Weaning Mama

An era is coming to an end.

I love breastfeeding. I have to say it. Sometimes, when I’m feeling low, I almost hope that Phoenix will want some milk. It lifts my spirits, it connects me to my son, and it’s one of the only times he sits still, looking into my eyes, resting in my arms like he was still a baby. It doesn’t seem that long ago, that I was calling my mom to bring over her crock pot to make warm compresses to ease the crazy milk flow that descended three days after his birth. I was always a milk machine, I could have nursed triplets. I didn’t get stretch marks on my belly, but instead got them on my breasts, when my poor little size A pre-pregnant breasts grew to a size DOUBLE holy-cow-I-can’t-believe-it D at full tilt. Jugs, in every sense of the word.

For many weeks, every time my family got together, my breasts were the centerpiece of most conversations. It was startling, to me, and to others, their transformation. But I just beamed. I felt like a huge success. I was making milk. Tons of it, in fact. I had watched and supported enough other mamas to know that it wasn’t always this easy. My baby was growing, and after the first week (which hurt quite a lot), I actually enjoyed feeding him in this strange and wonderful, and oh so animal way.

Going back to work was probably the most difficult part of breastfeeding for me. My job, working with mamas, lends itself to understanding, but also has unique challenges. Like sneaking away from a mama in labor to say “I’m sorry, I know you’re having a baby right now, but I’ve got to pump for a minute, I’ll be right back.” Or getting out the manual pump in the office with Tina, my employee, and saying “do you mind if I just pump right here?” and watching her politely mask her horror as my nipple was pulled to two inches long before her eyes. When we are nursing we are brought so instantly and profoundly into our mammal self. Even in the middle of a work day.

I remember at thirteen months, when Phoenix suddenly decided he needed milk at 2:00am again. Wracked with Working Mama guilt, I reasoned with myself “Well, he’s in day care all day, he must need me at night” and proceeded to knock over the tiny sand castle of mental health I had been building up for a few short months. My husband and I would strategize ways to get him back sleeping through the night, and our plans would crumble as I heard my baby boy cry. I’d watch myself run to his crib, thrust my breast into his mouth, to ease both of our frazzled nerves. My husband would look at me as I came back into the bedroom and say, “How did it go in there?” Sheepishly, I would confess, “I fed him.”

And then I remember at seventeen months hitting the wall, and realizing that a happy healthy mama was better than a little milk in the night. We talked with sleep consultant Eileen Henry, came home and carefully explained to Phoenix the new “plan” of no more middle-of-the-night milk. I expected tears, trauma, and deep emotional scarring, and braced myself for the worst night of my life. I awoke to the sun pouring in to our room, amazed that he slept perfectly. And he hasn’t looked back.

I always thought I would nurse for two years, as long as it was going well for both of us. I don’t know where I came up with that number. I’ve heard that monkey mamas begin to push their monkey babies away around one year. Two felt very generous. As I write this, I realize I am only weeks away from my son’s second birthday. I knew it was coming. In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago that he was born, in other ways it seems like two days. My little son can actually say, when prompted, that he’s about to turn “two!” with his two chubby fingers pointed out. So, here we are… and we’re still nursing. Mostly just before bed, or nap, if we are together.

A few times this year, his interest seemed to be waning, but I was the one that wasn’t ready, so I would create “cave time” making the nursery dark and quiet, to limit distractions. Later, I added fun songs to sing while we nursed. I guess I thought that I could talk him into nursing for exactly two years, and that his interest would magically go away after we blew out the birthday candles and sent everyone home on his second birthday.

One of the things compelling me to wean now is the thought of getting pregnant again. At an acupuncture appointment this week, I was told my blood was deficient (that always feels good), and that it might be nice to give my body a little break. Funny how I couldn’t really think of taking that break for myself, but when it comes to taking care of my next baby, I better get serious! Mamas will do anything for their children, even the ones that aren’t here yet.

But I don’t know if he’s ready to wean… or really, if I am.

When I think of ending this special time, I feel the loss, and the end of a profoundly connected time. I wonder if he will still know how much I love him? For me personally, I have never felt a more complete expression of love than creating a special blend of nutrient rich milk and feeding it to my child through my own body. Holding him in my arms, head leaning into my heart, eyes gazing into mine. Cuddling up and reading a book together just doesn’t feel the same to me. And I also dread not giving him something he wants, the worst possible thing for any mama. I want to give my son everything and more. I want him to not need anything. I want him to go to sleep so full and surrounded by my love that he never doubts that he is extraordinary. I want to nurse his confidence, nurse him back to health, nurse him when he falls down, nurse his wounds. I want to tell him how glad I am that he is here, how grateful I am that he chose me to be his mama, how amazed I am to actually be on this journey with him, through every drop of sweet, warm milk.

And I know I can’t nurse him forever.

I know all things come to an end, and it is time to let him grow, and let my body recover fully. I know I need to learn and explore the next ways to express my love to him. To snuggle him, sing to him, maybe make him a scarf, or a soft toy. I will learn new ways to show him that he’ll always be my little man, no matter how big he gets. I know I’ll also have just that little bit more time for those things, or… potentially even some time for me, as his needs shift, and we are not nursing every day.

We give birth, and then live into a series of separations, as our babies slowly move farther and farther away from us. And if we want them to be great, and we want to be great mamas, we welcome this separation. I know one day I will watch him walk out of my home, and into the life that only he can live, without me holding his hand. And if I am a good mom, I will let him go, and stand by, gracefully, as I watch my son become a man. And then step back into the house and have a good cry.

Well… maybe one more week.

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