I didn’t really know what to expect when it came to nursing my second daughter. I hadn’t nursed my first one for various reasons and so I was a complete novice when it came to breastfeeding the second.
No one warned me how hard it would be those first few weeks. The falling asleep at the feed, the learning to suck, the breast infections, the cuts and sores and creams and ointments and shields and engorgements and leaks. I felt like I was visiting the doctor once a week for all sorts of ailments, and it was not fun.
But after a good three months of sticking with it, I finally felt like I had reached my comfortable rhythm. I was still dealing with clogged ducts every couple of weeks, and my baby had acid reflux so there were dietary issues to contend with, but she was getting better and so was I.
But I never loved breastfeeding. I say that openly, because when I have told it to friends, it was almost a conspired whisper in which some of them admitted, “Me neither!” It wasn’t that “bonding” experience for me that so many women speak of, it wasn’t more convenient than a bottle, and it actually made me feel like some kind of human milk factory (which is essentially what I’d become).
I didn’t enjoy it at all, but somewhere along the way, probably soon after we finally figured out how to deal with her acid reflux, my baby began to absolutely love it. It was definitely that bonding experience for her, and it was her go-to for comfort, for closeness, for “mommy time.” And as she grew and it became less of a chore and more of a shared experience, I hated it less and tolerated it more.
I still didn’t love breastfeeding, but I did love the way my daughter would excitedly run to nurse from me before she went to bed, after she woke up (and many times in between!), and when she hurt herself or was generally out of sorts. And after a while, I began to wonder how on earth I would ever stop. She was extremely fond of my milk, and her 1-year-old birthday came and went with her very much attached to nursing.
“When she does stop,” I would say, “I’ll be fine with it. I don’t see her stopping anytime soon and I don’t know how to stop her… but I’m OK with her nursing as long as she is happy to, and when she decides she’s had enough, one day, that will be very easy for me to accept.”
Well, it happened.
“One day” came. I realized I hadn’t nursed her the entire day. As we settled on the bed for her evening “snack,” I was actually gratified when she lay back in my arms and wanted to nurse. She went to sleep and the days followed…
A few days later, we went upstairs to have a nap and as usual, I offered to nurse her. To my shock, she shook her head “no” very firmly and reached for her pacifier which was in my hand. Quite numb, I gave it to her and put her down in her crib, where she promptly went to sleep.
“It was a one off,” I told myself, surprised that I even needed the reassurance. But I did.
Over the course of the next week, my baby, now 14.5 months, refused most of her usual feedings. A few nights of bad teething had her up multiple times at night, and at these times, she did accept the comfort of nursing, but no more was the bedtime snuggle at my breast, gone was the morning feed before she got dressed and ran to play.
Something inside me is balking at these changes. As much as she became a big girl the moment she took her first steps two months ago, this sudden transition from breastfed to independence is finding me catching my breath at the passage of time and how quickly my baby has grown up.
I am torn up inside, marveling at the maturity that has come along with her weaning and also yearning for that baby to be cradled in my arms again. I know that one day, at the right time please God, I hope to nurse another baby, but for the present moment, she is my baby. And she has suddenly shown me that she is well on her way to growing up.
Be still my heart, for every step that she takes in her independence. I remind myself of the role we play as our children’s mothers; we may start off as their sole source of comfort, nutrition, warmth, and security, but our eventual goal is to guide them to finding their own way, their unique path, and to watch that journey from a widening distance as they grow up into people that we can one day be proud of. Already I see her determined personality, her obvious streak of stubbornness, her ability to let those around her know exactly what she wants without any words at all. Watching your baby become a person is intriguing and wondrous and also terrifying.
In the meantime, I am grateful that she is weaning herself in a gradual, slow process. I find myself savoring the random feeds my baby has been “allowing” me. I am holding on to them and at the same time, slowly letting go.