The grief and relief of weaning

It’s done. Over. Finitio. Last week, I stopped nursing Ella. I didn’t really intend to. Yet at 7 1/2 months, she weaned herself. I can’t really explain how it happened. For months, she refused the bottle – only acquiescing when she was desperately hungry and I was at work. Then suddenly in the last few weeks, she started drinking from the bottle with gusto. At first, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe the change. And suddenly, bottles became easier.  After months of uncertainty, I am finally able to be sure that she is getting what she needs. She is on a perfect four-hourly bottle schedule in the day, something I have never had. Her night habits have not really improved, but I am now convinced that hunger is not causing her to wake up (she has a sip or two when she wakes up and goes back to bed). On Sunday afternoons, my kind mother-in-law bathes and feeds Ella, and I come home to a sleeping baby – the freedom of a late afternoon outing is something I have not had since she was born.

Yet even so, I am filled with sadness as I write this. I really love breastfeeding. I love the intimate and close connection, and the feeling that there is no one else who can give her the food she needs.  And I feel guilty. Because in my mind, there is a perfect mother-au-naturale who nurses until the kid is two. This perfect mother is someone I will never be because I have failed. I have let go of this intimate maternal connection with no fuss, and am depriving Ella of something meaningful. I regret that I let something so special go so easily, and that I did not persevere. In my mind there are two categories of mothers – those who feed for “long enough” and those who don’t. I am now condemned to the second category – the mother who has abandoned her child’s greatest needs.  I am the mother who has severed our connection – for the measly price of convenience and clarity. Perhaps even though Ella was ready for it, it is I who was not. It is I who is still struggling with the change and the transition.

However, at the same I am relieved. Since our little “growth crisis” when she was four months old, I have never been confident about my milk supply. I was tired of taking Eglynol for milk production. Even with it, there were some days when I knew I had no milk. So for me, formula is a godsend. For the first time in months, I am confident that Ella is getting all the milk she needs. I love that I can go out on Sunday afternoons, and come home to a sleeping baby who has been fed. At the end of a day, I mentally calculate how much milk she has had, and now I know that it is enough.

But still, its a transition. I tell myself Weaning is a natural process of life  – whether at the age of two months or two years – which every baby eventually goes through. But I want to give myself the chance to grieve. I am grieving because every day which goes on and Ella becomes more and more independent, is a day where she is further removed from me. Just a year ago she grew to life in my belly, with me for nine whole months. We went everywhere together. And when she was born, we were still intimately attached. My schedule was completely in tune with hers, my body letting my know when she was ready for a feed. I couldn’t leave her for hours at a time. She came with me everywhere. In Israel I nursed her on the street of the open market, on the taxi from the airport and in cafes. Now suddenly, she is one more step removed from me. Anyone can give her milk now – she does not suckle fervently as I come home from work. She doesn’t need me as much.

As I write, I realize how grateful I am that she insisted on being breastfed up till now. I am grateful too that I was able to listen to her needs, and not force her to take the bottle until she was ready. I am grateful that we had seven and a half months of that special connection.

I will remind myself that a myself  that mother’s connection to her baby is not dependent on breastfeeding. I will continue to challenge this image of the “perfect mother” which continues to taunt me. And mostly, I will enjoy this beautiful gift I have been given. I love her so, so much – and the less judgments I have against myself the more I can be a who I truly am  – loving, devoted and committed.

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