Rosie is done nursing.
I remember how much I first struggled to get Rosie to nurse when she was a newborn.
She wouldn’t latch on. She just wouldn’t. She arched her back and screamed.
I didn’t know what to do.
I thought she hated me. I remember one night, when we’d only been home from the hospital for maybe a day or two, I laid her down on the bed and sobbed and sobbed because I was certain she hated me and that was why she reacted so strongly every time I tried to nurse her.
We had to work so hard, Rosie and I, in order to build our breastfeeding relationship.
The first time she successfully nursed without any pumped milk or nipple shields she was six weeks old.
Our breastfeeding relationship was wonderful. Rosie was one of those babies who wants to nurse all the time. Breastfeeding soothed her every woe, it put her to sleep, it nourished her body. She wasn’t really interested in eating meals of solid food until she was 16 months old, because breast milk was just that good to her.
She wanted to nurse everywhere we went! Nursing in public was scary for me at first. Rosie made me push past that. There was no way I could meet her need for nutrients and comfort without nursing her, and if I didn’t want to nurse her in public then I’d probably never be able to leave the house again.
Sometimes while I nursed her I sat and wondered. I thought about what the last time I ever nursed her would be like. Would I know it was the last time? How would it be, parenting my Rosie without nursing her?
At different points in our relationship when these thoughts crossed my mind I had varying reactions.
When she was a baby I couldn’t imagine not nursing her. I felt heartbroken at the thought our nursing relationship ending. As time went on and she grew older the thought of her weaning wasn’t as sad. I began to accept that it would happen one day, and when it did I would be ok. Child led weaning means that your child is truly done nursing. She would not be sad to stop nursing because she wouldn’t need to do it any longer. Still, I couldn’t fathom when that time would come for my voracious nursling.
When I got pregnant my milk supply dropped. Rosie was two years old. She kept right on nursing, despite the fact that my nipples felt like they’d been rubbed against a cheese grater. Despite the lack of milk. It didn’t matter to her.
When my baby died at 12 weeks, Rosie kept right on nursing. My milk came back and that made her happy. It was nice to have her warm toddler body snuggled against my sad heart.
I got pregnant again right after Rosie’s third birthday. By this point it was no longer socially acceptable for anyone to really know she was still nursing. Americans don’t value breastfeeding relationships. Maybe because so few of us have really experienced one to know how wonderful it can be, that knowledge is lost to our culture. Instead we have so much misinformation brought about by inexperience, false advertising, and old wives tales. Even pediatricians give terrible breastfeeding advice.
In other areas around the world child led weaning is more common. Whenever I worried about what others thought I reminded myself that I am not the only mama out there nursing a toddler, or a preschooler. Mamas just like me are loving on their little ones all around the world, some right here in America behind closed doors.
(Even in the middle of reorganizing a very messy room…)
I dedicated myself to child led weaning–nursing until Rosie and I both were finished. At points during my pregnancy with Ada I was finished nursing Rosie. It felt horrible. I felt like I could crawl out of my skin, or fling Rosie out of the window. It was just awful. My milk was almost completely dried up by the second trimester. There were no longer unicorns, and rainbows, and warm fuzzy feelings when it came to breastfeeding Rosie during this stage in our relationship.
Yet Rosie still wanted to nurse. She loved the closeness it provided. She’d fallen asleep nursing in my arms every single night of her life for three years. I knew how important it was to her. At this age she only nursed a few times a day–once upon waking in the morning and then again at night before bed. It was a routine of love between us, the perfect way for us to reconnect at the end of the day. The best way to start out our mornings. I pushed past my feelings because I remembered how wonderful it used to be, and I had already come so far–why stop now? How would I tell my sweet girl that she could no longer have her favorite thing in the world just because I didn’t want to do it anymore? How would that affect her relationship with her new sibling if I forced Rosie to wean only to replace her at the breast with a new little one? It couldn’t be good. So I gritted my teeth and kept going, while kissing the top of Rosie’s head and whispering in her ears how much I love her.
Ada was born, and then I was nursing two little ones. Tandem nursing. It felt so strange at first. I had visions of myself as a mama mammal, maybe a pig or a cat, nursing a litter.
Tandem nursing was beautiful also. Rosie and Ada nursed together every night before bed. They held hands and giggled over my chest each night.
Rosie began forgetting to nurse in the mornings when she woke up. She just stopped asking. Occasionally she would remember, until Ada was a few months old. By then she had forgotten all together. I didn’t remind her. This is the natural progression of weaning, to forget a nursing session without remorse because it’s just not needed any longer.
After Rosie turned four I began to wonder if she would ever be ready to stop nursing. I never imagined I would be nursing a four year old! But you know, it’s not the same as looking at someone else’s four year old and saying, “Oh gosh I couldn’t imagine nursing that huge kid!” Rosie was my baby. I saw her every day of her life, she grew up before my eyes gradually. I nursed her every day of her life.
It’s like when you don’t see someone for awhile and then you see them again and they are totally different, compared to if you see them every day. When you see someone every day you don’t notice the gradual changes.
I know now that Rosie will go into motherhood filled with nothing but wonderful memories of nursing. People who don’t understand say things like, “Won’t she be disgusted when she remembers nursing?” No, she won’t. She loved nursing even as she was ready to wean. Memories of nursing are a gift that I’ve given her, a gift of knowledge about how wonderful a breastfeeding relationship can be, which she can in turn give to her children.
I would ask Rosie sometimes, when will you be done nursing?
“When I’m 90,” she’d say. “I will nurse forever.”
I started thinking that four was hitting my comfort limit. I mean she was still my baby, but she was so big compared to Ada. Our breastfeeding relationship seemed to be falling into a season of winter, where there is dormancy and quiet stillness. I could see a peaceful end on the horizon not too far ahead.
She began to nurse for shorter amounts of time. Just before bed, and eventually only for a minute each night. Despite the short amount of time, she would always need to nurse. Suggestions to skip one night were met with horror and gnashing of teeth.
Then our relationship suddenly progressed further towards the end. She came up with an idea she called pattern milk. Pattern milk meant you nurse one night, then not nurse for the next night she told me. She always changed the pattern to suit her needs. Sometimes she said the pattern was nursing for three nights then not nurse for one night. It was a silly game she played.
One night a few weeks ago she nursed for the very last time ever. She nursed for about 15 seconds then said, “Actually can I have a glass of water?”
I knew it was the last time. I have a snapshot of it in my mind.
There it was–the moment I’d always wondered about when she was a baby. At different points in our relationship I’d thought of that moment with dread and sadness, and at other times I’d looked forward to it. But now that it had come I was ok, just as I thought I’d be. Rosie was done nursing. I was done nursing her. We finished together and it was a peaceful quiet ending.
She hasn’t asked to nurse again since that night. We read a book together before bed instead. I tuck her in, blow the bad dreams out of her head, kiss her goodnight, and she goes to sleep.
The ending was so simple.
I won’t lie, I secretly cried.
It’s really over. Four years and eleven months of a beautiful nursing relationship are behind us, and now a new chapter begins.