When my daughter was born I made a commitment to nurse her until it felt right to wean. I expected that would be somewhere around her first birthday, as that seems to be the conventional wisdom around these here parts. But as I learned more about nursing and came to care less about conventional wisdom around these here parts, our nursing relationship went beyond her first birthday, survived a strike caused by a chipped tooth when she was learning to run, past her second birthday, throughout my second pregnancy, and well into the infancy of our new baby. It went until she was 3 and a half (which is the point in the life cycle of a girl in which she begins to adamantly insist that she is not a baby, but a big girl, and also at which she’ll begin to count half birthdays as highly relevant to her age.)
It was partly her big-girlness that led me to think she was ripe for weaning – she was the only nursing preschooler we knew for miles and miles around – but it was mostly my own surliness. That’s right. With two of ‘em crawling on me, pawing at my bosoms, and yanking at my blouse, I was getting a bit surly about it.
Hmmm, says I. I’ve begun to resemble one of those farm dogs that snaps and growls and yips at her whelplings as they wrestle for position on her myriad-nippled chest. This is NOT my nursing vision.
Then a third, way-ahead-of-schedule-surprise! pregnancy entered the picture and I decided it was time to wean. Get this – I was nursing two and preggers.
My first instinct was to make #1 go cold turkey but I could tell her heart would be broken and I didn’t want to end a beautiful relationship that way. I was a bit gun-shy because leading up to her third birthday I’d been strongly suggesting that she would give up nursing all on her own when she was three. I thought these “suggestions” would either be totally ignored, like most of my suggestions, or actually work, so why not? What harm?
The asinine way I did this was to question all her 3 year old friends about whether or not they still drank their mommies milk and then laugh with them about how absurd it would be for a 3 year old to do such a thing.
What happened was she got really stressed out around her birthday and after being potty trained for the better part of a year began to have accidents from refusing to go to the toilet until she was bent over in pain from holding it. Then she got a urinary tract infection. My mommy senses told me to lay off the stress around nursing and let her have her fill.
“Look, Kiddo,” I told her, “some three year olds don’t drink mommies milk but you do, and that’s okay.”
The potty problems went away.
So six months later, when life had calmed in the wake of the birth of #2, but I was definitely feeling like yipping and snarling when she wanted to nurse, I had another go at weaning. I began n by limiting her to one feeding a day. It wasn’t hard. She had been down to one or two feedings for quite some time but then had enjoyed a nursing renaissance when the super-rich newborn milk came in again after the birth of baby #2. Boy did I love her nursing when I was engorged. But boy did I not when the newborn was cluster-feeding.
She chose an early morning slurp when I was nice and full and relaxed after a long sleep and she could cuddle in bed with me. How to get her to give up that one feeding without a fight, though, I had no idea.
Then I ran into a friend of mine at the farmer’s market and she happily pronounced that her three and a half year old was officially off the boob. Oh dear, thought I. Most of my nursing mom friends had weaned their kidlets at one, according to conventional wisdom around these here parts, and she was the one mom friend who I’d sigh about and think, at least we’re not as crazy with the nursing as those two.
Well, said she. I was starting to get surly about it. I’d want to push her away when she asked to nurse and I thought, “this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”
“That’s how I feel!” said I. And then I asked how she did it.
Well. They were in a toy store and her little girl started whining for a dolly stroller and she was like, “Nah, strollers are for mommies. You’re not a mommy, you still nurse. But tell you what – if you give up nursing, I’ll buy it for you.”
So her girl thought about that but didn’t take the bribe for another couple weeks.
But it totally worked.
So I decided to give it a go. I waited for her to whine for something. It took a whole week. We were on our way to the vitamin store when she started to rally for those Yummy Bear Vitamins I’d been saying NO WAY to for the past year. They look and taste like candy but contain medicinal ingredients! I’ve always considered them one of the dumbest kid’s products ever. But then again...
“Vitamins are for little girls who don’t drink their mommies milk. You drink mommies milk every morning so you get all the vitamins you need. But... if you think you’re ready to take vitamins instead of drinking mommies milk... I will buy them for you.”
She thought about it for less than one second and then emphatically said, “Okay, sure!”
Then a million daggers pierced my heart and I was bowled over by the keening grief that assaults one when one realizes their gift of mother’s milk can so flippantly be traded for a bottle of Yummy Bear Vitamins. Then the grief passed and I was flooded with relief.
“Deal,” I said.
“Shake on it?” she said.
“Shake on it.”
It totally worked.
The La Leche League’s Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, the informational bible for extended nursing, tandem nursing, nursing while pregnant, and weaning toddlers, calls what we did “weaning on contract.”
The beauty of it is that because she was ready and because I was ready we were able agree on a satisfying conclusion to our nursing relationship.
The fateful morning that was the last time she nursed she came to me in bed and my first instinct was to yip and snarl and hurry her off. But it occurred to me that this might well be the last time and so I should be gentle with my beautiful girl.
So I pulled her close and stroked her hair and let her decide when she’d had enough. And when she did she sat up, smiled at me and said, “Thank you for the milk, Mommy.”
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