Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Long Weaning Road

I am about to tell you something mortifying and incredibly exciting at the same time: Jenna is finally weaned.

It has been a three year process to get where we are today. Her fourth birthday on Monday was her last shot at nursey-nursey. We did lots of build up and preparation and warnings and reminders that she's going to be a big four-year-old soon to convince her that a non-breastfeeding life would coming flying at her and it was going to be okay. She treated this all with mild indifference, like, okay, I hear you, you can stop warning me now. She certainly was not excited or resistant, just sort of ambivalent.

And I am shocked to find that she has not even asked for it. Not once. In fact, last night I was telling her how proud I am of her not nursing and she misunderstood what I was saying and thought I was offering to nurse her. And she screwed up her little face and said, "Why? I'm a big girl. I thought we were done with that!" And you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Jenna has been a rabid breastfeeder since birth. My plan was to try to "stick it out" and nurse her the whole first year and then quickly wean her. I knew I was in trouble when we gave her the first bottle of breastmilk at age seven weeks and she refused all subsequent attempts of bottlefeeding. But I hung in there, often nursing her what seemed to be dozens of times a day and night. For a few months she slept in bed with us with my boob in her mouth. My mom called me a human pacifier. One of the only times I really lost it as a mom- sobbing and completely defeated- was one night when she woke me up at 2am after basically nursing every hour and I said to Dan, "I just CANNOT nurse her again. I cannot."

At her one year checkup I asked the pediatrician when she was going to lose interest in breastfeeding like the books say kids do. He looked at me wryly and said, "Some kids don't lose interest." And I knew right then what the next few years would be like.

We tried everything we could think of- solid food (she's a great eater), different bottles, different liquids, sippy cups of all shapes and sizes, substitutions, bribery- to distract her from the boob. Finally, completely defeated from the pile of failures, I stopped trying anything and just rolled with it. She wanted the comfort and closeness of breastfeeding, and she was so quiet and introverted and seemingly overwhelmed by the world that my instinct was to keep at... keep trying to fill that little girl up.

So many people I talked to about my inability-to-wean dilemma said to me, "Well, have you tried a sippy cup?" that it is now a frequent family joke. OF COURSE I tried sipppy cups. I have a Master's Degree and two children. I am able to think of the obvious, thank you very much. It was incredibly frustrating and defeating and draining.

Things got a little better when I finally limited our breastfeeding to only happening at home. Then Jenna, totally on her own, dropped her before bed feeding. By the time she was two or two and a half, I was only nursing her in the morning and during her nap. I still wished it would end, but it was at a more manageable level and just became part of our lives.

Then about a year ago I realized that deep down, I obviously wanted to keep nursing her. I mean, she can't overpower me and hold me down and nurse. Clearly I am not stopping for reason. So I stopped complaining about it.

I think what kept me going was the feeling I had inside as a mom that taking this comfort away before she was ready to give it up would just simply not be the best thing for Jenna. She's a sensitive girl. I was a sensitive girl when I was little, easily overwhelmed and often quiet towards others. My parents let me keep my pacifier for a long, long, long time and I gave it up when I was ready. I think I used their modeling as reassurance that this was okay.

Then about a year ago, Jenna started talking more. Interacting with other people. Smiling more at others. Letting go of me and going off with her sister at parties. She was disengaging from me and engaging with the world. My relatives were floored. "Who is this kid?", they asked.

So I knew that it was time. We set the date a few months ago and stuck to it. I started cutting back the time she was nursing each morning and we were really nursing only for about 10 minutes per day. And I am thrilled that the transition has been as seamless as this. I am expecting some bumps along the way but feel confident that we can handle it without moving backwards.

And I am taking 150% of the credit for any brilliant accomplishment she has as an adult (curing cancer, discovering a new world, winning the Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer, etc.) as a result of all of this brain-boosting breastmilk she's consumed.

Last week, Jenna informed me that no milk was coming out anymore when she nursed. "So why are you still nursing?" I asked her, laughing.

"I just love your boobs," she answered.

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