On Weaning

Mr. Noah Jamal turned 19 months old yesterday. My little man has so many words and so many things to say.

When we started out together, I had decided that I would breastfeed him until he was two, but as he grew stronger and more active, breastfeeding began to feel like a contact sport. Nipple tweaking, punching, biting, scratching, kicking and karate chops to the trachea were not uncommon. I was blessed with a healthy, easy pregnancy and straightforward delivery, but breastfeeding was a tremendously painful challenge for the first eight weeks of Noah’s life in the world. You can read all about that here. I was very determined to make it work, and so I stuck with it, with so much love and support from my partners. I knew I wanted to breastfeed as long as I could.

Weaning began to feel more and more appealing, but I was torn. I felt very emotional about the idea that we would no longer share such a close physical bond. Cutting the umbilical cord is a process that takes a lifetime, I think, and as each day passes by so quickly I see my little soul become increasingly independent. I’m proud of him, I can’t wait to see him grow and blossom, but I also ache for something I can’t quite name. Maybe it’s the ability to physically hold him close and keep him safe in my arms? Maybe it’s the idea that his whole universe seems so simple as he makes his first tender steps into this huge, scary world?  It could be that I ache for something as simple as the nourishment and comfort that I alone can give him. There have been countless times since the day I learned that I was pregnant that I’ve felt like keeping my baby in my body forever, where none of the evils of the world would ever touch him. In my sleepless night-time moments I realize that I am powerless to protect him, and I’m terrified that I will leave the world before he’s strong enough to safeguard himself.  I realize that the older he gets, the closer we get to the day when I have to explain things like 9/11 and cancer and why Toronto elected a drunken crack-head for a mayor. Parenting is a terror and joy unlike anything I could ever have imagined.

I half-heartedly tried to wean a few times over the last two months. Neither of us were ready, so no surprise that it didn’t work. Then, when I resolved that I was able to move on to the next great thing, Noah got a nasty cold, and I just couldn’t deny him the comfort of the breast. When he was better, we moved to feeding only first thing in the morning and just before daddy put him to bed.

He would ask to nurse, and I would explain that I didn’t have milk just then, but that we could cuddle and have a snack, or some warm milk in a bottle or juice. He accepted this with very little protest. If he pushed harder, I found a good distraction, like a walk outside or a favourite game.  The next week, we cut out the night-time feeding and switched to a quiet snuggle on the couch with the mammas and a bottle before bed, no complaints at all here.

On one particular day, I wore a low-cut shirt. Insensitive, yes, but I wasn’t thinking as I rushed to get ready. He asked to nurse a couple of times, but when I explained that I didn’t have milk, he settled for gentle snuggle with my boobs. We were waiting for the car to get serviced, so it made for an amusing show. No more angry protests though.

Then on Sunday, Mother’s Day ironically and coincidentally, we nursed for the very last time. In the two days leading up to this event, I was really emotional. Not many places will tell you this, but you experience hormonal changes, and all of the fun that comes with that, as your body slows down and then stops milk production. I said goodbye to this sweet era of my baby’s life, the many tender moments where I’ve felt a connection like nothing I’ve experienced, and I prayed that even after I stopped being a food source, he would recognize the bond we’ve shared. I think part of me is worried that I can be easily replaced, and yes, I do suffer from low self-esteem.

Physically, I’m doing fine. No serious engorgement pain thus far. Emotionally, I still feel a bit tender, but nursing is replaced with voracious eating (by the baby, not me) and lots of snuggles and cuddles that Noah is initiating, which feels just wonderful. It’s such a joy to have him near and to not feel worried about getting injured. I think we were as ready as we could be, and I think that’s why this has gone so smoothly this time around.

You’ll read a lot about weaning. If you’re like me, all of your trusted breastfeeding resources will tell you not to wean, but I wasn’t convinced that Noah would wean himself any time soon, and it was becoming a largely unpleasant event. Public feeding had become next to impossible because it really seemed like one or both of us was being injured. You have to make the decisions that feel right for you, in the time line that suits you and your baby best. I think if we trust ourselves, and our instincts we always know when that is.

If you have questions about your own breastfeeding journey, or just want to share your breastfeeding stories, I’m all ears.

Meanwhile, enjoy this ridiculous video that somehow captures my feelings on alternative families, breastfeeding, nurturing, the soul of a mother, the bond between non-birth parents and their children, and the ridiculously random nature of the universe.

At the time of publishing, I am less tender, but very emotional and irritable. Take note mammas, weaning is hard on your body and your hormones, so take good care of yourselves. Give yourself a week of extra attention, long bubble baths and extra chocolate. You’re going to need it.

Noodle Wrangling

If you were my breast, you'd have seen a lot of this today.

If you were my breast, you’d have seen a lot of this today.

It seems that since embarking on the journey of homeschooling my two daughters, I have forgotten how to take care of my son. He’s now an active and very willful toddler, and I’m learning how little time we actually get to spend together. I’m learning this because when we are together, I think I suck at being the parent I want to be.

I started this week with what I thought was a great plan. It’s March break, so the girls are in a camp, hopefully making lots of local friends. I figured that since we have finally nailed the sleeping thing with Noodle, and since I would be hanging with the little dude all week, I could try to start moving towards weaning him. I wanted to start a meal strategy that I read about in a book called ‘The New Basics’ by a pediatrician named Michel Cohen. Cohen suggests limiting meals to four times a day with breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. I thought this made sense so I decided I would start to tell Noah that he could only nurse at those times. I have a love/hate relationship with this book, so no real surprise when my baby boy thought this idea was bullshit.

Noah’s still getting teeth, and the big ones are coming in now. For those of you who don’t know, breast-feeding releases delicious chemicals that help to relieve pain. There was much screaming and many tears as I tried to make this transition to regularly scheduled feeding times today. I tried clove oil, and it didn’t seem to work one bit, though we’ve had success with it in the past. I caved. I couldn’t hold out, and everyone around me seemed to think it was a bad idea too. Especially Noah.  The result – an entire day of a baby on my breast, and some very tingly clove oil marinated nipples. I’d like to wean Noah by the summer time, but I honestly don’t know how anyone has the resolve. Feel free to post some advice, you mammas and dads who have lived through this.

Getting Noah to eat lunch was just as impossible as getting him to stop dive-bombing into my shirt. For the sake of transparency, I will admit to plunking down with him in front of our TV, then using the remote to bait him with his favourite show. For each bite, the program was un-paused. We’re supposed to be TV-free this month, but this technique was working so well. At least that’s what I thought until I realized he was taking bites, then waiting until I hit play to subtly turn his back to me and deposit the entire mushy mouthful of goo on our hand-woven carpet.

I’m in the PMS zone this week, so I was really trying to take this in stride, but was starting to feel a bit harried. I freely admit that I often sweat the small stuff. Then I attempted a poopy diaper change and realized that the nursing/feeding thing was a cakewalk compared to what I shall call the shit-flinging bucking bronco ride. He screamed, kicked and punched until Daddy came from the other room to lend a hand. Even when I tried to give him a toy to play with (read my iPhone) he tossed it aside and tried to roll away. He didn’t want to get changed, he wanted to nurse. As I’m typing this, I remember a great Mamma S strategy that involves pinning him down beneath my leg. Hind sight. (See what I did there?)

I’m not sure why he’s wanted to nurse all day. He’s not sick. Maybe it’s because it’s so novel to have me all to himself? Maybe it’s because I’m boring, and like a bad boyfriend, playing with my tits is all he can think to do to have some fun with me? Maybe it’s because every time he walked away, I was furiously trying to bang out this blog post. I’m feeling like I need a lot more practice with Noodle-wrangling. I’m also feeling like I need a two-hour nap. How does my nearly seventy-year-old mother keep up with him?

Dear readers, I welcome any and all suggestions for amusing a seventeen-month-old, without the television. I want this week to be fun, and I want it to be the bonding experience I was hoping for.  I advise you to expect minimal posting from me this week.

Although, the girls are home now and all three kids are playing delightfully in the family room as I ‘hide’ in the classroom.

Hmmm….I wonder how much writing I can do?