After 3 1/2 weeks, I think I can finally, officially say, it’s over. Well, technically it has been 2 1/2 years. Or more specifically just over eight years over three girls. Or is it three girls over eight years? Never mind, I’m slightly delirious and a little anxious as my horomones and body readjust. No matter how you put it: I am no longer a breastfeeding mama. And let me tell you, getting to this point was hard, and painful, and traumatizing.
I love all of my girls with all of my heart but the youngest is a bit of a crazy head (with all affection). My two older girls were weaned, by me, when I was pregnant with their next sibling, around the 2 1/2 year old point as well. It wasn’t easy and involved some cajoling, trickiness, and tears as it can be pretty painful to nurse when you are pregnant. And believe me they loved the boobie milk. It was their everything. I was their everything. And it was exhausting to them and to me.
Extended nursing is amazing. It offers all of the nutritional and health benefits of breastfeeding. Never doubt the importance and the benefits. And don’t let the worry of weaning stop you from breastfeeding. I didn’t.
But extended breastfeeding, in my experience, all three times, resulted in sleep deprivation, pain, and yes, even a little resentment. For me and the toddler.
I was delusional when I thought that weaning my third would be about the same-hard but not horrible; more likely, easier. After all, she had two older sisters to emulate and two friends her age she saw frequently who didn’t nurse. Not to mention the fact that I’m home with her almost 24/7.
I was wrong. It was harder. It was horrible. It was as far from straight forward as it could be.
And no one talks about it. You hear from breastfeeding supporters how to keep nursing but never how to stop. Hard-core breastfeeding advocates, of which I am usually a part of, suggest “child-lead” weaning. Umm, not so much.
Let me paint a picture for your of how things went for me.
Just before C turned two, we took our first ever longer then 12 hour vacation without our girls and went to Mexico for a week. C wasn’t weaned, and all attempts to try to wean her before I left, to help with my absence, failed miserably. Mostly because I was home with her all day and it was easy to get her to nurse and nap. Also because my beloved husband would hand her back to me after she attempted to throttle him for two hours at bedtime or he’d roll his eyes and grimace while I argued with her with her at 3am. Neither of these were things he wanted to do, but as you may recall, C turns into the Hulk when she’s angry.
After a seven day and night absence you would think she would have been done with nursing. She came home, wary of being back in her house after being away so long and came straight into my arms, I sat down with her cuddled against me tightly and she started to feel my body and then reached for my breast and started nursing. Her mouth was a little confused at what it was supposed to be doing but she figured it out again. And two months later I went to Montreal for four nights and the same thing happened. This despite several mamas promising that a prolonged absence from me would wean her of her habit simply because she’d have no choice.
Apparently, C did not subscribe to this particular theory. Nor did she show any signs of self-weaning. In fact, it is possible that she was nursing even more vigorously then before. And despite what you might think or know from medical fact or your own experience, I was not actually making as much milk as she wanted.
C is 33lbs and at least 33″ long. She is all tough and rough and occasionally seems to in the form of one of her favourite animals, an octopus or a bear. She is an incredible girl who has been speaking in fully articulated and complicated sentences since before she was two. She is fiercely independent and insistent and knows what she wants and how to get it at all costs. Characteristics I admire and appreciate and know will serve her well in school and as she gets older. As a toddler, it can be exhausting for her and for me and for her daddy and her sisters and anyone within a five block radius. We don’t call her the Hulk because she’s big and green.
So take all of this and throw it on your chest. Literally. Have this snuggle-y but demanding child sleep in your bed, often sideways, and nurse throughout the night. For two and a half years. Now add to this, grabbing me by the nipple and twisting and turning it into her mouth. Think about destroying the neckline on every single shirt new or old. Not to mention flashing my breasts to the world at her whim -not just the one she nurses on but the other one too.
This last one, after three kids, I’m so used to and not shy about. Generally my response to the discomfort of others was “That’s what they are for and that’s your problem not mine.” Lately, my (suppressed) reaction was “Here! Let me twist your left nipple while pulling at your right nipple with a vacuum cleaner!” But C does get a kick out of full double boob exposure.Everywhere. So we stopped nursing outside of our house first, as I did with all my girls. Not one to accept defeat gracefully, C made our lives miserable when we were out of the house and she wanted to nurse. So that we would have to come home. Smart kid. Her oldest sister did something similar-I’d implemented a “we only nurse in bed ” rule when I was weaning her. So she constantly climbed into bed.
Things were not moving along in terms of weaning C by the time summer started. There is nothing about nursing a struggling, demanding, heavy (compared to a newborn) child when it’s 35 degrees outside, that is comfortable or even bonding.
Toddlers are also meddlesome and curious creatures. What’s that? daddy’s watching something, let me turn my head to see while still holding onto your nipples, one in my mouth and one in hand! What’s that? You’re trying to read a book on your ipad while you nurse me for the fourth time today? Let me kick my legs with full force to knock it off the chair. What’s that? The alarm to go pick up my sisters? Let me screech like I’m starving and cling to you like you don’t spend every waking and sleeping minute with me. What’s that? You want to wear a strapless dress! Perfect! Easy access! Oh, it’s your wedding dress, and we are about to start the ceremony? That’s okay, milk is white-ish, it won’t stain, and everyone up there has seen your boobs already.
I would often argue with her. Pushing her hands and arms off my breasts. She wanted to switch sides constantly while nursing because she had a slacker latch at this point and wasn’t getting much milk. Needing to nurse first thing in the morning made her cranky. It also made it impossible for me to get out of bed without waking her up because she’d taken to sleeping in my arm. Sleeping on my arm caused me nerve and muscle pain in my neck and upper back because I couldn’t move from the weight if her pulling at my opposite side. So time with my husband in the morning, sharing a coffee was being forfeited so she would sleep longer.
But so was evening and night time together. One or the other of us would fall asleep trying to wait our her ever extending night time nursing. I would often get irritated at my husband for handing her to me at 7:30 saying she was tired when I knew full well she wasn’t, having napped until 3. So she’d come to bed at 7:30 and nurse, switching sides every five minutes for 60-90 minutes.
And let me interrupt myself to say, that, yes, of course. Of course we had a nighttime routine we stuck to every night. A way to spend time together and wind down. And it didn’t make one iota of difference to C.
So as we all became more sleep deprived. And C ate less food because she wanted to nurse more. And we all became more cranky, memories were being warped and perspective was going out the window.
I have beautiful, treasured memories of nursing my babies, from newborn up until they were two. I have pictures, both in my heart, and actually, of their features softened, their little mouths falling away, still open, and a look of contentment on their sleeping faces. But all of the peaceful and contentment fades and is replaced by frustration and sleeplessness once they were past the age of two. I often felt there was a strong comparison case between nursing toddlers and heterosexual teenage boys. They come in for a kiss, and a hug, which feels nice, and then the next thing you know you are pulling your shirt back down, swatting hands away and feeling very uncomfortable and more then a little irritated at the presumptuousness!
Weeks went on. Summer started. And one Sunday morning I woke up screaming and Mark had to grab C off of me. As I slept, she had started to nurse, and because it was the middle of my cycle, I had a lower then usual supply, so she bit me. I have been bitten on my nipples, aeroelas, and breast tissue, by all three girls, more times than I can count. And that is a whole other post. But this time, I was pretty sure she had caused temporary nerve damage. I had teeth marks on my aeroela and nipple and a sharp pain radiating outwards up along my breast. And it lasted the entire day. But once I stopped screaming and sobbing, I looked my unrepentant daughter in the eyes and told her we were done. That I had no more milk and I didn’t like nursing her anymore and that she could have all the love and hugs and kisses and cuddles she wanted or needed.
It was a rough day and a rougher night and a just as bad the next day. We argued and she cajoled. She pulled at my heart strings by promising not to bite again and offering to fix the boobie. She sobbed in the middle of the night and started to nurse again one night and another day at nap time. She threw full blown temper tantrums as she pretty much went through withdrawal and despised not being in control of what she wanted. She was exhausted from not napping and waking up too early and fighting going. To sleep.
I’d like to say, she then eased into a better routine at night, going to bed a little easier, and sleeping a little more soundly. I can’t.
I’d like to say she stopped being so frustrated and angry in the mornings. I can’t.
I replaced her morning nursing with a bottle of iogo yogurt drink but she still gets crazy and has a short fuse before breakfast.
I’ve calmed down her temper tantrums by gathering her in my arms and acknowledging her feelings and she’s sobbed that she misses the boobies and it’s hard. But a week ago, she tried to nurse while lying down and stopped herself laughing saying she wasn’t a nursing baby anymore.
I’ve reinforced that she is a big girl but she will always be my baby.
And she has taken to naming my breasts and playing with them as if they were dolls, while I lie there trying to get her to go to sleep or to get out of bed. She has voices and everything for each of them.
The first two weeks she slept on top of one breast, clinging to the other, rubbing her face all over me.
She got mad at me when I stopped smelling like breastmilk. (About 18 months previously I had become sad she had stopped smelling like a breastmilky baby. So I understood her very well.)
She’s had nights where she fights going to sleep and screams and rolls around. And nights where she wakes up at midnight yelling and climbing all over us, and howling until she realizes she’s thirsty and accosts the drink I’ve offered her fifty times. Which works until she realizes the cup is empty because Mark poured it in dark and barely put a ounce of liquid in her cup.
And she’s had nights where she has said she’s tired and just needs to sleep and she lies down in bed beside me and falls asleep without a fuss. Occasionally sleeping through the night. She even spent a couple of nights sleeping with her sisters.
Of course, she’s developed a wicked oral fixation. Eating her hair, sucking her thumb, putting barrettes, money, and toys in her mouth. She’s started peeing on the floor again, a lovely backwards step after almost a year of being diaper free and her refusal to nap is exhausting on both of us.
She’s eating better then ever but despite copious amounts of berries, apples, and papaya she has a bit of a hard poop problem. And I only offer her water throughout the day.
She is even more affectionate with her daddy though still a pain in his butt by preferring to sleep in our bed.
Baby steps. Two steps forward and one step back. And all that.
Ultimately, we stopped nursing because I didn’t want to and we’d gone on long enough. It’s a tough place to be, plummeting hormones, and an on again off again sadness that I’m only a breastfeeding mama -past tense, because we are done with babies. Mark sweetly reminds me of how strong and smart and healthy and happy each of my girls are and how much I gave them of myself, willingly, happily, by breastfeeding them for so long.
There are two more side effects, that I’m experiencing. The ever diminishing size of my boobs, not so much a bonus. I was a B cup before my first child and a DD at the peak of nursing the last one. I hope all of my chest admirers had a chance to say goodbye to Pamela and Jenna. Because they are going to be a thing of memory soon, much like their namesakes. On the other hand, the return of sensation, that is not baby related is pretty awesome. Because for the first time in almost nine (!!) years I’m neither pregnant nor breastfeeding. Woohoo.