Sunday, December 16, 2007

Weaning

It's 4am and I'm up. That's normal because usually I am feeding my 8 month old son somewhere around now. Yes, the books say that 8 month olds probably don't need to wake up in the middle of the night to feed twice. But the books also advise you to let him "Cry-it-out", something me and my husband cannot see any wisdom in at this point. We prefer to be responsive to Lucas' signs, so when he slept through the 4am feed yesterday, I was able to justify weaning him from that feed.

Tonight however, he woke up, and I was prepared for the first of several nights when I would eliminate this feed. I was planning to use the principle I read somewhere - don't offer, don't refuse. And if I fed him, to start feeding him fewer minutes each night. I waited until his sleepy noises turned into louder and more urgent yells and then hobbled into his room. I plopped in his soother and waited for the answer. Either he'd turn and shove his face into the big pillow and go to sleep, thus refusing my milk. Or he'd howl. He howled. Okay, I'll be feeding him, I thought. I pulled him onto my lap, conscious to keep him sitting up. He cuddled into me, then reached up and touched my hair. He gave a smile under his soother then went back to sucking it and excitedly watched our cat walk in and out of his room. He didn't cry. He didn't pull at my shirt. He didn't spit out his soother and open his mouth to me. Instead, he looked over at his crib. I realized I had given him what he needed - a little cuddle and his soother, and had no reason to be holding him anymore. I lifted him back into his crib, and he curled into his pillow and went back to sleep.

I sat back in the rocking chair, stunned. This was exactly what I wanted - a hassle free, slow, weaning process, that we work out together as he is ready. But I didn't know I would feel so rejected. The feeling ate through me to my core and I couldn't sleep for more than an hour.

I blame the nurse we had in the hospital on day 3 of our stay there. She was well-intentioned, I believe, but overworked and slightly psychotic. It was probably about 4am, and Lucas had been crying most of the night. I was trying to nurse him yet again, only to have him pull off and start screaming again. She said to me - you don't have any milk and your baby is hungry. That comment crippled me. I had to wake my poor husband from the moments of sleep he was having, but he got up willlingly, holding me in one arm, and Lucas in the other, both of us bawling. Her statement shot through me to the depth of my womanhood, undermined my ability to mother, and has impacted my obsession with feeding my son these past 8 months. After that horrible night, we had to succumb to formula - which I'd read was the big evil fast food for babies meant only for mothers who are dying or worse, too lazy, to breastfeed. But the look in Lucas' eyes when we gave him that bottle was sheer relief. My baby was satiated - that was all that mattered. I pumped my breasts for three days until my milk came in. The look on his face when I nursed him then was priceless. He was more than satiated, he was drunk with my milk.

It is a primal feeling - this need to feed my baby. I imagine all mothers feel it, but it's not something we discuss. And any affront to it, brings me back to that moment in the hospital when I couldn't give him what he needed. It's why I held off giving him a soother for a month, why I breastfed exclusively for 6 months, why I was ready with an assault of information about the benefits if anyone questioned me, why I adamantly didn't start solid food til 6 months, why I pumped milk for him every time I left him until now, and why I stopped leaving him when I couldn't pump enough milk.

But I have to face the fact that weaning is another part of our relationship that has to happen. It began with the first bit of solid food I gave him, and then the formula I started to give him with his cereal when I couldn't pump enough of my own. Now as we begin the very slow process I have chosen for us to wean, I start to give him formula at mealtimes, in a cup, as his drink. I refuse to wean the way some of the books say - to replace my breast with a bottle. That seems cruel to me - to hand him a bottle while my breast is still full, and then go and pump behind his back. Or maybe I don't want to risk that he'd choose the bottle over me.

I realize now that weaning is not about me weaning him. It is about us weaning from this beautiful breastfeeding relationship that I never could have imagined would be so special. I wasn't even sure I wanted to breastfeed. Now I am almost a lactivist! We live in a culture where breastfeeding is hidden and misunderstood. I never knew what joy it brought to mothers, how easy and beautiful and natural it is (once you get past the hurdles of it). I never knew how intensely emotional it can be, and how utterly normal it becomes. And now that I truly appreciate it, I see that the end is near. When he nurses now, he takes five or seven minutes, instead of the 15 or 25 minutes he did as an infant. I find myself sad when he is done, when he is leaning himself over the breastfeeding pillow wanting to go and play. I imagined weaning would be difficult - but I never thought it would be me who would find it so. I didn't think he'd be sound asleep and I'd be the one pacing at 4am, mourning the intimate bond we've had for eight months, knowing it is close to an end.

He is becoming his own little person now. When I hold him now, he struggles to get away, wants to be on the ground crawling, exploring, climbing. When I put my hand on his little gym, he takes it and moves it off, wants to do everything himself. He is only eight months old, and already doesn't need me. We shared my body for nine months, and by another nine months, he will have even less need of my breasts to sustain him. We have been as close as we will ever be and I never realized it.

The weaning, I realize now, is not just about milk. It's about letting my little boy go... already.

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