The weaning.

Milla on a tearful afternoon…

I’d like to say that it was a wonderful experience in which we discovered new ways to relate to one another and show affection. I’d like to say it was pleasant. I’d like to be able to settle for even “bearable”. But it was none of the above.

Sometimes I can feel her stone gray eyes look at me across the room and I know exactly what she is thinking. I find myself caught in the same web of longing for a nursing relationship that ended too quickly. She crawls into my arms and gazes up at me, pointing to my shirt. She shakes her head; we shake our heads in unison. Yesterday, at such a moment, she hugged me tight. The day before, she just cried inconsolably. All the butterfly kisses in the world didn’t make a difference.

Everyone has their own response, conditioned by personal experience and parenting strategies. A few friends and family members have said things to the effect of:

“Good grief! She’s two and half years old! You’ve nursed her long enough. What’s the big deal?”

“It’s good that she’ll be growing up now.”

“You did your duty. Don’t feel bad.”

And then there are my wiser friends- those who know the tenderness and intimacy of a strong nursing relationship ended before either party was truly ready to let it go. They say things like:

“I’m so sorry- I know you must miss it.”

“Oh Alina, I know there’s nothing like it. I’m sorry.”

I know I didn’t have a choice in the matter- not a decent choice, not the kind of choice that wouldn’t have made a martyr-mom of me. When I was diagnosed with h. pylori after an endoscopy, my gastroenterologist didn’t skimp on the details of how badly things would go if I didnt take medicine to treat it immediately.

And the medicine- 10 horsepills a day of various antibiotics- would be bad for Milla. Not just “possibly bad” but no-doubt-about-it bad. Even the lactation specialists who urged me to nurse three children after numerous bouts of mastitis, surgeries, and other troubles shook their heads when I told them.

Usually, when Jeri the lactation specialist started a sentence with, “If it were me, Alina…..” she ended it with an encouragement to continue nursing. But this time, Jeri couldn’t find a way to say yes. So she listed all the side effects of those pills on babies- why they don’t use them in infants, why even Dr. Hale warns against it.

The next day, I began weaning Milla. It was awful for both of us. Awful for all of us- an entire family accustomed to a baby who never drank from a bottle and soothed herself by nursing. As we weaned, tempers and emotions flared.

A scraped knee was no longer an opportunity for a nursing session with soothed and calmed both of us- it was now an occasion for extended crying sessions in which no band-aid or kiss seemed quite right. The breast milk that kept Milla hydrated when viruses swept through the house was no longer available; and Milla wouldn’t consider any alternate drinks.

So weaning was stressful, sad, and we still haven’t completely recovered from it. Milla is not more “mature” or “independent”- in fact, she has become more clingy and weepy over the past few months. I don’t “have more time” for this “self” everyone keeps telling me about. I am not “happy to have my body back”- I was happy to share it. Milla has not found a “substitute” or learned the mythological art of “self-soothing” (often a euphemism for crying one’s self to sleep). And I couldn’t care less if she had nursed for as long as the American Academy of Pediatrics deemed worthwhile.

Obviously, I’m not over it. If folks can ballyhoo and mourn the loss of a football game, kindly extend me the same courtesy of mourning something so complete and perfect in itself that it cannot be replaced. And if you are one of those people telling a mother she “needs to stop nursing”, please wash your mouth out with soap. It is an unkind and usually unsolicited opinion best kept to one’s self.

The good news is that my stomach is better and I did what I needed to do for my health. The bad news is that Milla and I lost something very special to both of us- something for which there is no substitute. I maintain my right to mourn it and be sad it over it. And I empathize with Milla’s weepiness and frustration. There is nothing else in the world that compares to the nurture, comfort, and tenderness of nursing my child. NOTHING. Not a thing.

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