Wednesday, September 29, 2010

how weaning happens

...or at least how it happens with us. even more specifically, with george and me.

i cried last night. a good, hard, had-to-take-off-my-glasses cry. without complete intention, i have just weaned my last baby from the breast. (and i am 99% sure i am done having babies.) only another nursing mother can fully understand what it feels like to nurse your baby for the last time. plus, in this case i didn't know the last time was "the last time." so, now i have this little grief dancing inside my heart, that i know will settle but hurts all the same. i thought this post might help.

i did the math: i have been suckling babies for 6 of the past 8 years, with one period of rest in between. it will feel weird to not have that connection. i've said it a hundred times: nursing, if anything, is a relationship, not just a food source.

mayan nursed like a champ from the minutes she was born, and nursing her into toddlerhood not only seemed like the way SHE was going to have it, but it was important to me, as well, since she had so many food allergies and it took her a while to establish a food-diet that could nourish her. with her, nursing was a valuable tool. to calm her down when she was freaking out, and also to shush her when i needed to talk on the phone. :)

i decided not to cut this relationship short when i became pregnant with isadore. while the milk supply dwindled, she was not deterred. life was going to change dramatically for her when her new sibling arrived, and i didn't need to give her another reason to resent the new baby, by taking away her precious "boobah."

this turned out to be a good decision, when at 35 weeks isadore was induced early. while she was in the NICU and not able to nurse at the breast for her first 10 days, mayan became my "portable breast pump." i'd saved up more milk than isadore would ever be able to drink, but to keep up supply i was instructed to pump every three hours ("just like if you had a nursing newborn..." they said.) mayan went from being able to have a casual conversation with me at the breast to watering eyes and choking trying to keep up with the new flow.

once isadore was able to nurse she latched on like a pro as well, and was so efficient at getting milk from me even as a tiny 4 1/2 pound baby, that she would suck a few times, establish the flow and then lay back a let it ease down her throat with little to no effort. this completely unvalidated the formula the nurses had laid out for me: "about one cc per one minute of sucking." we had to weigh her to verify that in fact, just 10 minutes of weak, sleepy sucking she ingested 45 cc's of milk--a full feeding. we were released for home the next day.

after a few months, just as i had hoped, mayan got the picture that nursing was for "little babies", and gracefully bowed out, at age 2 1/2.

isadore was a mellow child, and a great sleeper so the nursing relationship was not as intense as it was for me and mayan. she had already lost interest at 2 years--slowly tapering off from day feeding so that the go-to-sleep sessions were the last to go--so that's when i had my first break. it was a bitter sweet transition, but deep inside i knew i'd get to have that experience one more time.

enter george-ephraim, 2 years later. his birth was everything i'd dreamed, and was healing and empowering in so many ways. i was a nursing professional now and it took no effort to establish that bond. eat, burp, sleep, eat burp, sleep...constant cycle that i practically did with one hand while i took care of everyone else with the other.

gives a whole new meaning to the word 'buffet'!

on vacation in seattle 2008

previous blog readers and other nursing mothers may know, this is called "NAKing"--nursing at keyboard

george "gettin' some" in the backseat of the car--milk that is

the difference with george, is that i didn't want to use nursing as a calming or quieting tool, but instead just for eating and just for sleeping. so once he grew into a walking, pointing, babbling, food-snacking toddler, i just never sent the message that it was something we did while we were out and about. this made the sleeping feedings oh-so-special. more than special....absolutely divine. we have a white chair in our bedroom that for the last year is where i sat nearly everyday, once in the afternoon and once at night, for george to have his "me-me." this is the word he made up at a few months old, to describe more than just the nursing but the act of me swaddling him in a specific blanket (the "me-me blanket"), binding it with a scarf and then latching on to the breast. (he eventually at age TWO was okay with not being "bound"--the boy LIKES to be restrained! don't get me started thinking about how this will play out as an adult......)

swaddled in the white chair, with his kitty halo, for our daily nap ritual. the image i will carry sweetly within my mind's eye until the day i die.

this routine, like with my other children, became so ingrained that sleeping any other way (besides in the car) became a non-choice. i have always trusted the process and knew from experience that my child would not be a nursing grad-student as many have joked, but that nursing would taper off in the time that was right for our family, around 2 1/2 years.

well, here we are.

i am preparing for a trip to L.A. in november for my 30th birthday, and am leaving the family behind. i know it would be best to have an established bedtime routine for george that doesn't require my breasts, so blake can have an easy time with having all three kids. george already has a bed in his own room so the biggest trick was getting him out of the "white chair" for that moment he drifts off. a few weeks ago, i started to nurse him until he was almost asleep and then i'd pass him to blake, who would carry him to bed with his own whispered papa-words and beardy kisses. this met with little to no resistance. then i began to skip all naps so that when bed time came, george would be very, very sleepy. a few nights ago, on a whim, i told him he could touch and kiss the "me-me" but not nurse it. this met with medium resistance. i let him nurse for 10 seconds then asked for it back, and he obliged, with a look that showed me he thought he'd just gotten away with something delightfully forbidden. then i passed him to dad in his favorite blanket, who had a sippy-cup of warm milk. blake tucked him in, and george got up and wandered in to our room a few times. we alternated tuck-ins until one stuck. i discovered if i stay, and pet his forehead like i did when he was a baby, and sing him a lullaby while his eyes get heavy, he won't get out of bed at all.

today, he seemed like he needed a nap, and i was SO temped after my tearful realization last night to just nurse him one last time. but i knew that we'd already crossed the line into successful weaning, it would only complicate matters to backtrack, so i took him upstairs with some milk and we lay in his bed together. i was doubtful it would work in broad daylight.

george (eyes twinkling with the remembrance of the new routine): "mama, touch me-me?"
me: "sure, you can touch the me-me."
i reached to pull my dress down just a bit for access.
george (every word sounding like a question): "mama? take? bra? off?"
me: "no, buddy, i am not going to take my bra off."

his hand settled into a spot, halfway down into my bra. i hand him his cup of milk. i lay my head down on his pillow and close my eyes, to send the we-are-napping message. the all-symphony station played in the background. he set his cup aside and stared off at the ceiling. i peeked periodically to see the status his eyelids. it took about 4 minutes. i slipped his hand out of my bra, ever so slowly and crept away. then i came down here to write this.

it really is over. on to the next phase.


elliesmadre said...

Oh mama, that was so very sweet. I loved my nursing relationship with Eleanor and definitely grieved it when it ended. I can only imagine how it will feel when Charlotte stops and there are no more babies. Sending much love you at this bittersweet time. <3

LittleYogini said...

Thanks for sharing mama. I'm sure in a few years I'm going to have to look this post up to comfort myself!!

Nicole said...

Oh Mama...i have tears running down my face. I too have had so many transitions this year. Thurston is not a baby anymore, he is a big kid, and at 4 became weened in our own way as well. As you know breastfeeding was challenging for us, but i tried to make bottle feeding as close as i could to breast feeding in that relationship quality. it was definately bittersweet, and his last 2 bottles i cannot bring myself to give away or recycle. i don't know any mama who has not had emotional response to weening. you are so strong and aware. so many beautiful memories to carry with you for the rest of your life, and now with all of us you have shared your story with. Thank you!

Rebekah said...

You blogged! And...sigh. Hard stuff, mama. The upside? 15 months later, Zel still grabs my boobies every chance she gets...:)

jami said...

just wanted to send hugs your way. i just gave birth to our last child a week ago today and so the nursing relationship begins and i know it'll just be a blink of the eye before i'm going through what you are right now. so again, hugs to you, mama!

Aimee said...

So bittersweet! I'm going to be in your same position in about 2 years too. What a wonderful nursing relationship you had with your bebes! <3