Fifteen months, eight days marks the ending of my journey breastfeeding my firstborn baby. When Evalyn was born, it was my goal to breastfeed her for 12 months. When we got to her birthday, we were still going strong and neither of us was showing any desire to stop. So, we kept on keeping on. I started to think that it would be okay if we went to 18 months. Maybe even 2 years.
Then we decided to try to have another baby. And we succeeded. When I found out I was pregnant, I decided it was time to start weaning Evalyn. I knew I didn’t want to tandem nurse, although I know a number of women who do, and love it. I wanted to be sure to give Evalyn enough time to adjust to not being nursed before the baby arrived, to cut back on potential issues of regression, jealousy and so on. And, as I alluded to in my post on mama guilt, this decision was difficult. And caused me a lot of mama guilt.
I’m not sure why I felt so guilty. I know there was no reason to. I nursed her well past the initial goal I had set for us. I gave her what I felt was best for her for over a year of her life. But still, I had so many days where I felt like weaning was a selfish decision. Plus, I absolutely loved nursing that sweet girl, which meant the decision wasn’t just about taking something away from her. It was taking something away from me, too.
At the time we began weaning, Evalyn was nursing four times per day on a normal day. I started by gradually cutting out the two daytime feeds. When she woke from her naps, she would normally nurse, but instead I offered her a cup of milk. If she refused the cup and asked to nurse, I nursed her. For both day time feedings, however, it only took 3-5 days until she stopped asking. We then spent the next few months nursing right away in the morning and just before bed. It was amazing to me how quickly she completely forgot about nursing during the day, but still loved to at those two times. And, let me tell you, those two sessions were the hardest to fathom giving up. They were our still, quiet, peaceful moments together. Those moments don’t happen much with a busy toddler.
I told myself that I would start by cutting out the morning session first, at the beginning of December. It took me until about December 10th to actually take the leap and do it. When I did, it was the same, I offered her a cup instead of nursing and it only took two mornings until she stopped asking me to nurse when she got up.
The next few weeks, we enjoyed bedtime nursing. I knew by this point she wasn’t getting much milk from me but we were both still enjoying the few moments of quiet connectedness that we shared at the end of each day. Then, a few nights after we got home from our holidays, we were going through the bedtime routine, and it just happened. She had a bath. I put her PJs on. We sat down to read the bible. We prayed. I stood up to turn out the light. But, she didn’t ask for milk. And so I didn’t offer. I walked to her crib. Rocked her. Sang a few songs and laid her down as usual. Not a peep.
I came out of her room and immediately broke down and started to bawl. Honestly, I was doing the ugly face cry for about two hours. And I ate a lot of ice cream. This was the only time I hadn’t planned to cut out a session and it just happened on its own. I told Evan I felt like I hadn’t cherished the night before enough because I didn’t realize it would be my last. I wasn’t entirely sure why I was so emotional about it. It was my choice to wean and I had set January as my goal to be completely done. Yet, still, the ending of this journey was a difficult one to face.
Despite the fact we made it 15 months, despite the fact I will get to nurse another baby in a few months, despite the fact weaning was easy and she handled it like champ – the hurt was still there while I sat there and realized that I would never again nurse this child. She is growing up. It is natural. It is normal. It is part of life. But that doesn’t mean it has to be easy or without emotion. I felt like I needed to mourn the ending of this era. Yet, after my few hours of ugly crying, I felt like it was okay. I was okay with being done. I was ready to be done. The tears were behind me (until I sat down to write this post, of course).
I think the biggest difficulty lies in getting past the irrational thinking that because I’m done nursing, she no longer specifically needs me. I know how untrue this is. But after going through so many months of nursing, the only thing that was shared only between her and I, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the other ways I care for her are just as important, as well. She does still need me. She does still want me.
When she woke up that next morning, Evan got her from her crib and she immediately said “Mama”. He brought her into our room where I was still laying in bed. She saw me, laughed, clapped her hands and reached for me. When he handed her to me, she laid down on me, hugged me, kissed me and cuddled for (what felt like) longer than she ever had before. And that moment brought a lot of healing to my heart.