The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Is the breast half empty or half full?

It's been asked countless times of me in the past few weeks. "So..." (meaningful pause) "Now that Evan's turning 1, are you going to wean?" I can almost hear the hope in the question -- the underlying note of "you've done a great job here and all, but please tell me you're not going to be one of those people who nurses a 4 year old." Or maybe people are just making conversation (as I myself have been known to do with this topic) and the criticism I hear there is all my own "stuff." Either way, the question puts me a bit on edge every time it's asked of me.

The truth is that I don't fully know what my weaning plan is. I just can't seem to decide whether I view extended nursing as appealing or appalling... in truth, I think it's probably a little bit of both. I still think of Evan as enough of a baby that nursing him doesn't feel weird to me yet, and I love the time I spend nursing him, love sharing that connection with him, and don't really give a damn about how people view that. But I'm also beginning to yearn for a little distance -- I've been trying to conceive, pregnant or nursing for over 4 1/2 years straight now, and the idea of my body being "mine" again definitely holds a certain level of appeal. Intellectually, I think I've done what I set out to do and it's probably time to move on reasonably soon. ("Reasonably soon"... see the hedge there?) But emotionally, I'm having a hard time letting go.

Ultimately, I think the decision whether or not to wean should be Evan's, not mine. If he still needs, or even wants, to nurse, then I see no reason to take that away from him just because an arbitrary date on a calendar says he's "old enough." But if the need and the want are all mine, if he could take or leave the nursing thing and it's really me who's deriving the primary comfort from nursing at this point, well, then I need to get over myself and let it go.

So this week, I dropped a feeding to see how Evan would respond. He had been nursing 4 times a day -- upon waking, after each of his naps and before bed. I dropped the a.m. session (to coincide with dropping the morning nap), added a snack of soy milk and cheerios at about the time he used to nurse, and shifted the afternoon session back a few hours, more for my own comfort than anything else. And wouldn'tcha know it, the kid didn't even seem to notice. He still nurses with enthusiasm when the breast is offered, but he's not looking for it at any other time. In other words, I think he's more ready than I am.

I'd promised myself I'd follow Evan's lead here, so I'm going to keep going and move on to the "don't offer, don't refuse" approach during the day next week. We'll see how that goes and then I'll decide what to do next. I don't know how long this will all take -- if Evan continues to not notice the absence, I'll just keep going, as fast as my physical comfort level and my heart will let me, but if at any point he protests, I'll gladly slow things down for a while. Either way, I guess Evan and I are officially on the road to weaning, though I don't know how long the journey will take.

I still remember the first day that I didn't nurse Julia at all. When she woke up, instead of bringing her into my bed to cuddle and nurse, I took her right donwstairs and handed her a cup of milk. She took it from me, turned around and happily walked away drinking it, leaving me standing there alone and, predictably, in tears. I couldn't decide if I was disappointed not to be needed in that way any more or proud of her independence, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that we were about to start trying for baby #2 and with any luck, I'd be nursing a baby again soon. I don't have that consolation this time -- while I don't know for sure what life will throw my way, the current life plan doesn't include any more babies for me to nurse. And with that in the back of my mind, I know it will be even harder when the day comes that Evan walks away, whether it happens next week, next month or (here comes that hedge again) some time way in the future.

I'm feeling quite a bit fuller this week as a result of dropping that nursing session, though I know that sensation will pass pretty soon. At the same time, I'm feeling a little bit emptier, thinking about what comes next, and I have the feeling that sensation won't pass as quickly. I guess my body's just as conflicted as my mind on this one. I suspect that it will always be one of my proudest accomplishments as a mother that neither of my children ever even tasted formula, that I nourished their bodies along with their hearts for the first year of their lives. But I also know that the desire to give my children the best won't end when I finally hang up my nursing bras. I'll be a better mom for following my son's heart than my own on this one. And so that's what I'm going to do, even if it hurts.


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