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nursing sadness

when paul weaned, i was ready for it, sort of. but the getting-to-weaning process was one of the hardest things i’ve ever experienced.

there’s so much tied into breastfeeding. i am wholly in favor of it and i am proud that paul and i had a successful nursing relationship for about 18 months. people told me that i was doing a great thing for my baby and willingly shared nursing histories, but no one told me about the sheer helplessness of watching a once-abundant milk supply dwindle to almost nothing.

i pumped steadily for one year, january 13, 2004 to january 13, 2005. i killed that pump, a medela traveler pump-in-style. by the end, it acted possessed and it was often hard to regulate a speed or level of suction, but it hardly mattered because i could hardly get anything anyway, even at home with my trusty manual avent isis. every day at work i felt proud that i was able to sustain my baby’s breastmilk habit, but pumping itself was a chore. milk needed for the next day would be bottled and placed in the fridge, excess (when there was any) bagged and stored in the deep freeze in the basement. i had a decent-sized stash, but discovery of paul’s allergies rendered it unusable. from that point on, it was always a game of catch-up – pumping on weekends, pumping at nights, etc. etc. etc. (when i eventually threw out the stash i was so miserable i posted on a message board just because i needed some comfort from other moms.)

when i quit pumping, my pumpable supply was ridiculously low, but i was still able to breastfeed. he was already drinking soy milk by then, so it wasn’t like he didn’t have anything while i was at work. but as the days went on, i was definitely losing my supply. sometimes he would cut feedings short because letdown was slow and infrequent, then he’d ask for more milk. i’d get him a bottle and he’d be happy as a clam. sometimes when i’d try to start a nursing session, he’d push me away and sign vigorously for milk. it was heartbreaking.

like i said, there is so much tied into breastfeeding. the ability to nourish your child from your own body is an amazing one. whoever came up with that one, well, i salute you! but the pressures (not just direct personalized pressure – i mean from literature and other references, not necessarily someone sitting in your living room shaking a finger at you) can be overwhelming. there are people telling you your child is going to starve if you keep it up. there are people telling you your child is going to be sick all the time if you stop. there are people shaming other people for using formula for whatever the reason. there are nonbreastfeeders making breastfeeding moms feel defensive for standing up for the choice to breastfeed. it’s ugly, but i understand why it is this way. the way you feed your child is such a personal, personal choice, and everything feels like a personal attack if it doesn’t mesh what you’re doing.

a couple of months after paul was born, i saw a cousin at a family party. she told me that she had stopped breastfeeding after a few months. i didn’t mean to, but i must have looked surprised because she instantly went on the defensive and said, “but we bond in other ways.” i totally didn’t mean to make her feel like she had to say anything like that, and i was ashamed that i had involuntarily indicated any measure of surprise. i would never attack anyone for their personal parenting decisions unless they specifically put the child at risk, and i’d be hard-pressed to identify anyone i know actually doing so.

(of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t be snarky little bitches about other parents. or non-parents, for that matter.)

i read just enough to drive myself crazy. on this message board i visit, there was once a vicious debate about self-weaning. i guess it’s rare that children self-wean before 18 months, so it was getting to the point where attacks were being made on everyone who said their babies self-weaned prior to that magic date. the arguments begun to sound like “babies don’t self-wean that early, so YOU must have projected your desires on that poor baby and are now trying to rationalize your own personal act of supreme selfishness. and now the baby will suffer, SUFFER, because you wanted to wear an underwire bra, sleep on your stomach, eat what you want. bastard.” i was still pretty new to breastfeeding so i was terrified. i was going to breastfeed until that little boy went to school. i was going to drown him with wonderful health benefits. (of course, that’s not quite the way it worked out, but that’s another story.)

during the 16th month, i never thought i’d make it to even 18, so i had this constant refrain banging in my head – if only i had kept pumping, if only i had not allowed paul to drink so much soy milk, if only i drank more water/ate more fenugreek/took more vitamins – i thought i’d go mad. the idea of just ending the feedings made me cry. i was on edge all the time and screamed at cam with little to no provocation. i’d sob and sit on the floor, the biggest failure in the world. i was almost perpetually teary. having my son so purposefully push me away when he used to cling to me…

during the 17th month, i resigned myself to the end. i was taking vitamins that made me gag and smell funny, but they weren’t doing anything else. when paul would latch on for a minute or two, i’d count that as a feeding and try to be content. i tried to convince myself that he was pushing the weaning on me, but i still felt like it was my fault. it was a very lonely time because it was so hard to convey to people my sense of loss and guilt. you’re almost at 18 months, isn’t that great? um, no, not when we’re hanging from a thread like this.

a couple of days into the 18th month, paul walked off and that was it. i still felt (and still feel) like a failure – couldn’t even make it to two years! the other moms on the messages boards taunted me with their damn lilypie breastfeeding counters. i eventually stopped looking at breastfeeding forums because i wasn’t one of their kind anymore.

over a month later i am clearly seeing the result of the end of nursing. mom isn’t such a big deal anymore. dad = fun. although i am thrilled that cam and paul have a such a fabulous relationship, i can’t help but feel hurt when paul ignores me in favor of his father. but what did mom have to offer anyway other than the promise of a warm embrace and full tummy of milk?

i think with my next child i’ll have to be more prepared. no matter what cam says, i still think that i must have done something to paul to make him wean. even though i made it to the 18 months, it was utterly bruising at the end. i don’t want my next experience to be like that.

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