Some Thoughts After Weaning My Toddler

Yesterday morning, for the first time, my daughter didn’t ask for milk. It was a relief. It was a tiny heartache. An hour later, she handed me her half-eaten apple, complaining of a sore throat, and said, “Maybe milk can help me.” She poked my breast, checking for contents. I offered a hug and some vitamin C spray. (I still can’t say whether it’s really over, whether she is “officially” weaned.)

Thirty-three months is a long time to breastfeed. I would’ve nursed even longer if I hadn’t felt so physically drained. It took me a while to make the connection and to begin the weaning process. There seems to be very little in the way of literature or discussion around breastfeeding and its impact on energy levels and stamina.

Promoting breast-is-best requires a positive spin that doesn’t always include the complexities and demands of breastfeeding, truths that are more often revealed in conversations among nursing mothers. Still, no one out there said to me, you’ll feel so much better once she’s weaned, except for a best friend who nursed her child into toddlerhood. I witnessed her energy spike after her son weaned; she was more animated and even spoke more quickly. I realized we’d been occupying a sort of cocoon, a space where everything slows, and she’d broken out of it.

Breastfeeding necessitates a slow pace; it casts a biological spell allowing the mother to connect with her infant. For me, breastfeeding was at odds with returning to a “normal” pace. In the beginning, it was almost immobilizing. There were also other factors slowing me down, like recovering from a long and traumatically painful birth. (An essay I want to write: the postpartum mental health gap in our system.)

While I admire women like the artist Hein Koh, seen here nursing her newborn twins while working on her laptop, I have mixed feelings about these kinds of photos because they are misleading. They perpetuate the notion that women can and should do it all, that professional ambitions can never be temporarily tabled and that taking time off means sacrificing a career, that the postpartum period of recovery and mother-infant bonding only lasts a short time and is the same for every woman, and that breastfeeding and caring for children is not valid (and exhausting) work in itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to double high-five Koh, a mama who is breastfeeding twins and multi-tasking, a woman who is brave enough to show the world what is possible. But let’s not confuse what is possible with what is typical. I consider Koh exceptional; she inspires the same awe I feel watching an Olympic gymnast catapult her body into the air. It’s spectacular, but it’s the furthest thing from average.

At five-weeks postpartum, I was breastfeeding my infant as naturally as Koh appears to be in her photo. I, too, gave the appearance of physical ease with this task. Less visible was the mental drain and exhaustion. All of my energy was spent on the daunting work of caring for my infant daughter; I was hardly capable of composing a coherent email, let alone returning to work. For so many other women I know, breastfeeding wasn’t easy at all; it was challenging, difficult work. Every feed required singular focus and tremendous perseverance.

Singular focus is dismissed by our culture and multi-tasking is glorified. We must always be doing at least three things simultaneously. And we wonder why we’re perpetually overcome by anxiety. What happened to doing one thing very well and moving on to the next thing? (Says the woman currently negotiating a toddler tantrum while typing these words.)

This piece on ScaryMommy addresses the disservice of perpetuating these myths around “having it all” and calls for reform of U.S. Family Medical Leave Act. I couldn’t agree more.

(Post 276 of 365)

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Some Thoughts After Weaning My Toddler”

  1. So much to say here. First, somehow even seeing that she was weaned in the title gave me a near lump in the throat. God I found breastfeeding so hard. I found weaning so hard (for my younger – when I was working full-time with the first it was actually quite easy to wean – which to me indicates the separate we can’t help but feel when we’re not at home with them – it is just NOT the same thing no matter how much we want it to be – you already have to separate yourself to go back to work so the weaning itself at least for me was not the heartache it would have been). I think you’ll certainly get an energy spike. And what’s nice is connecting to your toddler with more internal resources to give. No longer giving milk, maybe you have more patience (though you seem to have it in spades already), more time for dancing, more songs to sing.

    You wrote Helen Koh but you’re referring to Hein Koh, right? She’s actually one of my close friends from Dartmouth. I admire her like crazy but I agree with all your “buts” and caveats and complexities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for catching that spelling error, Rachel! I remember when you posted about Koh’s photo, but I’d forgotten you were close friends. What a cool connection!

      The first time I saw her photo–much earlier in my breastfeeding journey–I had mixed feelings. Why couldn’t I perform this impressive juggling act? Surely I must be inept. In hindsight, I see my vulnerable new-mama self striving to do my best and wondering if I could do better. When I saw the photo again in your post, I realized I felt differently, but I couldn’t name the feelings. In writing about this last stage of breastfeeding, Koh’s photo came to mind again; I wanted to explore those feelings I couldn’t name.

      As I grow up into motherhood, I make fewer comparisons. My understanding of individual journeys deepens. Too much of motherhood is painted in broad strokes, generalized, and compartmentalized when, in fact, experiences are highly nuanced. There’s so much I’ve learned from and about breastfeeding, so much more I want to write…

      You’re so right–it already feels like there are more internal resources to give, more energy, lots of hugs. 🙂

      Like

  2. First of all, good for you for recognizing what your needs were and initiating the weaning process. You are so right, that in all of the “breast is best” encouragement, women are left in the dark about the struggles. It’s like we’re not allowed to talk about how hard it is, how it can drain us, how some days you just want your body for yourself. It’s powerful for women like you or me to share all sides of the story, so that others don’t feel so alone. I tried tandem nursing my first born and his baby brother and it was awful but I thought I was just supposed to power through. Eventually I stopped nursing my oldest and it was a huge relief, but I could find zero support amoung the internet breastfeeding community.

    I’ve been breastfeeding for 5 years (on the 3rd baby now, but with pretty much no break in between.) Honestly, I look forward to it being over. My baby is almost 18 months and I am beginning to gently lead her towards weaning. I’d love to be done by the time she’s 2.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Happy weaning!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tara, thank you so much for these thoughts and for sharing your experience. When I read your first sentence, I felt a little weight lift, one I hadn’t fully realized was there, the weight of guilt and ambivalence and doubt. It’s taken me a long while to decide that this is what I need to do for myself, and ultimately, for us.

      “…some days you just want your body to yourself.” YES! There were days I’d lose my patience because I felt so touched-out. Powering-through has been my default, too.

      How truly amazing that you tandem breastfed your first-born and his baby brother. Does that mean you breastfeed the whole way through your second pregnancy? That is some super-human stuff! And so is nursing for 5 consecutive years. I’m in awe of your stamina.

      Thanks again for connecting here! And I’m so happy to discover your blog! 🙂

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s