Weaning….anticipation vs. reality

(Nursing at 2 weeks old.)
Ok so I know this topic is not everyone’s bag but it is a big deal to me and I assume that it will be a big deal to someone in the future and maybe this will help. Maybe not. All the same, it has been a very difficult emotional transition to me, so just think of this as my therapy, and don’t read it if this type of thing weirds you out.  (Multiple mention of breasts/boobs ahead. You have now been duly warned).
So….Ella is now almost 14 months old.   I am relieved and gratified to have been able to give her more than a year of nursing, considering what a tough and complicated time I have with nursing, and with nursing well established,  I think I would have liked to carry on indefinitely…,  but it was not conducive to my health to do so and it was time to take my own needs into account. So with great ambivalence, I have been cutting back on feedings for the last couple of months.  Mother’s Day was our first 24 hour period of no nursing. (How ironic). The weaning of my sweet toddler has been completely the opposite of what I expected in pretty much every way
1. I anticipated feeling somewhat relieved to have the weaning process (which I was terrified of) complete,  liberated and excited to get my body back after 2 years. Thrilled to get a nice non-nursing bra, to be able to go all out on dieting and exercise.  To rediscover ME. I always say I stay a little bit pregnant when I nurse. I hold onto my weight. In fact I put on even more weight. (I weigh more now than I did when she was 2 months old!)  My body clings to the fat in order to make milk and I never feel “at liberty” to go crazy with exercise or diet.  After a year  (or two really) of feeling like a manatee, I assumed it would feel great to start to feel more like a person.
The reality: I ended up feeling bereft, tearful and mournful pretty much every minute of the last week.  I walked around with a huge lump in my throat and ache in my heart. I also noted a distinct lack in motivation to diet and especially exercise.  Aaron feels that I have romanticized nursing in this short week, and is at pains to remind me that I often was not enjoying it, and was looking forward to quitting.  I do concede that I would rant about such things after she had bitten me for the third or fourth time in a feeding, but I was certainly not ready to cut her off entirely.  Since she is my last baby, the finality of knowing I will never. ever. nurse a baby again is hard.  It’s really hard.  Now we did think that Finny was our last baby too, but I nursed him for 2.5 years, and I do not remember the last time I did. It just faded away.  It was no Big Thing. Making that decision to willfully cut her off  after just over a year, felt really…wrong. Final and un-maternal and somewhat irresponsible and selfish and sad and wrong.
2. I anticipated that Ellabeth would have a really hard adjustment. She loved her nurnies so very much.  I feared she would be insecure, clingy, grumpy, sleep deprived and generally tragic.
The reality:  Ellabeth has not looked back once. She has not so much as looked meaningfully at my chest once. Ok maybe a curious glance or two, but she has never once pressed the issue.  She is the happiest she has ever been. Practically giddy.  She is eating so much better.  She is sleeping fantastically. She loves her bottle (which she always only tolerated before).  And I must say I do find it so nurturing to feed her a bottle. She did see the formerly beloved “nursies” the other day, when I was in my undies, and bid them a very happy and excited “HI!!!”, along with a friendly wave and tweak.  But she did not get all agitated the way she used to when she saw my boob until she got what she wanted.
3. I anticipated that our relationship would suffer. This was our thing. How else would I nurture her? Would she have any interest in me anymore? I have never been the person that she lit up for the most. That honour shifts from sibling to sibling, and of course the always beloved daddy. I was merely an appendage to her. The “mom-thing” who fed her,comforted her and helped her to sleep.   I greatly feared that with my breast-leverage gone I would lose all special connection to her and it made me so sad. To the extent that in the weeks leading up to weaning completely, I actually went out of my way to learn and imitate the goofiness of her brothers. I was basically sucking up to my baby by trying to channel adolescent boys. Pitiful, yes.
The reality: Our relationship is so much better than it was. Well it is different. But different in the most delightful way.  She lights up when she sees me, she cuddles with me like she never did before. She lays her head on my chest or my shoulder in ways that she never did before. She reaches for me when Aaron is holding her. This morning Aaron brought her into our room and she held her arms out to me. I was sure it was because I was in bed, where I used to nurse her and she wanted to do that, but no. She just wanted to cuddle with me. Lie on my chest. Like she did as a newborn.  It is so wonderful, and such an incredible comfort to me.   It is like she now sees me as a person separate from herself and she likes me, she really likes me!  I also like the fact that I don’t get angry with her anymore because she has just bitten me AGAIN. That can only strengthen a relationship, am I right?  And I do feel that I am more present with her than I was because I am hyper-aware and thinking about my interactions with her more rather than just “hooking her up”.
4. I anticipated either slowly running out of milk and not even noticing a difference when I weaned (because we have been gradually cutting out feedings over the last couple of months), or feeling really engorged for the first day or two and gradually nothing after that. 
The reality: I felt full and heavy but not painfully engorged for the first 3 days. By day 4 I was starting to feel more sore on one side (the side I nursed most on), just heavy on the other.  Days 6 and 7 were extremely uncomfortable on the one side. Such that I didn’t want to carry Ella on that side or have anything or anyone near me. Started to worry that I had a plugged duct or mastitis, thought perhaps that hormones were working up to a my first episode of PMS in 2 years.   Late last night (night 7) I just could not handle it anymore.  What made the discomfort and pain worse was that it was a constant reminder of what I was doing. What I did not feel emotionally ready to do, what I intellectually railed against as a mother,  but what I knew I needed to do for my own welfare.  So what did I do? Soon after she had sucked down her last bottle of the evening, and after she was thoroughly asleep,  I nursed her.  After 7 full days of being 100% weaned! Yes! I did. (She be crazy, no?)   Because she was so fast asleep when I picked her up, she automatically just latched on but was not really cognizant of things, she was awake enough to nurse effectively, but not enough wake to realize that what she was doing.  This was my plan. Since this has been so non-traumatic for her so far, I did not want to mess with that and confuse her.
I nursed her until I was more comfortable which took about 10 mins of her glugging away, (and cherished every second of cradling her while I did) and then put her back to bed. Today I am comfortable and we shall see what we shall see in the next few days. I also feel a sense of emotional closure…maybe it is because I know I can nurse her again if I need to, without undoing all the progress we have made? Not sure.
In summary: Weaning:  it really couldn’t have gone better in most ways. I am way more emotional about it than I thought I would be. She is way less emotional about it than I thought she would be. Our relationship is different and lovely.  I once was sore and now I am not.  We are unsure of the future.  This was the last picture I took of her nursing. Sniff.
The End. (For now).

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Nancy said...

Best.blog.ever. <3

Michelle said...

Waaaaaaa!!!!!! Sobbing. :(. I miss nursing Elliana so much and it's been almost a year. She weaned like Finny did, very gradually and non dramatically. But I do feel your emotional pain. I almost cheered when I got to the part where you nursed her again. LOL <3 it's just so special. Why oh why do they have to grow up????

Samantha said...

I'm sorry about the not-so-nice things that have happened and happy for you about the unexpectedly good things. Good luck for your comfort level over the next days! And I know how much you love exercise, so I hope you once again find the thrill in that.

Because Elliot is sensitive to dairy protein in my milk, I've been on a dairy-free diet since he was a couple of weeks old so I have long been joking about all the dairy I'm going to eat the day after he turns 1 (since I assumed that's when I'll stop nursing/pumping for him). But now that his 1 year birthday is approaching (this week), I have no desire to stop breastfeeding though I could do without all the pumping [edit: ha--just realized that I typed that while pumping!]. I also fear weaning. So, it was good to read about your fears/expectations/hopes and the reality for you. For now, I'm just going to keep on with breastfeeding.

Samantha said...

PS The photos of you nursing Ella are adorable.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Ella is taking the lead in as much as she is coping so well, and loving you more. All change is hard, even when it is for the better. Good luck!!