When You Want To Wean — But Also Don’t

Okay, look. Breastfeeding is not all daffodils and lollipops. I like to think of breastfeeding as feeding + comforting a child, neither of which is ever easy no matter how you do it. Sometimes you will get to the point when enough is enough, and then you’ll revisit this point again later on and say, I really just can’t even. And somehow, you’ll find yourself at this same exact point, lo and behold, again to the againth degree — and you’ll say, I’m done. I’m really, really done.

You know the other internal conversation that happens alongside this one. The one that goes “But the way his little body feels in my arms…” and “How could I take this from him” — the one that blocks out the stress and aversion and irritation to focus on the foundation of what makes breastfeeding work: unconditional love.

Not that a mother’s unconditional love is all that’s needed to make breastfeeding a joyous success. Her willingness to try again for one more day, and another and another — that counts for something. Her comfort in this expression of multi-level nourishment as simply part of routine life with a child — that’s important, too.

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I’m only nursing one child now. My oldest hasn’t nursed in long enough that I can safely assume he won’t ask again (seriously, anyhow… he asked earlier this month with a silly grin on his face that denoted humor more than anything). So now it’s just me and my almost 3-year-old, negotiating nursing sessions between aversion triggers, practicalities of the daily schedule, and unloading this lifesaving device as nature intended for the ‘terrific twos’ (namely, as an automatic fit-stopper and temper-soother).

Because I feel like more of a seasoned breastfeeder now, I don’t fear this stage so much. I shovel into the well-tended garden of my memories and find that, similarly, about two to three years into my first breastfeeding relationship we too encountered the creepy-crawlies of aversion; the sometimes burdensome heaviness of ripening fruit, that is the growing child; a harsh and unremitting sun that overwhelms and sears with its illumination upon everything I’ve gotten wrong thus far and how many more choices there would be for the making.

So I’ve done this before, survived this before, and above all, cherished and passionately loved this part before, in a way only a mother can, just like all the other parts. For those who have curiously asked, my final nursling is almost three years old, and I do experience impulsive emotions in the realm of weaning desire. But I know better than to rush things. This is a cornerstone of child-led weaning. In the blink of an eye (or it will feel that way when I retell the story later on), he will grow out of the very things I’ve been so careful not to wish for — sudden weaning, premature weaning, weaning for reasons I’m actually able to tolerate with adaptations.

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Do I need space and boundaries and nursing manners as part of the everyday breastfeeding repertoire? Yes, indeed. My breasts aren’t objects pasted onto me. I’m a person. When my child asks to nurse, he is asking for me because that’s what he gets. We’ll exchange sweet nothings, catch up, cuddle, assess each other’s well-being with a shared gaze, play decompressing games like ‘patty cake.’ It’s not just about the milk. In exchange I receive the gratitude for what I’ve brought to this interaction — and respect for my own control over my whole being, which includes my breasts.

Of course, he is just learning about these concepts so there are no unforgiving demands. Part of the beauty of nursing a child of this age is the flexibility, the testing, the excitement of being between-chapters and the pleasure in knowing this can be a memorable chapter of its own.

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So that’s being real, but here’s the rest of it…

Do I want quality rest that doesn’t involve my conscious brain waiting for my child to expect the comfort of my breast, or my subconscious fretting over whether to bother with the REM cycle this particular night? Obviously, yeah. I tend to approach breastfeeding like I approach the rest of parenting: if something isn’t working, I start by making small changes. If a collaboration of smaller changes has not resulted in a measurably positive difference, I’ll prepare for the bigger options. So night weaning (the bigger change) keeps getting pushed farther into the future as a potential sanity-saver, because a musical chairs style of altering sleeping arrangements (smaller changes) has met enough of each of our needs up to this point. That’s compromise.

Do I want to look forward to nursing every single time with the same amount of enthusiasm he does? Well, to be honest that sounds exhausting! I’d be happy with an aversion-free breastfeeding life but thankfully this is my second run with this. I’ve done the work, I know my triggers, and I often take advantage of mother nature’s other gift: a two- to three-year-old’s penchant for distractability. That’s responsibility (and some creativity!).

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Sometimes I’m overcome with such annoyance and frustration that the need for breastfeeding is still so clear, unquestionable, and limiting. But then I think about what this need does for us, in the grand scheme… Our physical bond is an incredible, tangible thing; he literally melts into me, whether nursing or not. We’ve grown to deeply value each other’s purpose in our own lives. We’ve carved out a place for us where no one else can go, full of both imagination and groundedness, like an impenetrable fort of cozy bed linens. Together we receive guidance in the art of patience. We’re staying healthier for longer, thanks to the continued health benefits we each enjoy. We put our trust in another human and sow the seeds that will one day show a garden blooming with memories (conscious ones, perhaps not, but those are not the kind that live in the heart).

Breastfeeding can be many things, but aside from the most unusual of circumstances, it’s never a superficial, empty exchange. When I feel like enough is enough and I just can’t anymore, I really can’t… I know my brain is reacting to local, temporary stimuli. However, my heart knows this present will soon be past, whether it’s one perturbing nursing session or an entire bad day or a string of them. There is so much more left to experience, many more gifts along the way, and I know neither of us wants to miss them.

Related reading:

Weaning

Aversion & Boundaries

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