My second daughter, Sophie, took a bottle twice in her life, and by the ripe old age of three weeks, decided she preferred her milk to come directly from the source- Mama. We tried for months to re-introduce the bottle in a variety of ways; we tried several different types of bottles, different times of day, we tried a handful of different people offering the bottle, to no avail. There came a point when I gave up trying and came to terms with the fact that Sophie was just going to be a boob baby.
It became clear that she had no interest in weaning around her first birthday, and I was in no hurry to stop nursing, so we carried on as usual.
As we neared 15 months, I realized for a variety of reasons that we needed to wean within the next month or so. I will refrain from discussing our rationale; I’m sure there are several moms shaking their head and thinking, “Why would anyone deliberately wean before age 2?” and others wondering, “Who on earth would want to nurse for 16 whole months?” Hopefully there are also some moms thinking, “Way to go! I’m glad you nursed for the amount of time that felt right to you.” At any rate, breastfeeding and weaning is a loaded subject at times, so I will avoid a lengthy narrative on why we decided to stop when we did. Suffice it to say, it was time.
We started by cutting out our daytime nursing sessions; three days a week Sophie was in childcare for nearly 8 hours, and had no problem going sans-boob for that long when I wasn’t around. The problem was, when Mommy was there, nursing seemed like an appealing activity to indulge in, say, every 15 minutes or so. It was time to set some limits. There were days when I almost caved. Sophie had learned to very clearly express herself, and one afternoon when we were snuggling on the couch, she whimpered hopefully, “Nuhs?” I shook my head and said gently, “Nursing is for bedtime!” Her little face crumpled and she began to cry, big tears rolling down her cheeks. Why am I doing this? I scolded myself.
After two weeks, we were down to nursing at only bedtime and first thing in the morning. A fantastic by-product of our plan was that Sophie finally began sleeping through the night after 15 excruciating months of unpredictable night wakings. After a week of that schedule, we cut out the morning nurse and were down to just bedtime. Sophie handled the change easily, making me optimistic that perhaps this wouldn’t be as painful as I had thought. Every day I casually reminded her that nursing was just for nighttime, and pretty soon we would be all done nursing. I’d like to think that somewhere in her busy little brain, she understood what I was preparing her for.
The end of our transitional month was just days away. On a Thursday night, I nursed Sophie and wondered if it would be our last time. As we rocked and I sang our lullaby, Sophie nursed quietly, clutching a fistful of my shirt in her chubby hand. I didn’t know how many more nights we would share this experience, so I absorbed every detail; the feeling of her hand against my chest, her soft cheek against my skin, the shadows playing across the floor. Because I didn’t know, I avoided any “This is our last time nursing!” emotions, and simply savored the minutes we spent in the rocking chair.
On Friday night we arrived home from dinner close to bedtime, and Sophie was tired. I quickly changed her into her pajamas and handed her Night-night bunny and Fat-cat, her special sleeping lovies. I settled into the glider and began my experiment; for the first time, I did not offer to nurse her. I decided to let her choose the course of actions; if she asked to nurse, I would nurse her. She didn’t ask, and instead rested her head against my shoulder.
I knew she didn’t need it anymore, and as I began to rock and sing, tears uncontrollably spilled down my cheeks. “Baby mine, don’t you cry,” I sang, my voice wavering with unsuppressed sobs. Sophie stayed contentedly nestled on my shoulder, and I continued to sing her lullaby and cry, reflecting on our nearly 16 months of breastfeeding. I didn’t regret my decision to wean, but on some level, I was deeply mourning. I knew that something had ended. I knew that I would not hear her sweet voice requesting, “Nuhs!” anymore. While it was the right thing for our family, and I know that Sophie was ready, ending our nursing relationship was extremely bittersweet. Whether it is the last night in the crib, the final bottle, the first steps, or the first day of kindergarten, so many of our children’s milestones are exactly that. Bittersweet.