Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Nursling No More

As of this week, Ellie is officially weaned. Our breastfeeding journey has come to an end after 21 months.

I'm so proud of how far we made it. I know that we were very lucky that we had such an easy go of it, and I am forever thankful for that. That's not to say there wasn't some discomfort, some feelings of being "chained" to my baby and unable to do anything by myself for a while, some tears, some frustrations. But all in all, the majority of our 21 month-long nursing relationship went smoothly.

I've been debating when to stop nursing Ellie for several months now. I planned to wean her before our weekend away at the beach in September, and got her down to just nursing at night. But when I returned, she still wanted to nurse and I was still able, so we picked it back up, even adding back in a morning feeding. I was glad to keep going; I hadn't felt ready to stop yet. I was still cherishing those quiet, still moments with my crazy toddler, and I knew that she was continuing to benefit from breastmilk.

But when I got pregnant again, I had a lot of breast tenderness and nursing no longer was the calming, cozy, relaxing activity it once was for me. Instead I spent most of our nursing sessions fighting back tears and curse words, just waiting for Ellie to finish. She was barely nursing at all anymore - just at night, and usually for just a very brief session before she would detach, hug me and say "night, night, Mama." Those last tender moments made all the discomfort worth it, so I kept on keeping on.

But as the first trimester wore on, I finally felt like I was ready to be done. And it became more and more apparent to me that Ellie was ready, too. She was still asking to nurse every night as she got ready for bed, but I got the distinct feeling it was largely out of habit. She felt comforted by the closeness we shared right before bed, and I loved comforting her in that way. And of course, I knew she was still benefiting from breastmilk, so I still struggled with my decision to call it quits. But ultimately, I decided we were both ready to move on.

When we returned from our holiday travels, I nursed her one more night back at home. It was especially painful, which was probably a blessing for my own peace of mind. As we sat there in the dark, I shed a few tears as I explained to Ellie that this was our last time. I told her how much I loved being able to feed her for so long, and how much I cherished those quiet moments we spent together. But, she is a big girl now and it's time to stop.

The next night, we didn't nurse. She asked, but we told her she would just cuddle with Mama instead. So we settled into our chair in the dark as always, but this time, without nursing. We sat together and she just let her body melt into mine. We held hands, cuddled, rocked, sang and prayed. When I could tell she was relaxed, I kissed her goodnight and put her in her crib. To my surprise and relief, she didn't make a peep and went right to sleep.

Somehow, dropping that last feeding has been easier than the others before it. After dropping our morning and naptime feedings, she would still ask for milk at those times for weeks (maybe even months) afterwards. She was alright with it when I would say no, but she would still ask. However, with this last feeding, she stopped asking for milk and replaced it with requests for "cuddle, Mama!" within just a day or two.

Ellie's response to weaning has made me feel much better, because I feel like she has confirmed that she was also ready to stop. However, Mama Guilt is strong, and I continue to feel conflicted about it - not so much because I miss nursing, but because I know what awesome stuff breastmilk is and it makes me feel like a bad mom to be depriving Ellie of that. But, of course, this day had to come sometime, and I think we stopped at the time that was right for both of us.

Aside from all that, it's always bittersweet to watch your child reach a new milestone, isn't it? I'm so proud of my Big Girl Ellie, and the kid she's growing into. Yet I can't help but ache for the baby days gone by. All at once I both can't wait to watch her grow up into the person she's meant to be, and I wish I could hold her tight as my little baby forever. It's a tough gig, this motherhood thing.

This experience with Ellie has been one that I will always hold dear in my heart. I have such vivid memories of nursing her in the very first moments I saw her on her birth day (some of the few vivid memories I actually have of the entire day), of nursing her at home in those early days, nursing her down for naps and at bedtime, for comfort, in Central Park, in Herald Square, on airplanes, when she was tired, when she just woke up, when she was sick, when she was scared. I have loved being able to provide her with the exact nutrition she needs, as well as an always-present, always-reliable source of comfort. This experience has been such a blessing and I am so thankful that we were able to continue with it for so long.

Now, I will take a few months off before trying for a repeat performance with Plus One. I am hopeful that we will have a similarly wonderful experience, though I try to go in without any distinct expectations. Each child is different, and I know not to expect the same. But I'm hopeful. I would love to experience this yet again with my second child. And next time, I'd like to be more sure of myself about it. I'd like to be more bold about nursing in public. I did nurse in public with Ellie, but always under a cover and often off in a quiet corner if I could manage it. That made me feel comfortable, so I don't regret it, but I don't want to feel the need to hide this time. Actually, I hope that overall I will be able to approach the whole thing with more confidence and self-assuredness, just having already done it successfully once. That seems likely, right?

But, that is still a few months off. For now, I am just enjoying those quiet cuddles with my big girl, and cherishing the memories she has given me over the last 21 months. I am one lucky mama.

During a morning nursing session with Ellie one year ago. Morning sessions were always my favorite - sleepy and cuddly and sweet, as we were both just waking up and getting ready to start our day.

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