smoking and think back to the days of sitting in smoky cafes in Montreal or Istanbul and exhaling glamorously. I miss that time in my life. I am sure I will have similar nostalgia for nursing in a couple of years, remembering the way my daughter would look up at me adoringly and twist her hair while she slurped away happily. I’ve pushed away the memories of Febreezing the cigarette stink out of sweaters, so perhaps I’ll also conveniently forget all the times she intentionally bit me and laughed.
So while smoking and nursing seemingly have little else in common aside from the obvious Freudian oral fixation, quitting, for me, is surprisingly similar.