I consider myself lucky. In this culture of formula and inadequate support and work pressures, so many women seem to struggle with breastfeeding. For me, the struggle was actually weaning. Breastfeeding came easy. My babies latched well and I had a bigger issue with oversupply than with not producing enough. I had great support from my midwives and family, and I was lucky to have a whole year of Canadian maternity leave.
My children were both enthusiastic nursers and as a result, weaning was a very long gradual process. I had initially intended to nurse my firstborn for 18 months. We did manage to night-wean him at 15 months when I got a part-time job but his day-time nursing made up for it. There was no chance he’d be weaned at 18 months. I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding before my son was ready. I wanted very much for the process of weaning to be loving and gentle and to move at a pace dictated largely by my son, with some encouragement from me. In that sense, I wouldn’t say it was truly child-led weaning as I definitely played an encouraging (or discouraging) role. I employed the oft-cited tactics like “Don’t offer, don’t refuse” and distraction or offering alternatives. Eventually, I would decline a request to nurse whenever I thought I could get away with it.
I will be honest. Sometimes it felt like I would never get my body back. Sometimes I felt touched out and resented having to nurse again. Sometimes I felt that weaning gradually was too difficult, too slow.
By the time Rain was two years old, he was only nursing before and after sleeps and when hurt or upset. A month after his second birthday, I got pregnant again. Nursing quickly became uncomfortable and I wasn’t sure I was interested in tandem nursing. I knew that the next 9 months held Rain’s weaning. We gradually got him into a bedtime routine that involved reading books, a cup of milk and some a lot of cuddles. By January 2008, he was only nursing once a day, before his nap.
One day—was it January? February?—he was playing with his cousins in the house. They had the camping gear out and were pretending that the rolled blue foam sleeping pads were horses. They would sit on them and pretend to ride. Rain brought one back to the bus at lunch time. He asked to sleep with his horse during nap time. We laid down together on the bed in the back. I remember the light peeking through the curtains. I remember him putting his arm around Rose, his trusty horse and curling his body round the blue foam pad. I remember tucking his blanket around him. I remember how I stroked his hair and how he drifted off, forgetting to ask for a nurse.
I don’t remember the day before, the day we nursed as we always did. I don’t remember the way he looked or what the light was like the last time we nursed.
But I remember the day he didn’t nurse. I remember this day as the day he weaned. He did nurse again after that day: occasionally to sleep, when he fell and got hurt, after his sister was born and he would watch her nurse, curious and remembering how he had loved to nurse. By the time Noa was born, he would only latch, suck once or twice, grow bored and wander off to do something else. I remember the day with the blue foam horse named Rose because this was the first day he didn’t nurse. This was the real weaning: the day nursing was no longer a daily affair, no longer a part of the rhythm of our lives.
I have many many memories of breastfeeding Rain. I remember the early days learning together, sitting up alone with him at night by the light shining through the closet door, listening to Aaron and the dog snore, listening to Rain’s sleepy swallows. I remember the toddler acrobatics as he nursed while doing downward dog with one leg extended in the air. I remember being curled together on the couch. I remember him energetically signing for milk with both hands raised in the air, shouting “Nur! Nur!” when I would get home from work.
And I remember weaning. But I don’t remember the last time we ever nursed.
For this I am glad. It tells me that the process really was slow and gentle. I also feel that it spares me that feeling of loss, that bittersweetness of having to let go. I don’t know how I could have managed a final nurse if I had been aware it was our last time together. This way, remembering weaning focuses me on my boy’s growing independence, on his sweetness, his silliness, not on the sadness of our changed relationship.
Even in weaning I consider myself lucky.