Weaned: A Reluctant Requiem for Breastfeeding.

Via on Dec 15, 2013

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The trigger appears in the most mundane, domestic way: I’m standing in the kitchen, still wearing my clothes from my morning run as I clean out the cabinets.

Doing the boring, repetitive things that adults need to do. The chop wood, carry water of a grown-up life.

As I sweep a few petrified almonds from the corner of the cabinet near the tea, I see it: a salmon-hued box of Mother’s Milk Tea.

My eyes fill with tears.

It’s been seven months since I finished breastfeeding my daughter. After five years of being continuously pregnant of breastfeeding, I wanted my body back.

Weaning my daughter was surprisingly simple, almost casual. Slowly, we cut back on nursing sessions until just her bedtime feeding remained. One night, I was out and my husband put her to bed, so she went to sleep without nursing. The following night, we had a busy day with no nap, and she passed out in the car in the early evening and transferred successfully to her crib.

I felt ready to continue the experiment, so the following night, I held her on my shoulder instead of at my breast, and I sang the same song I sang to her every night while I had nursed her.

Mother carry me/your child I will always be/Mother carry me/ down to the sea.

The song had always calmed her, and it felt ancient and profound in its simplicity.

She let out a few small, puppy-like whimpers to protest the change in routine, then promptly sunk into sleep on my shoulder.

Just like that, we were done.

Weaning my son two and a half years earlier had been much more difficult. He nursed until he was 26 months old, and each dropped feeding session was a battle. “Milt!” he’d demand over and over again, hollering like a tiny George Costanza. I tried to distract him with toys, cow’s milk and Elmo movies.

Slowly, with tears (his) and guilt (mine), we were done. The moment he surrendered to his fate and stopped yelling, “Milt!!!” I found out I was pregnant.

Breastfeeding was a mixed bag for me. I was amazed that my body could do it—the body I had battled with for so long, had loathed and distrusted. But there it was, making food! For another creature! For my creatures!

In the beginning, breastfeeding was painful and messy. The chafed nipples, the dribbles of sticky leaking milk, the heavy ache of engorgement. The lazy uterine contractions, reminders of the torture of birth.

In the early months of near-constant growth spurts, my babies both cluster-fed for hours in the evenings. Stuck to my chair and my baby, I was a human life support system. Nursing was exhausting.

Over time, as I learned to nurse my babies in restaurants and on park benches, it was awkward. Fumbling with the straps of my nursing tank and trying to latch my baby onto my breast, I gazed around to see if anyone was watching. I was half daring someone to be disgusted, which only happened once. And I was half praying someone would offer me an encouraging smile.

Sometimes, I wondered if anyone noticed at all.

Later, nursing was stealthy¸ as my baby and I both learned the art of discreet breastfeeding; the quiet click of my nursing tank strap, a quick shuffle of fabric, and we were latched.

Other times during nursing, I felt the slight hint of arousal. A dark cloud of shame settled in my belly. How could I feel sexual feelings while nursing my children? What was wrong with me? Thanks to Google, I learned that while most people don’t talk about this aspect of breastfeeding, I was not, in fact, alone.

And then there were the sweet times. The way my babies would utterly surrender in my arms, my milk an opiate. Their faces slack and sated. Their chins smelling of my milk. In the evenings, I always sent out hushed prayers over them as they nursed: Keep them safe. Let them love well, let them be loved well. Let them outlive us.

Each of those phases and stages, like so many other in parenting, seemed like they would last forever.

And now, with so little fanfare, breastfeeding is over.

I’m an easily overwhelmed 39-year-old. Most days, I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water with parenting two young children, keeping our home from becoming a biohazard, maintaining a marriage and growing a career. I don’t want another child. My family feels complete, in a way it didn’t before my daughter was born. It feels full and right. Brimming.

But seeing that box of tea, and knowing I wouldn’t need it again, ever, made me weepy. It isn’t so much that I miss nursing; breastfeeding was something I did, the same way I clean out those kitchen cupboards—because it’s good for my family. Because it was something I could do.

The sadness stemmed from the realization that an era was over.

The era of baby cheeks. Baby lips and baby eyelashes. The feather-light press of little bodies on my shoulder. Of being able to send them off to sleep on a river of milk, wrapped in wishes.

The era of mothering from my body. Not just my arms and my heart, but with my milk, with my breasts.

And it was done, without any rituals to mark these endings.

I barely took a single breath to celebrate and mourn, to hold the passing of this amazing, frustrating, sweet, exhausting time. I didn’t hold a weaning party, serving breast cupcakes with areola sprinkles. I didn’t even hash over the transition at length with my husband.

The other day, my son, now almost five, said, “Remember when I used to drink formula from a bottle?”

“Maxie, you didn’t drink formula. You drank Mama milk. A lot of it,” I added, jarred. Not only were all those hours spent in my arms, milk pouring from me to him, forgotten, he didn’t even realize that was how he was fed.

There will be a million other eras.

Already, we’re in the middle of the effing fours with our son. Our daughter adds O’s to the end of all of our names: Mommy-o. Daddy-o. Maxie-o. My husband and I are trying to close the gap between us that widened when our twosome bloomed into a family of four. My writing has been flowing, which started, perhaps not coincidentally, at the very same time as my milk dried up. We are out of one era and into the next, full throttle.

But I need to make some space. To break the quietness of these transitions. I need to talk about energy morphing from milk to words. About babies who stretch into toddlers, then children.

To say thank you, body. For growing and feeding my babies, who are no longer babies. For all of these milestones they won’t remember, but that remain imprinted on them, small slivers of their story. Of our story.

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Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photo: Courtesy of Author

About Lynn Shattuck

Lynn Shattuck lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two young children. She blogs about parenting, imperfection, spirit and truth telling—you can connect with her through her website or find her on Facebook.

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25 Responses to “Weaned: A Reluctant Requiem for Breastfeeding.”

  1. Laura Kutney laurakutney says:

    Awe. . .I always felt that they should make a condolence card that said, "Congratulations on having nursed your baby. I know you are now feeling low now that you've weaned and wish you my sympathies as you go through this hard time of letting go." Or something like that.

    I nursed through two pregnancies and had a daughter that would yell "Other side!" Thank you for sharing your story, brought back the memories for me.

    xo, Laura

  2. April says:

    I'm reading this as I'm nursing my 8 month old. Sometimes it feels so permanent… These sleepless nights and endless nursing sessions. Its hard to imagine that one day it will be over. Makes me weepy just thinking about it. Hugs to you mama. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Barbara says:

    I nursed both my babies, now 13 and 21. Letting go is done in stages, Once we shared the same space on this planet, now they move about filling their own space. I figured out early that each new stage means another stage is coming to an end and usually with nothing more than a quiet nod to everything we have experienced and learned together.

  4. violetflame72001 says:

    This is so beautiful . . . I admit to tearing up. I have a 4-month old boy, and was only able to nurse him for 2 months, but the emotions described here are exactly what I went through, and still am going through. I look at my baby and he is no longer that tiny helpless newborn, rooting around for sustenance, and I miss that. I love him to pieces and am enjoying every stage of his development, but I miss nursing. There is nothing more beautiful, nothing that forms a stronger bond between mother and child.

    • Lynn Shattuck lynnola says:

      Oh, thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying each stage. They happen so quickly, even when it doesn't feel like it. It makes sense that you miss nursing. Hugs.

  5. Ewa says:

    I breastfed my daughter nearly 3 years. I cannot say I like it but I think it's her right to have that milk. I was waiting for her to be ready to stop and sometimes I was striving and I had enough. But I couldn't stop nursing her I felt that I would force it and I saw she wasn't ready.
    It happened without a battle. I didn't feel sad or anything when she stopped, I was waiting for that moment quite a while. Now, 10 months later she still remember her milk and talk to my boobies, telling me how she like them and how beautiful they are :)
    It was beautiful hard time!

  6. Zoe says:

    I’m so glad you shared this. I’m cuddling with my nursling now, with part of me treasuring the sweet softness of his body next to me, and another part of me ready to begin weaning so I can have more of myself to myself. It’s difficult to remember that our nursing sessions and night wakings are only brief moments in time that will fade into the next.

    • Laura Kutney laurakutney says:

      I was once told by a wise lactation nurse to imagine a string of black beads-one for every year that you live and plan on living. Then replace the black ones with a pink one for every year that you nurse.

      It was a great tool for visualizing and putting in perspective that is such a very short time that we are privileged to nurse our children. Hope this helps you Zoe! xo, Laura

      • Lynn Shattuck lynnola says:

        Laura, that is beautiful. I will have to keep that in mind for other challenging phases and stages…

        • Laura Kutney laurakutney says:

          I highly recommend the following book:
          Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott

          It will bring up every emotion you never knew that you had about the first year of having a baby. All of my friends loved it. xo, Laura

    • Lynn Shattuck lynnola says:

      It's so true, Zoe. Such mixed feelings. Best wishes to you and your little one.

  7. Jenna says:

    Last week I had the thought that I would really miss nursing my daughter when the time comes to wean her. This seemed like a odd thing to think about since she's only 4 weeks old and we have a long way to go with breastfeeding still. It doesn't feel like a silly thought after reading your post and the comments it generated. I'll enjoy our nursing time even more now and perhaps she will remember it too. Thanks!

  8. Lindsey says:

    I so appreciated this article. There is something downright magical about breast feeding, and weaning can feel like such a loss. I nursed my son until he was 2, well into my pregnancy with my daughter. She is now 11 months old and thankfully still going strong. I’m scared of the day I no longer mother from my body. I respect your sensitivity and courage and hope I can embrace that transition, whenever it hits me, with equal grace!

    • Lynn Shattuck lynnola says:

      Thank you, Lindsey! I love reading about other moms' experiences with nursing and weaning. Congrats on breastfeeding your kiddos, and thank you so much for your comment.

  9. Karen Katz says:

    My younger son is 21 and I STILL miss nursing-I was one of those lucky moms who had breasts that gave oodles of milk efficiently, "sucky" babies who latched on the first time, and no breast infections, or sore nipples. I experienced those ripples of arousal that gave the whole operation a little tang. All in all, it was one of the nicest parts of early motherhood!

    • Lynn Shattuck lynnola says:

      Thanks for your honest comment, Karen! Glad you had such a good experience with nursing. Take good care!

      • Karen Katz says:

        my good luck persisted into their teenage years when the s**t hit the fan-one son developed serious mental illness which is still a struggle for all of us, and my younger son had major drug issues (happily he is sober now). the memory of those early, easier years is often a balm to my sadness.

  10. Heather says:

    As a first-time Mom-to-be, I really enjoyed reading what I am going to experience in the relative future. I have done much reading about breastfeeding but it's been clinical, not emotional. Thanks for this heartfelt and truthful article, as well as all the comments.

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