Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gently, I will bring this time to an end





Everyone says that breastfeeding should continue for as long as mom and baby are enjoying it and benefiting.  But no one actually talks about quitting breastfeeding by choice, because mom wants to.  Well, this is that post. 

I recently posted this adorable picture of Olivia nursing, and this is what I wrote:
  
These days will soon be over and I will miss them. But there will be new routines, new bonding...

And it made my friend tear up.  And it made me cry too.

But I know that the end is coming.  I know that because I have chosen to end it.  I am going to gently bring this period in our relationship to a close, and I've come to a sort of peace with my decision.

I cannot be alone in this.  I know that other moms have come to this impasse and they have chosen to end breastfeeding.  Because here come the cold, hard facts: (1) it is demanding, (2) it has become painful at times (8 teeth now!), and (3) our bond has been unbroken and irreplaceable for 11 straight months.

Of course, this isn't to say that I haven't wanted all of that (aside from the bites).  Breastfeeding has been a gift and a blessing and most certainly a choice that I stand by.  I have treasured our breastfeeding relationship.  But nonetheless the time has come.  I cannot fully explain it.  But I will try, because I don't want other moms who have taken this path or might be considering it to feel alone.

So one night while I was struggling with this nagging feeling, I found a "bloghop" and the topic was weaning.  Wonderful!  A bunch of postings on this topic at a time when I desperately wanted some community.  Well, here were some of the post headings:
  • "Weaning--No Time Soon"
  • "Weaning (What's That?)"
  • "Am I Ready to Wean? Is he?"
  • "I"m Taking My Cues From My Baby" 
  • "Am I Strong Enough to Wean?" (Spoiler alert: No.)
Thanks for the vote of confidence, TIME Magazine!
What the what??  Is NO ONE weaning?  Now, I support women who choose "extended" breastfeeding, as it is called.  Breastfeed as long as you want!  Breastfeed your teenager for all I care.  I just get frustrated at the lack of community for women who choose to end it.  And I think I know why that is.

There are two predominant discussions about breastfeeding in the media.  First is the onslaught of reasons why you SHOULD breastfeed.  Why you MUST breastfeed.  It lowers the risk of childhood obesity, it builds immunities and prevents common illnesses (both true), and other claims that I'm skeptical about.  (Lower risk of diabetes! ADHD! Cancer! and virtually ever other ailment.)  What does all this do?  Well, it certainly encourages breastfeeding, which is fine.  But it also creates enormous pressure to BF, and therefore guilt.  It makes us feel like failures if it doesn't work or if (God forbid) we quit. 1  And it embeds a very specific message in mothers' minds: it your sole responsibility to nourish your child, and the best food is breastmilk, and if you want the best for him, that is what you will do.

The second message is that breastfeeding is gross.  What an incredible Catch 22!  At a certain age, breastfeeding goes from "the best way to feed your baby" to "so gross-what is wrong with you-let your child grow up!"  In some circles, BF is gross at any age.  (A boob used for feeding?!  Get that thing back in your shirt, lady!  This is not that type of coffee shop!)  I have felt this sentiment closing in on me.  I do not breastfeed Olivia in public anymore, but the last few times I did were already uncomfortable and even more so because she is a big baby now.  She can crawn and grab my shirt when she is hungry, and just image if she could walk!  Or talk!  Or ask for milk and point at my chest.  I am on the slippery slope of grossness, I can sense it.  But that is not why I am stopping.  While the first message of BF has some legitimacy, this second message is (sorry!) total bullshit.  BF is not gross.  America is just uncomfortable with women using their breasts in a non-sexual manner.  And what little tolerance we do have for it expires around 6-8 months of age.

So it seems that when I look for a community with some earnest support for weaning, a lot of stuff fits into these two camps, and neither one is helpful.  The term "baby-led weaning" is popular.  I don't know about anyone else's baby, but mine does not willingly wean herself from the stuff she loves.  Would you "wean" yourself from ice cream sundaes if your mother gave you the choice?  No way.  Ice cream is straight up delicious.

It is odd, this trend toward letting babies decide when they are ready to wean/eat solid foods/sleep through the night.  We don't let kids decide MOST things.  And I am not saying the trend is wrong, it has some value for sure.  But each time I have ventured down that path it has ended with frustration and the realization that Olivia simply won't do it on her own; I need to push her along.  (Our "No Cry Sleep Solution" story is an excellent example, but something for another post!)

I used to say that pregnancy did nothing to prepare you for parenthood.  Really, being gigantic and uncomfortable and wrought with heartburn were nothing compared to the 24/7 care that a newborn baby requires.  But there are a couple of things that do translate: first, the lack of personal autonomy, and second, the loss of privacy.  They are related, but the first has to do with this idea that you are no longer just ONE person.  You are literally connected to another person.  You are no longer just YOU.  The second, loss of privacy, starts with the first person to reach out and rub your belly without asking, and ends with your feet in stirrups and a stranger's hands reaching into your nethers while you push and push and puuuush with wild abandon.

I've been so low on autonomy and privacy for so long that I almost forgot how much I missed them.  Just image the things I could do:
leave the house for 24+ hours without bringing a pump
eat and drink whatever I want
leave my shirt on in public
let Jake feed Olivia. Every.Single.Time. he he he...
Does this explain my nagging feeling?  If you've never breastfed, it is hard to imagine how demanding it really is.  And emotional.  Several weeks ago Olivia went through a phase where she wanted her Daddy more than Mommy.  She was fussing and fussing until I finally handed her off and said, "I think she just wants YOU!"  . . . And then I realized how much pressure I was putting on Jake by saying that and then walking away.  I realized, it sucks to be the "unwanted" parent, but it is such a burden to put on the other parent, too, being "wanted."  Or needed, I should say.

Do not be disillusioned, however.  That phase was short-lived.  Mama is back on the top of Liv's list (and I really do like it there).  And stopping breastfeeding isn't going to dethrone me either.  But at least I won't be the ONLY parent with the equipment to feed her.  And that is a place I feel I need to be now.  Mentally, emotionally.  For her and for me.  She is strong, she is healthy, she loves her mama, and she will be perfectly fine.  *Tear*



1. You'll notice that I didn't mention moms that don't ever try to breastfeed. I don't think they are failures. But I have to be honest, I don't agree with that. Sorry, folks. That's where I stand. When it comes to breastfeeding, the pros outweigh the cons. You've got to give it a try. 

I know, I know!  I'm not the first to write about this.  But I'm not seeing as much about this topic as I would like.  If you agree, please spread the word and SHARE!

2 comments:

Hannah E. said...

Oh, don't I know I have felt everything that you have said here. It's great to know that every BFing relationship can be different. I know I didn't even like BFing to begin with, but I stuck with it for Clara. It wasn't until the last few months that I have really enjoyed it, but now she only does it 3-4times a day. You touched on one issue that really bugs me, which is that in the eyes of our society is that extended BFing means for YEARS and YEARS. I plan on letting Clara lead the way (she already has), but I also don't plan on going past 2 years for sure (WHO recommendation and advice). We do a lot of BM mixing with almond milk and goat milk and it has been a total relief to hand over some of the responsibility to Andrew and others. I think it's wonderful that you cared enough to BF at all, let alone through the first year. Great job mama!! It makes me sad though that you don't feel supported in the weaning process. HUGS!!! And know that I think you are a great mom. You have my support!

RookieMom Heather said...

Great post. With my previous sons, I was aiming for about a year and then gradually dropped my feedings until we were there.

Good job.