Parenthood is full of natural and inevitable transitions, and the moment you think you know what to expect, your children
turn on you change. After 20 months of breastfeeding my daughter, we finally weaned. It was not an easy process, but we did it. Our last nursing session was a couple of weeks ago, but it took us about five months to go from constant nursing to none at all. Toward the end, I was pretty done. I told the women in my breastfeeding mother’s group, “My name is Leslie. This is my daughter. I’m weaning. She’s not.”
She did eventually catch up to me though, and when we finally stopped I thought that I would feel relief. I mean, there are definitely some plus sides. I can wear regular bras again. I can plan my outfits according to what I want to wear instead of what will allow quick, discreet access to my boobs. I don’t get my shirt unexpectedly pulled up and down in public anymore. I am no longer sustaining minor injuries from my acrobatic toddler every time I try to feed her. Oh, and I got very drunk for the first time in over two years; that was fun! I’ve also greatly increased my coffee intake. It is nice to finally feel like the neurotic caffeine junkie I once was. The only difference is that now I drink it out of a cup that says “Mama Bear.”
But of course, because now that my greatest parenting tool and my daughter’s greatest comfort is gone, she has decided to grow all of her remaining teeth at once and go through a sleep regression. She’s also entering that nearly 2-year-old phase of completely irrational temper tantrums multiple times a day. They can be over things as simple as wanting to put her own shoes on (impossible) or not wanting to get out of the tub (I simmin,’ mama!). Back in the day, you know, two weeks ago, I would have simply offered up a little mama milk, and that would be the end of it, but now… I’m bribing her with chocolate chips mostly. It kinda works.
I confess: I feel a hot sting of jealousy every time I see one of my mom friends nursing their toddlers. As much as it was driving me crazy toward the end, I miss the cuddle time, and the problem solving aspect, and of course, the tranquilizing effect. There are just no good ways to go through these things. I wish there was some kind of weaning mother’s yurt in the forest I could go hide in and meditate for a couple of weeks to help me through this transition. I’d like to smoke something, have an epiphany, sleep for 72 hours, and emerge wiser, healthier, well-rested, and ready to get back into the fray of parenting. Unfortunately, like everything else with parenting, it’s a work in progress. You do it all while you’re messy and tired and still working on all the other stuff.
I’m glad I breastfed and there were advantages to it. I definitely think it made air travel a lot easier. It was free (very important). Breast milk is always available, always ready, and there’s very little clean up required. I was very motivated to meet my breastfeeding goals by the mountain of evidence-based, scientific reasons that show breastfeeding is mutually beneficial to mother and child. It reduces the risk of a multitude of diseases, carries great immunological benefits, reduces the risk of SIDS, and adapts itself to meet your child’s nutritional needs. It also quiets them. I can’t think of a stronger pro-breastfeeding argument than that really.
All this doesn’t come without a personal price though. I was always aware of any distance between me and my daughter and I always felt increasing guilt the further I got from her in physical space, knowing that she might need me to nurse her at any moment. I always felt torn between other people needing things from me, and my daughter’s attachment to me. We were always together, like one being, and emotionally, I needed her just as much. The way your kid can make you feel, is second to none. It’s a wonderful feeling to get lost in, until someone else is breathing down your neck to pay attention to them.
I also went from zero to sixty in the world of mommy politics because I learned something through the experience of breastfeeding and getting to know other breastfeeding moms that I couldn’t ignore. We make breastfeeding much harder on women than we should. I went from somebody who was just doing what made sense to me as a mom, to somebody rallying for respectful maternity care, volunteering for La Leche League and running a 5K for our local Mother’s Milk Bank (well, sort of… I walked a lot of it). I didn’t really think there were more ways for me to feel the burn of patriarchy, but then I had a baby.
Breastfeeding is still heavily stigmatized, because it’s yet another way that society likes to objectify and police women’s bodies. Not a week goes by that I don’t see some news article about how a woman was harassed or mistreated for breastfeeding in public. It happened to me, and it’s hard not to take it personally when you keep hearing about it all the time. I meet women all the time at La Leche League who are being held back on all sides, by workplace discrimination, lack of education or resources, or partners and family who don’t support them because of ingrained social norms and expectations around parenting that don’t align with the breastfeeding relationship.
The whole process is too much, too overwhelming, and it needs reform. Mothers deserve better than this. They deserve paid maternity leave. They deserve laws protecting nursing mother’s rights to be upheld and enforced. They deserve the cultural shift that normalizes feeding babies the way our bodies were biologically designed to. Feeding your child shouldn’t have to be a political statement.
If ever I doubt that the journey was worth it though, I just have to think about the private moments shared between me and my daughter, the memories only I will ever have. Waking up snuggled next to my daughter, her little hand touching my face, cooing softly, ready for breakfast and the silly milky smiles she wore when she would stop nursing just to look at my face and babble at me. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.