I Was Bamboozled
I’ve been lucky in terms of my breastfeeding journey. As self-deprecating as it may sound, there is a self-dialogue that says, “mama, you may have had this coming” in my head, because I’ve known so many stories to be much different than mine. So, I write cautiously, but also with courage. I’ve learned to be brave because you’ll only be alone if you never share.
My first baby seemed so transitionally smooth. Sure, we had our learnings, such as the time when I learned that I couldn’t eat vegetable soup twice in one day without a gassy baby. But, for the most part, I can look back at every aspect of the breastfeeding experience with my first child (including pumping) with fondness or at least neutral feelings.
I remember my first established a feeding schedule pretty early on. I could set the clocks to her nap, eating and poo schedule and, sure, it was constantly changing as she grew, but I remember having smooth transitions from one stage to the next. Of course, I wouldn’t trust a first, new mom’s memory to be 100% accurate, especially my own. So, who really knows if this is a true story?
My first daughter weaned herself not long after her first birthday. I remember we had gotten down to just before nap, bed and first thing in the morning to bed and morning to just morning. And then one day I sat in the rocking chair after she got up and she stood in front of me in the morning light and said no and asked for her bottle. I remember being this intense mix of pride and sorrow. I was so proud of her independence as I mourned the loss of this special time we had together.
I was bamboozled by my first I tell ya! Number two came into our lives and from the beginning it was a different story.
Lost in Wonder
First off, I tried to nurse my second newborn as if she was a one-year-old. The hospital nurse had to remind me to help hold her head more than once. I never established a feeding schedule. It was on demand, all the time. I would try to stick to a schedule and then we’d hit a leap (endless gratitude for the Wonder Weeks app), or teething, or sickness, or big sis’ new preschool schedule and any efforts towards sticking to a schedule would go out the window in trade for peace in the house.
She rejected the bottle at three months and we never got her to take it again. Now she mocks me, I swear, by feeding her baby dolls with bottles. She rejected her pinky at six months. No joke, full on rejection! I watched her pull it out of her mouth herself and throw it out of her crib.
Number two has always been fierce in what she wants or doesn’t want. That included first foods too. I tried from four months on to introduce new foods and make eating a fun, exploratory routine. Until we found a very specific pouch of Greek yogurt around 11 months, the girl spit out, threw on the floor, straight up wouldn’t open her mouth to everything we tried. Again, bamboozled! My first ate everything we put in front of her until she turned two. Did I really have a picky eater from day one with number two?
I didn’t wallow in misery completely. I reached out to friends, other moms, my midwives, lactation consultant, her pediatrician and a marvelous sleep coach. I wanted to keep the peace, but a routine and sleep also gives me peace and we had none. I was the picture in the dictionary next to “mombie” for almost two years. I was completely lost in the maze of being the mom of two very different girls.
It was wonderful. It was exhausting.
I wanted to nurse this baby as long as I could, but I was slowly realizing that what I am capable of wasn’t aligning to what I, as a human being, needed to be healthy and happy. I’m still fighting the mom guilt, but I’ve learned to forgive myself quickly because after twenty months of never getting a break, I was no longer capable of being the mom I wanted them to remember.
It became clear that I was sacrificing me as a whole person so that I could be a “human cafeteria,” as Ali Wong puts it in Hard Knock Wife. I hear Ali’s voice in my head quite often now, “I have suffered enough.”
So, here is how I broke out of suffering and eventually found myself again through weaning my second child cold turkey.
First step: Establish a strong support network
My mom friends saw my suffering right away. There is just no replacement for a judge-free mom friend in your life and I am so blessed to have more than one.
I felt like I was in a constant fog, but I clearly remember when a dear friend asked how many times a day my baby was nursing. I remember this moment clearly because it was the first time I realized that I had no idea. I had no idea how many times my child was dependent on my body for either nourishment or comfort. It had no longer become this special time. It was this obligation that I was totally blanking on.
So, one day I kept track. Six times a day and free range at night! What!?! This was the same reaction my friends had and so I looked them in the eyes and I committed to change.
I got my one-year-old down to just nursing before nap, before bed and just twice early morning (4am, 6am) and I started to feel the fog lift even more. But even though I wasn’t nursing as much, I was still desperately trying to redirect her just as many times during the day and at night as I was before. Her attempts to nurse never stopped.
My friends praised me for my endurance and encouraged my stamina to stay strong. They were my backbone and also a sounding board when it was time to call in the professionals. My support network included friends, a host of professionals, mom groups, my mom, mother-in-law, aunts, sister-in-law and my soul-mate of a husband. It wasn’t just strong, it was everything and I could not have done any of this without them.
Next up: Rip off the bandage
I needed someone to say today is the day, that was the last time. For me, breastfeeding was for my child, but it was also for me. I burned more calories, I seemed to be resistant to all sorts of sickness, my emotions were more stable and I hadn’t had to mess with Aunt Flow.
Even though I was clearly suffering, I couldn’t justify weaning cold turkey for my sake. I needed that unbiased third party to not just suggest that this was the next action to take, but to tell me, “this is the next action you will take.”
So, one Friday night that was it. The binkys she had long rejected disappeared for good and daddy put her to bed.
Then: Don’t lie
I’d love to say that I handled what happened after that Friday night with grace and by establishing new healthful habits, but that would be a lie.
It just happened to be the Friday after Valentine’s Day and I took full advantage of 50% off chocolate. If I wasn’t eating chocolate, I was pouring a glass of wine. If I wasn’t drinking, I was crying at anything and everything. If I wasn’t sobbing my eyes out, I was stuffing cabbage leaves into my sports bra and breaking out the old cramps heating pad.
I was in physical and emotional pain and I didn’t hide it. Not once did I say I was OK when I really wasn’t. I didn’t even lie in my social stories. Hey, if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry.
I was completely honest about how hard this was for me and how, seemingly, not hard it was for my second child.
That first night my baby gave me a hug goodnight and patted my chest. I told her that the milk was all gone (OK, sort of a lie), that I knew that this was hard for her and that it was hard for me too. But she was a big girl and that I believed in her and knew that she could do this. Something clicked for my sweet baby after I said this to her. It really is true that they grow up right before your eyes.
Lastly: Honor your story
I’m still in the process of healing from weaning cold turkey. I’ve survived my first period. I’ve reintroduced vegetables back into my daily nutrition. The wine has run dry and so have my eyes, for now. I still have tenderness and moments when I doubt if I did indeed do the right thing. I have a weird dependency on my sports bras now.
At the end of the day, I don’t think there was really a right or wrong decision. What is the point of putting myself up on a pedestal or demonizing my choices? I’m in a space now that I can see that this is the story of how nursing ended with my second child and it deserves my respect.
Because to honor my story is to hold this life in high esteem. To recognize that all of this is such a privilege.