The Heartbreak of Weaning

I just breastfed my daughter for the last time, and my heart is breaking.

We had a good run – 15 months – but I wasn’t quite ready to stop, and I’m not sure she was either.

Later this week, I’ll begin injecting myself with fertility drugs, which apparently are the only way to make my body understand that I’d like to have another baby.   I can’t risk passing the drugs to my daughter through breast milk, so that’s it.   I should feel some sense of freedom or relief—after all, I’ve been tethered to this baby since conceiving her—but I don’t.   I’m just sad.

I didn’t expect to feel this way.  Before I had my daughter, the only thought I ever gave to breastfeeding was logistical: which pump to buy, what pattern for the Boppy cover.  My mom didn’t breastfeed; in the early 70s, it wasn’t in vogue.  (The original women’s libbers must have burned their nursing bras along with their underwire push-ups.)   It’s not something we ever talked about.

When it came time to have my own child, I knew breastfeeding was doctor recommended, so I put it on my to-do list, like getting the car seat installed or learning baby CPR.

I had no idea I’d love it.

The moment my baby girl latches, I’m at peace.  It is better than wine, chocolate or Xanax.  (Which is good, since breastfeeding rules out a lot of the fun stuff.)

There is nothing like watching my daughter’s whole body relax and her eyes flutter closed as she settles in for a feed.  Sometimes I close my eyes too so I can listen to her sweetly satisfied sucking noises and blissed out little sighs  Other times I stare at her impossibly lovely face.  I stroke her hair.  I sing “Love Me Tender.”   I sing “You Are My Sunshine.”  I sing a mellow rendition of The Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week” and choke up when I get to “Love you every day, girl.”   In these calm, magic moments, I still can’t believe I have a baby—that I get to be a mom.  When I’m nursing, everything is right with the world.

I thought Avatar was a dumb movie but you know how the Na’vi guy linked his ponytail to that flying beast so they could bond for life or whatever the hell was going on there?   It’s kind of like that.  When we nurse, my daughter and I are one.

My boyfriend Dave puts it differently – he says that nursing is the closest thing to having our baby back in the womb.

I know plenty of women who for various reasons can’t breastfeed, and I would never want to make them feel they’ve missed out, or imply that their bond is any less strong.   Of course it’s not.  There are many ways to connect, soothe and love.  Nursing has been my way.

My friend Cathy compared my regret about weaning to her sadness over being unable to rock her son to sleep anymore (he got too heavy).   These rituals of babyhood have meaning, and when our children outgrow them, there is pride but also loss.

Of course, it’s not just nostalgia bringing me down.  There’s anxiety, too.  To be a mother is to be plagued with doubt.   Don’t we all wonder at times: am I doing it right?   For 15 months, breastfeeding was my one sure thing.  My baby put on weight, she thrived, she had very few colds, she bonded to me.  I credited breastfeeding.

And frankly, it’s been a crutch – one I’ve been reluctant to relinquish.  If ever my baby was hungry, scared, hurt, freshly vaccinated, tired but unable to sleep or just wanting a cuddle, I nursed.   It was the magic bullet – the salve for anything that ailed her.   Do I even know how to parent without it?

I have other fears.

I’m afraid that once I stop nursing my daughter, I’ll never get to hold her that closely again.

I’m scared that the moment I stop breastfeeding her she’ll move out and go to college.   It all just seems to be going too fast.

The leader of my Mommy and Me group said I have to honor these feelings.  The end of nursing is a milestone.  She compared it to a time that will come later, when my daughter will be too big and independent for me to carry her around on a regular basis.   Just thinking about this— the end of carrying—made my Mommy and Me leader mist up a little.  Which means that weaning is just one of many milestones destined to crush me.

Perhaps it’s for the best that an outside force has led to weaning.  Otherwise, I’d definitely be in danger of becoming one of “those women” – the crazy mommies who breastfeed way past the point of the child being able to walk up and ask for it.   The women mercilessly mocked on television and among other women.  The women I used to judge myself, but will never judge again.  I get it now.

At 15 months, my daughter only understands some of what I say, but tonight I tried to explain the plan.  I told her it was the last night that we’d be breastfeeding, and that while I had loved nursing her, she was a big girl and didn’t need it anymore.  I told her that we’d do many other special things together and that I’d always be there to snuggle and hold her.   I told her this with tears and snot dripping down my face in the dark.

When my daughter finished eating, she did something she’d never done when we nursed in the past.  She said, “Up.”  I lifted her gently into her crib and tucked her blanket around her.  She went to bed without a peep.

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18 Comments

  1. Cathy
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful and honest entry. Every parent out there can relate to what you are experiencing. Thank you for sharing this tender and vulnerable moment with all.

    • Amy
      Posted April 17, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Cathy for all the support.

  2. Gina
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Amy, thank you so much for your openness and honesty in this post. I had tears streaming down my face as I read it. We were never able to make breastfeeding work but like you and Cathy, some of the milestones we’ve hit have been hard and heartbreaking. I look forward to your posts every week. Thanks again!

    • Amy
      Posted April 17, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      Thanks so much Gina!

  3. Fen
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Oh Amy, it will get better, and easier. You’re so lucky that you had such a beautiful 15-month run and you and Viv are both the better for it; ending things now just opens the door to new, different things. You’re certainly not alone in feeling bittersweet (or just bitter.) And your breasts can become yours — and Dave’s — again.

    • Amy
      Posted April 17, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Fen. I think my breasts are going to belong to cabbage before they return to Dave but I’ll keep you posted.

  4. Posted April 18, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    What a beautifully written post. I breastfed my baby to 13 months and I couldn’t believe I got somewhat sad about it. The whole breastfeeding thing was very difficult to me, as in when he was 6 months old I thought, “Good lord I still have 6 more months to go?!” (I was aiming for a year at least).

    But when the time finally came when we were weaning, I got sad. I tried to relish the moment because I knew it was going to be over soon. And you know, I still do that now, even though he’s already 2.5 years old. I make myself really live in that moment, however regular it is, because he grows up so darn fast, and I know it doesn’t stay this way forever. I also use this technique when he’s acting up; yes he’s making me tear my hair out, but I know that even this moment will also be a memory in a few months.

    That said, I can’t say I feel the same about rocking my baby to sleep! Once we sleep trained him I was soooo glad never to rock him on that bouncy yoga ball that broke my knees practically. Still, I laugh about it, and I can still remember holding him in his little swaddle, and realizing how little he is, and how soon enough he won’t be like this forever.

    • Amy
      Posted April 18, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing your story, Sleeping Mom. Nursing is so exhausting (and sometimes painful) at the beginning…I never imagined it would turn into a favorite activity. Relishing the moment (even when they’re acting out) is a great perspective. We haven’t hit the terrible twos yet but I’m going to keep that in mind.

  5. Rose
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    The last baby of my four was weaned almost 20 years ago, but you broke tears to my eyes – a credit to your writing and to the depth of the importance of what we do when we nurse our children. It is the first of many joys and sacrifices, where what we have to give is what they need – and nothing else will be as important to us. The bond that you form nursing together lives far beyond the early years, knowing you did what they needed you to do and that they got a great start from you! Good luck with the extra milk, I remember standing in the warm shower, milk and tears both running with the water. sigh. You’ll never regret a moment of this!

    • Amy
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Rose, thanks so much for your comment! It’s wild to think that 20 years from now I might still have these feelings, but in a way that makes me happy. I hope your four kids know how cool you are.

  6. Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I nursed my daughter until she was 2. It was our special time. The last 6 months was just before bedtime, what a relaxing and enjoyable wind down time it was for both of us. I’m so incredibly grateful to have been able to experience the closeness that nursing provided us as well. And I, too, was very concerned with how I would handle those tricky moments that I always fixed with nursing once I weaned such as airplane rides and ouchies. She learned to cuddle just the same. You’re doing great Mama!

    • Amy
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      I appreciate that Nelly! Wouldn’t you know it she caught a cold right after I stopped nursing – I’ve had to learn quickly how to soothe differently but you’re right, they adapt.

  7. Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Lovely post! I nursed my youngest to 20 months, much longer than his 2 older siblings, but they were some of the loveliest of times. I look at him now, 7 1/2 and miss the moments when he would latch on and all was well. So simple and pure.

    • Amy
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Heather. I agree – what a simple and pure feeling, old as time. I like your blog!

  8. Mailisha
    Posted July 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Touching post. I, too, miss nursing a lot -to my shock! Nursing both of my girls was difficult. Because of “bashful nipples” I ended up having to use a nipple shield for them to “latch on.” It was great, in that it allowed me to successfully breast feed, but… It wasn’t exactly the same. I had a lot of greiving to do over it. And my first daughter was an extremely fussy nurser, so… The whole thing was fraught with intense issues from the start.

    However, after many initial difficulties (mostly with baby #1) we ended up having a wonderful time breast feeding. That’s why I was so shocked when both girls weaned themselves at 11 months! So strange. And so sad! It was especially shocking with my 2nd daughter, who’s now 19 months, because she absolutely LOVED to nurse. My wife and I joked that she would be very difficult to wean, but… She just ended it one day. I am still sad (and shocked) whenever I think about it. Since she was our last baby I had planned to breast feed forever. I joked that I’d cut her off at 16, if nec. But… As with most things Parenting, it worked out in a completely different way.

    I am grateful to have had the experience though, however rife with anxiety, exhaustion, pain, and hassle it was. I know that there are many women who can’t have that wonderful experience and I know I was lucky to have had two brief chances at it with my daughters. (I remind myself of this whenever I feel intensely sad about the loss of it, esp. with my little one. You reminded me of just how much I miss it still!)

    • Amy
      Posted July 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Mailisha. I still feed sad about it sometimes too, but grateful that I got to do it. I think it’s nice that your daughters self-weaned – I hated having to be the one to pull the plug. But she’s doing great with good old cow’s milk these days and I’m not sure she even remembers.

  9. Posted March 23, 2014 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I am also a mother of 2 year old daughter and I had similar experience with my daughter……. Thanks for sharing
    Devya Agarwal recently posted..High Sugar During Pregnancy – GESTATIONAL DIABETESMy Profile

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      It’s hard, isn’t it? It’s been 2 years and we’re still trying for that second baby…hoping to have a chance to BF again. Thanks for reading & commenting.

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