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On weaning: Part II (Un…weaning?)

Wow, we feel passionately about breastfeeding! And I mean we should. Whether you choose to or not, whether you nurse to sleep or use a cover or wean at six months or a year or four – breastfeeding is huge. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got such a response to my last post – the most common being “Oh my gosh you sound so sad, like someone died! Why on earth are you weaning her?”

This question is totally fair, and it’s fair because I chose to write about it in the first place. So here’s a little bit of the reasoning behind undertaking this whole endeavor, as well as a little update for those who asked.

The reasons I chose to wean Olive ranged from what felt like selfish ones (after nineteen months I just reallt want to wear “real” bras and have my body be mine again for at least six months before we even start thinking about little The Steve coming along) to entirely vague (I don’t know, it just feels like it’s the right time), but I think the most important reason was that I felt she was indicating to me that she was ready to make some changes in her routine.

I have nursed Olive to sleep almost every night since she was born, but in the last few weeks she has started falling asleep on her own more and more. Every so often she’d nurse but not fall asleep. She’d roll around beside me, chat a bit, giggle and wiggle and then five minutes later be laying there, her eyelids getting heavy and her breathing slow. She fell asleep sitting in my brother’s lap as he played “Damn it feels good to be a gangster”. She fell asleep on the bed beside me as I answered an email – when I looked over, she was out.

This is entirely new. She has typically needed something (like nursing) to help her fall asleep, and I haven’t had a problem with that. I wrote a whole post about it, which is how many of you found me in the first place (hi!)

It was rewarding for both of us, and something that was a really sweet close to the day. And while I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by pushing independence on your child before they are ready, I also think that part of your job as a parent is to recognize those first glimmers of autonomy and encourage them to continue. Even if it breaks your heart.

So I started seeing Olive fall asleep by herself more and more, and I thought to myself, “You know, this would be a great time to transition her out of nursing to sleep, since she’s already begun the process.”  Since she was only nursing three times a day – when she woke up, and before her nap and bedtime- it seemed like the natural thing to do would be to wean her completely.

And then, the emotions. Oh god. I mean, I thought I’d heard it all about weaning – the gigantic boobs, the pain, the cabbage leaves in your bra. But I hadn’t heard about the emotional train wreck that rolls into town after breastfeeding stops. Your hormones just immediately nosedive, and shit hits the fan in a rather large way, and in addition to this biological shitstorm you are also saying goodbye to the last thing that makes your baby seem like a baby. The last real primitive physical connection. Hence, this post.

There were so many sweet, supportive comments and it was absolutely amazing hearing how many of you felt the same way, or anticipated doing so. It was incredibly reassuring hearing how many other mothers experience the same feelings about breastfeeding, the same reluctance to let go (it’s always so nice to know I’m not the only crazy out there! )

Many others commented (and emailed privately) to ask why. Why was I weaning if I was so upset over it? Was I being pressured? Were there medical issues? Was I pregnant?

(No, no, and sadly, not the right time. Not yet)

These emails were all incredibly respectful but also inquisitive, and that got me doing some reflecting, too. It made me revisit my original reasons for wanting to wean:

I want some autonomy. I want to wear real bras, and choose shirts based on qualities other than ease of access to The Boobs. Most importantly, I want to encourage Olive as she is learning to fall asleep on her own.

But I was also clearly not ready to let go. When I looked at that list full of reasons again I realized that all I had to do to accomplish these goals was cut out the nursing to sleep, not the nursing altogether. For months the two have been so intertwined that it truly didn’t seem possible to have one without the other- but of course it is.

I came up with a compromise that would allow me to reach the points I wanted to, without giving up the closeness that I felt by nursing Olive. I gave myself a goal of one week to wean Olive and make the sleeptime transition. If things didn’t go well, we’d put weaning on hold and try again later. How was I going to magically start nursing again if things didn’t pan out? Well, by not stopping entirely in the first place.

After two days of tearing up, and second-guessing, and questioning myself and every decision I’ve ever made), I decided to bring back the morning nursing sessions. She comes into bed with me, we curl up and it’s a lovely, peaceful way to start the day.


And now, the update

Olive has adjusted incredibly well. She cried the first day, and it was pretty tough to get her to go to sleep (which is totally understandable, I’m changing the sleep routine she’s had for pretty much her whole life.) By day three she wasn’t asking to nurse at naptime or bedtime, going to sleep well for naps but still having trouble winding down at night. I am finding that being physically close to her in these first few transition weeks is important in order to replace the closeness she’d typically get from breastfeeding.

And the million dollar question that I have always wondered: If I’m not nursing her, how the hell do I get her to sleep?

Well, because she had done it a handful of times in the last few weeks I knew she couldwhen relaxed, simply fall asleep. This was mightily encouraging. For naptime I have discovered that reading her stories works like a charm. One and a half readthroughs of this and she’s out like a light. Bedtimes are still a work in progress. Sometimes reading works, sometimes I sing to her, and then other times she seems to need more and she falls asleep nestled into me (which I love, obviously).

So that’s the explanation and the update. I feel very at ease with this middleground. I am encouraging her to grow, stretch and do new things, while at the same time remaining a familiar place she can come home to. I’m also hoping that by gradually reducing nursing sessions it won’t be such a whatthewhat! roller coaster when I do wean her, for real this time, sometime in the future.

I think sometimes we are afraid to go back. I was.

I kept thinking I couldn’t revisit my decision because I had decided. But of course we can. We are human, and so are our children – fluid, adjustable, ever-evolving human beings. If something isn’t working, or doesn’t stick; if it doesn’t settle right and you find yourself feeling like you wish you never went down this damn road in the first place I think it’s worth re-evaluating, seeing if you can find some middle ground, or even just putting it on the back burner and trying again in a few weeks.

So, not a goodbye after all. More of a “See you soon.”


On weaning

The GoodbyeGirl by Tracy Hetzel on Etsy


We walk around other people’s houses, trying to see past their clothes in the closet, beyond their decorating choices to the bones beneath.

I spend my days with little people who barely reach my waist, dressing them and changing diapers, metering their emotions as they range from giddiness to fury, from exhaustion to the first tiny buds of compassion and empathy.

I laid with Olive tonight and rubbed her back until she fell asleep. I traced circles up and down her small spine and replayed in my head every time I have ever nursed her. In the hospital under the guidance of our midwife in those first hazy days after she was born, hours upon hours spent figuring things out on our couch, then as she grew, on buses, trains and airplanes. Beside waterfalls and looking out at the ocean. Mall food courts, the shores of Pigeon Lake, Ontario.

Every single day of her life we had these touchpoints, these small connections where it was just us. Especially when she started walking and running, when the world around her suddenly came within reach these touchpoints were so welcomed. The closeness.

And the last time, yesterday morning.

I really did not expect to feel such an aching sense of loss when I stopped. I lie here with tears streaming and my chest aching too, filled with milk I no longer need.

I have explained things to Olive, and at nap time I told her to say night-night to the milk. Through tears she says “Bye-bye”. I did not expect to feel like this and I cant figure out why, either. It feels silly, somehow.

Haven’t I done what I meant to do? I never had a clear idea of how long I would breastfeed for, I had hoped to make it a year at least. In five months Olive will be 2.

Haven’t I been talking about doing this for months now? Craving my body back, my space, the ability to wear real bras and drink all of the coffee or alcohol I wanted. Wasn’t this the plan?

And yet when I realize we will never have this relationship again, we will never observe these small touchpoints, oh god something breaks.

Silly or not, it breaks.

This is the strangest thing about motherhood. From the moment you conceive you stop being one person and are suddenly split into two. You relish this state, the duality, but in smaller doses you resent it, too.

There is nothing else like being needed in this way – someone being completely reliant on you for their very life. It is immensely gratifying but it also sometimes feels like choking.

You crave being just one person again and the mistake is thinking this moment will come when you deliver the baby. That is just the beginning. And yet the more you push and run and stretch toward this goal of singularity, the more terrifying it becomes.

You rejoice at each small independence, but releasing into it is a battle within yourself every time. It’s a little dance, motherhood . Two steps forward, one step back.

Already I am second guessing myself. Olive is as smart as a whip and so she understands, but I can tell she’s sad, too. There’s a lot of forlorn groping going on around here lately. I feel like I’m being selfish, somehow to take back this piece of myself before she chose to give it up.

If all of this seems melodramatic, please know that it feels that way to me, too. I know some of it is hormones, but as silly as it may be, this is how I am feeling right now. Like I’ve lost something, and also taken something important away from someone I love more than anything.

I never expected this flood of memories and emotion, I never saw it coming. So I lie here blindsided and second guessing myself. Looking forward to a future with less little pauses (and more bras – real bras!)

It’s one more little independence, one more step forward.

Bye bye.


Love, by Tracy Hetzel on Etsy