Breaking Up with Breastfeeding

So, here’s a piece of trivia about yours truly: I’ve never gone through a breakup. I married the first boy I kissed, and so I’ve never known that rite of passage, the ache and growth that comes from parting ways.

I imagine weaning is a little bit like a breakup, though. After many good times (when the baby is a hot water bottle nestled beside me in bed during my lying in, when we’ve learned to work as a team to both be comfortable, when I’ve spent a lazy quiet time with a book in one hand and a nursling on my lap), and a few rough times (when Pippin took to biting me, when I’ve been so tired I could die, when I fought one plugged duct after another with Roo), I eventually have to break up with my nursling.

I mean (arguably, I don’t because I could nurse into preschool, but) I choose to. With both Pippin and Roo, I’ve started the process around 20 months. It’s not me, it’s you, I explain sadly. Each baby would have happily continued in our nursing relationship, but I’ve found myself, for a myriad of reasons, increasingly impatient for change. Some of it’s mundane: I don’t want to have to replace nursing bras this late in the game. I’d like a little space to myself after being so closely entwined for over two years of pregnancy and breastfeeding. But some of it is bigger, too: usually around this time my fertility returns, and I’d really like to avoid the possibility of finding myself pregnant and nursing a toddler, a mistake I made with Scout. (Meaning I still haven’t had a chance to freely wear The Dress.)

With weaning, I may (and must) hand my child over more fully to the world. My weaned child joins the ranks of my other weanlings, a big kid among her siblings. She’ll become a candidate for longer playdates and overnights with her grandparents. She’ll grow closer to her papa now that Mama doesn’t hold all the cards.

But for those first twenty or so months, nursing is my hobby, my almost-full-time job; it’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve spent thousands of hours breastfeeding, maybe more than I ever spent as a librarian. And now the whole weaning process consumes me, and makes me wistful. Suddenly, instead of long sleepy hours cuddled on the couch or reading in the dark on my phone, I make myself manically busy, our life wildly entertaining, as I distract the baby For a couple of weeks, I can’t even sit down in the presence of my weaning child, lest she get certain ideas, and I sit apart from J and the baby during Mass so it doesn’t become an all-you-can-eat buffet. I have to be firm, but warm. I have to be an oversolicitous butler, offering snacks and stories and sippy cups. It’s a lot of work, this gentle breakup.

I deliberately continued nursing Roo through our UK trip, mostly for the plane and flexibility in sleeping in new places. These days were sunlit and sweet and a little stifling. It was the long goodbye.

I have loved nursing this child. But from experience, I know we will come out the other side of this clamor and transition and busyness of weaning into a new relationship. As the Psalmist writes,

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.”

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