22 April 2006


No one talks about weaning. It's not surprising since breastfeeding isn't in the top 10 dinner conversations, but even among breastfeeding moms the getting off the breast passes without much comment. Like initiating this basic act, the ending of it can come with suffering. Feeding Stella was excruciating and humiliating for the first ten weeks. It felt like she was cutting off my nipple with an expertly sharpened pair of scissors. At week eight, it dulled to something akin to a firm slap on new sunburn. I avoided nursing in public. I cried a lot, especially at the 2 and 4 am feedings when I was too tired to get her into the right position and too tired to have any emotional strength in the face of this awful failure. And it did feel like a failure.

Now we skip ahead past 15 months of good eatin'. Breastfeeding carves out quiet time on busy days, makes a perfect soother, and nourishes my daughter and my ego (yes, it finally worked!). And after every cracked nipple, every pulled up shirt, we are weaning. I started 3 or 4 months ago by removing the mid-day and late afternoon snacks. She gets cow or goat milk or yogurt at these times. In March I removed the naptime nurse. That one has been really difficult. Stella screamed and clawed at my chest the first few days. I held her until she cried herself drowsy and then put her in the crib. Twice a week the nanny puts her down for her nap without a boob, another day she falls asleep in the car on the way home from grocery shopping or the park- so it's only 4 days max I need to do it. And it is working- she will ask to nurse by signing, but will accept a bottle of milk or just some rocking and then ask for the crib.

The surprise is my own sadness. The first day she realized I wasn't going to nurse her for the nap- and more or less accepted it, I wept when I left her room. After a horrific beginning, I thought I would praise the day my breasts became my own again. There is a freedom I am regaining now, and for that wonder, I am grateful. But seeing a window into the near future- when she won't need me in that core way- carves a strange wound in my heart. Is this how I will feel when she makes all her big steps toward independence? Proud, but weeping?

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