When I was pregnant and when I was a new mother, I scoffed at women who nursed their babies past the date they could “ask for it in words.” I figured I’d breastfeed Annie for the recommended year, and then I’d see. But with a newborn, a year is infinity, and everything changes — preconceived notions disappear and a first baby always redefines reality. With breastfeeding, as with so many aspects of parenting, I surprised myself. When the first year ended, I continued to nurse my baby. And continued.
I became one of those women who nurse their babies deep into toddlerhood. I nursed Annie because it was a good thing for us, because I believed she should wean herself (as is done in most cultures), because she was my only baby. I nursed her when she could first ask for it (“Urse! Urse!); I nursed her when she, precociously, spoke in complete, grammatically-correct sentences; I nursed her almost to age three. And then, like all humans, she did wean, bringing forth a strong reaction from me…
Here are my notes from that weaning. Personal, raw, still painful… I share them with you.
Weaning Annie. She holds my nipple inside my shirt, she fumbles against me, “I want to nurse,” she whispers.
“No honey, we’re already in bed.”
“But I wanted to nurse before bedtime…” and she cries: sorrow, release, understanding, loss. It’s been two days since she’s nursed, each skipped feeding negotiated, or forgotten.
I hold her as she cries. Tucked against my body, warm and soft. A couple of shuddery breaths, and she stops.
“I’m so proud of you. You’re my big girl. You’re such a big girl, and I love you so much. You’re doing such a good job with your weaning.”
“I’m weaned,” she says.
I stop, unwilling, myself, to commit. But after all, that is what is happening. This is about her, not me.
“Yes,” I say. “I think you are.”
She stops, then. “But I am still Annie!” In the dark her face beams, smiling, proud.
I hold her close, her hand still on my nipple. “Yes, you are still Annie, you will always be Annie. Even when you are a grown up. And I will always be your Mommy and I will always love you very much.”
“Some grownups are named Annie.”
“Some grownups are named Annie, but they are not you. You will always be you.”
Her body relaxes. Her lower lip trembles.
“I’m very happy and proud but I’m also a little sad,” I tell her. “It’s a big thing, Annie, to be weaned. And I’m so proud of my girl. But it’s okay to feel sad, too.”
She is quiet, her breathing matches mine.
“Let’s go to sleep now,” and I hold her close. It takes a few minutes for her to drop off to sleep and I hold her close and watch her, and it is all, the entire world in this moment. Nothing is more important in the world than her body next to me and this closeness, and I am so proud, of herself, and of myself, and of who we are together.
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