On the night my first child was born, my mother taught me how to breastfeed. I remember the rush of emotion that would come over me every time I nursed him. It was an overwhelming combination of gratitude, fear, and fierce, fierce love.
I’ve spent the better part of these last ten years nursing my children. It’s been a long, winding, sometimes uneven road, but I’m so grateful to have forged this path together. I’ve cherished this time and treasured every last snuggle and nuzzle, even every burp in between. And I’ve loved the quiet intimacy we shared, What a gift this closeness has been.
I’ve always told myself to savor every minute spent nursing, knowing in my heart of hearts that it lasts for what amounts to a mere a moment in time. And yet, even as I embraced these moments with all the joy I could muster, I always felt a bit wistful. (A friend of mine calls this state of mind “nostalgia in the moment.”). Curled up in my nursing chair, I’d often cry tears of swooning happiness, followed by tears of bittersweet sorrow, relishing these immeasurably precious moments even as I acknowledged their passing.
Weaning my children was always emotionally torturous—on my end. I’d spend weeks fretting about whether they would be able to cope with the change; worried they would cry endlessly for days. But it was never them I needed to worry about. My children always did fine. In fact, they did more than fine, so much so that it always shocked me how adaptable they were, no matter how entrenched in routine they might have been.
But I mourned the loss of our sacred time together. I mourned the passing of time and the fleeting nature of even a year-long endeavor. How quickly everything changes and how easily life moves from one stage to the next. It really feels like one minute you are nursing an infant, and the next, sitting next to a young boy at the dinner table. How does it happen? How do days vanish and turn so rapidly into years?
With my first three children, the end of our nursing relationship was tough, but not debilitating. I knew more children were in the cards, so the possibility and potential to nurse again was there, and that was always a balm. But weaning my fourth, my daughter, my longest nurser and with almost absolute certainty our last child, was an agonizing and emotional process.
I didn’t want to say goodbye to this experience that had given me so much joy and strength and purpose. I didn’t want to shut the door on a time that was so special, and so filled with happy, wonderful memories. I didn’t want to leave that sacred time in the past. It didn’t seem fair that these moments couldn’t last forever.
My heart ached for having passed through my first stage of motherhood, for having made it beyond the infant years four times over, and for having moved through diapering and sleep training and potty training. I was no longer a new mother; I was no longer a young mother, and all of these once novel experiences were behind me, rather than in front of me.
I had come to understand the road map of infancy so well, but now I was heading in a different direction.
Weaning my daughter was about more than saying goodbye to breastfeeding; it was about saying goodbye to this first, most wonderful stage of parenthood and this transformational moment in my life. And it was about change, and all the fear that goes along with it.
Because, in my heart of hearts, I know that this is how it should be, despite my sadness.
No doubt, my life is changing, my priorities are changing, and my children are changing. They are growing up and getting older, in happiness and health, thank goodness.
And thank goodness, so am I.