The other photo is this.
She was so tiny and hungry. Sometimes she nursed all day and all night, in the early days.
I always intended to nurse past a year old, but I had no idea that I would still be nursing my baby years later, long past her babyhood, and well into the time of a walking talking school-attending little girl.
I nursed Ella day in and day out, night after night, through illness, bad days, blizzards, hot summers, in subways, on trains, in restaurants, at zoos, concerts, empty grad school classrooms. I nursed her to soothe hurts and hurt feelings, tantrums and nightmares, tummyaches and sore throats. I nursed her when I didn't feel like it, and I nursed her in the quiet early dawn when there was nothing I'd rather be doing.
I nursed her when she could only ask for the breast with little guttural whimpers and ostentatious sucking sounds, and I nursed her when she could walk right up to me in her little mary janes and say, "mama, would you mind please nursing me?"
In three and a half years, though it became less frequent, we never missed one single day of nursing.
I don't really miss it, the tight way I was bound to her. It wasn't easy. Sometimes, in my worst moments, I imagined Ella and I were like Chang and Eng, the famous conjoined twins, claustrophobic and entwined. Then sometimes I was afraid I would lose something irretrievable when I weaned her. And I thought surely I would be like a soldier with phantom limb twinges, that the ghost of my nursing baby would haunt me forever, the pull at my nipples felt at odd moments like a visceral flashback.
And yet, it was okay in the end, the weaning, that separation. I got my breasts back all to myself (with more than a sigh of relief), she learned other ways to soothe herself, and is an independent and self-confident girl.
I think it was the best and rightest thing I have done in my life.