On July 19, I nursed my daughter for the last time. I didn’t know it would be the last time, since I was hoping she would take the lead on weaning and I had no actual cut-off date in mind. Had I known it was going to be the last time, I would have planned it differently. The reality was that we were in an Econo Lodge or AmericInn or something in some miscellaneous corner of Minnesota. I was perched on the end of the bed holding a toddler smelling vaguely of hotel grade chlorine, thinking only briefly about what a wonderful little being she is and how grateful I am to have a breast-based relationship with her before my thoughts were diverted to more pressing issues such as Will my husband we smart enough to stay out of the room with the dogs long enough for her to fall asleep? And will he take their jangly collars off first? Is there pizza leftover? How many hours of our roadtrip can be filled with episodes of Max and Ruby before I’m officially frying her not-yet-two-year-old brain? Also…what’s that smell? Hotels are gross.
A week or so later, when my girl had suddenly and shockingly still not asked for milky since that night, I told my husband how sad it made me that the setting of our last nursing session together was so cheap. And possibly unhygienic.
To which he said: What would have better? Candlelight? An oversized armchair covered in white linens? Soft music?
To which I said: Yes.
In the months before little V broke off our nursing relationship, I wondered about how weaning would actually happen. Sometimes I hoped it never would. I loved nursing. Memories of the painful beginnings of breastfeeding were washed away by the second-nature process we had developed. The frustration of being the only food source for a baby who, during some growth spurts, became famished at 30 minute intervals around the clock was dulled by the indescribable warmth that passed through me when she gazed up at me with a milky little grin. I couldn’t conceive of a world where she and I had a relationship that didn’t have breastfeeding as a part of it, and therefore I didn’t feel eager for it to end. Just in case there was no other way.
At other times, I longed for her to suddenly abandon my breasts. Once she was clearly beyond the phase where breast milk was her main source of nutrition, there were days when I begged her (out loud, because I’m highly logical) to find comfort from other sources/people/liquids. I wanted to feel, for the first time since becoming pregnant in February 2010, that my body was ONLY my own and that no one else was affected by my choices. I wanted to take cold medicine. To choose supplements without consulting a doctor, or at least kellymom, before swallowing them down. To have a glass of wine and let that glass of wine turn into a bottle of wine plus a shot of tequila without having to consider whether that decision would turn my breast milk into an adult beverage. I couldn’t conceive of a world where she and I had a relationship that didn’t have breastfeeding as a part of it, and therefore I felt anxious for it to end. To see if there was any other way.
When the mythical act of weaning actually occurred, I did not fall into a depression nor did I throw a celebration. I am, by nature, a very conflicted person. Consequently, I felt conflicted.
I was sad. I was sad that my baby was, truly, no longer a baby. That she was taking steps towards independence. That I had nursed her for the very last time, an act we had done thousands of times, that made us both feel so good, that kept us physically close together for 20 months and 9 days. I felt sad that this could be the last time I ever nursed, in the event that I don’t have any more children. Nursing was an act that was personal for V and I, but is an act that I love in general for the power it gives us as women and mothers.
I was happy. That she actually weaned herself, as I had heard would and could happen. That we had such a long, successful relationship with nursing. That it played such a role in our bonding. That we were now free to explore other ways of bonding, and that other people would be able to play a bigger role in comforting her. That I had some sort of freedom that I didn’t feel I had while we were still nursing. Nursing was an act that was personal for V and I, but made me uneasy at times for the way it disproportionately affects women physically and psychologically.
After months of being completely enamoured of my chest, our daughter stopped nursing in what seemed like a rather abrupt manner. For a woman that
likes loves plans and enjoys advanced notice and Googles the ends of movies before watching them, this caught me a bit unprepared. Even with the abundance of mixed emotions (see above) to choose from, I hardly knew how to feel. So I just…felt fine. And avoided thinking about it when at all possible.
Yesterday, in a fit of angry panic when I told her no you cannot run out into traffic, my child climbed into my arms, stuck her hand down my shirt, and softly whined “Milky.” Her sad little cartoon character voice begged and her tiny dimple-knuckle hands clung and I didn’t quite know what to say. I told her milky was all gone. That we could cuddle. That I loved her. She didn’t let go for a few minutes, but that seemed to be comfort enough. I felt so joyful realizing my long time wish for her to find comfort in other ways had been fulfilled. I felt pure bliss realizing the bond we’d formed over nursing still had some lingering shadows in her memory.
Then I had a drink.