I think I've weaned my baby.
I mean, I realize that technically, she is a toddler.
But she's my baby. Always my baby.
It's been about three weeks now since she last nursed.
I miss it.
I found myself weeping a lot.
Even though I'm so so glad she is a toddler and is growing up. You know, for awhile, there was a time that we thought we might just get 7-18 months with her. And we weren't sure that she would be able to swallow - let alone nurse. So, really, I am so so thankful that she is growing up.
To be honest, she cuddles better now that we are not nursing - which is kind of what prompted me to go ahead and wean.
(Yes. I realize that it might be odd that it wasn't her age that actually spurred me on to the weaning.)
I never want to come across as judgmental towards moms who are unable to or who choose not to breastfeed.
Here's the thing, I kind of think of nursing as similar to becoming a mom. As long as you feed your baby somehow (& hopefully in a healthy manner), it doesn't matter how you provide them nourishment. I hate when moms get judgy about epidurals or "natural childbirth" or cosleeping or crying it out or cuddling or adopting or formula feeding or breastfeeding.
We're doing the best we can with what we have. And sometimes we have to make hard decisions and choose hard things - even if it is not what we had originally hoped for.
I nursed Will too.
We made it for 8 and a half months.
But that was a really, really, really hard experience.
I was searching for something "normal" in my new motherhood experience while suddenly dealing with therapists and doctors and public stares. So much of my mothering seemed out of the norm - and for whatever reason, I clung to "breastfeeding" as the one ideal thing that would give me a sense of normal.
But it was really hard for Will. He needed a serious surgery to help him be able to nurse more efficiently and he wasn't big enough for that until 8 months. (Actually, the surgeon tried at 8 months and he still wasn't big enough so they did it again at 12 months and again at 2 1/2 years old.) By 8 months, I was out of milk.
I had set my heart on nursing him through that first surgery in hopes that after the surgery, he would miraculously be able to nurse with ease.
So here is what our experience looked like.
(Well, kind of. I won't show you what it "looked" like because that would be inappropriate.)
It involved me (obviously) & him. Plus, we saw 11 lactation consultants and ultimately, the best system they developed was a SNS system that included a shield for me with a small tube running thru the shield into his mouth (yes - this was very messy.) The tube was connected to a syringe which I held in one hand and gently pushed milk through. So, while he was "breastfeeding" I was actually pushing milk through the syringe and tubing into his mouth. Because of the various aparatuses, this was highly inconvenient to public feeding. It was hard to do it while covered up with a blanket. Virtually impossible, really. Then the convenience factor was missing - I had to make sure I had my various equipment pieces with me at all times and then I had to clean them afterwards and prepare for the next feeding. To get the milk ready for the syringe, I had to pump after each feeding. Basically, I spent about 30-35 minutes "nursing" my baby. Then, I spent another 20 minutes or so pumping for the next feeding.
Then, I gave him a bottle of pumped milk (reserving some for the next syringe at the next nursing.) The bottle was necessary because the syringe only gave him 30cc. Really, the whole syringe SNS deal was to give us the bonding experience of nursing & to satisfy my (possibly insane & definitely stubborn) desire for some sort of "normal" to come in the form of breastfeeding.
It took him about 30-45 minutes to complete a bottle.
This left about an hour to an hour and a half of "downtime" before the next feeding. (I had to clean the SNS system plus the pump supplies inbetween each feeding... and a newborn feeds 8 times a day.)
It was completely exhausting.
In retrospect, it was too much. My body, by 4 months, was wiped out. I wasn't sleeping adequately and I was under extreme stress and this affected my milk supply. My OB graciously put me on some powerful milk increasing medicine because he was very supportive of my goal to try to make it to Will's surgery to see if he could nurse naturally at that point. (Possibly what I thought was "very supportive" was his fear of me going off the edge if I didn't get to nurse this baby? Hmmm... maybe he was trying to keep me relatively sane.) He let me stay on that stuff for 12 weeks but once I knew that the surgery was not going to work for awhile, I finally let it go. I had been supplementing with formula for awhile by then and my pediatrician gently reminded me that formulas are very close to breastmilk - my baby would be fine. (Honestly, it wasn't so much about that as it was about me and my plans going awry.)
I grieved another loss of normal.
Once I was pregnant with Ellie, I became hopeful that I might be able to nurse more effectively. I also knew that I was couldn't go for the intense system I had with Will with baby number 2. It just wouldn't be fair to anybody and I had matured at least a little to recognize that it had been all about me and my ideals and what I thought made a "good mother." Ridiculous, isn't it?
I think I set it up as an idol or a standard of being a good enough mom.
When Ellie finally came out of the NICU to me, she latched on perfectly and was able to nurse without any additional apparatuses.
I was amazed - for 32 months- at how easy nursing could be.
Truly, I could not believe how simple it was to suddenly feed a baby.
And I loved it!
So much about life for us was not very simple - Ellie's condition was not simple. (She still doesn't have a full diagnosis.)
Parenting two kiddos with different medical conditions isn't simple.
Living in Dallas in a condo for three months while our newborn received medical treatment & my husband commuted by airplane was not simple.
4 surgeries by age 2 1/2 is not simple.
But nursing? That part was so easy.
I found I could do it anywhere.
Ellie began medical treatments at a pediatric hospital at 6 days old.
That first morning was an adventure, to say the least.
I found I could nurse her easily in a hospital waiting room. I nursed her while her new physical therapists stretched her and taped her. I literally would sometimes rock her and nurse her while they did their work on her feet! I nursed her while doctors sometimes examined her - if they were running late and we were late for a feeding and she was upset - this was often the calmest way for them to examine her. I could feed her quickly between appointments and didn't have to carry around a pump or find a place to wash equipment or heat up milk.
If we were out on the go exploring Dallas, I could nurse at a feeding time wherever we were - I didn't need major privacy (some was nice!) or anything to heat up milk or clean my stuff. I had everything I needed with me.
I've nursed her in airports and airplanes, trains, cars (while not moving... and once in a drive thru lane while my husband ordered food), the sky trolley at the Dallas zoo, restaurants, beaches, bath tubs, parks, stores (love stores like Nordstrom's with great couches in the restrooms!), and more.
When I learned that babies can thrive on breast milk for the whole first year and don't have to have solids introduced, I kept right on feeding her without the pressure of adding to her diet. Eventually, I did add some food for fun but I didn't feel pressure because I knew she was getting everything she needed from me.
(I feel like I'm writing a paradody of Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham."
Would you nurse her in a plane? Would you nurse her on a train?
I would, Sam I am, I would nurse her in a plane or on a train.)
Goodness. My point is - it was so EASY this time around. And with our lifestyle - that was perfect.
I read a lot of books while nursing. Reading is my love language, I think. It's my escape and my favorite pastime. I loved getting to read books while nursing Ellie. I also read a lot to Will while nursing Ellie.
It amazed me that my body could manage to provide what she needed and more - this was unlike my previous feeding experience. In fact, I had so much surplus that I was able to donate to an adoptive mom and that was awesome!
After about two months old, Ellie decided she no longer cared for bottles. Or pacifiers. This made going out or away from her a challenge but, I must confess, I kind of loved that she needed me. I felt like I had some value. I've always struggled with feelings of inadequacy and I finally found something I was succeeding at! I was keeping another human being alive and growing her with my milk! I need to find something else I can feel that I am valuable for regarding my kiddos - something else that no one else can do for them. Or maybe I need a change of perspective and to be grateful that others can do things for them and I can step back now and not be the only one...
One of my big goals before weaning her at a late age was that both of my kids would recognize nursing as a totally normal and natural thing for a mommy to do for her babies. I learned this idea from a mentor mom a few years ago and it made sense to me. Will knows that mommies nurse to feed their babies. He understands that milk sometimes comes from mommies. Ellie is old enough to do that too and she nurses her babies. Perhaps this seems weird but it really seemed totally normal to me and I'm glad they have a reference for a mommy feeding her baby.
I worried about weaning an older toddler. I had read that it can be very difficult and many websites recommended using lemmon pepper to make the taste bad! I dreaded that extreme idea & hated the thought of ruining something that has been so precious to us.
God has been so faithful in this for us and really, it went very easy. A few months ago, I finally dropped her down to two nursings a day. My favorite has long been the naptime nursing - it would be quiet and calm and just a peaceful time without the stress of bedtime and my own exhaustion. Finally, with the surgery season, there were enough days in a row where I was in Dallas with Will that it kind of just naturally dropped off. But Ellie was not interested in letting go of the nighttime feed.
I'm not sure how it happened exactly. I have been away from her for several nights before and she has always requested we nurse again. Somehow, (age I suppose), it just finally kind of worked out in recent weeks that she stopped asking and I stopped offering. I so thought it would be stressful or that R would have to take over her bedtime routine but that never happened. She sometimes still mentions it but she is easily distracted.
The thing I love now is that we rock and cuddle longer. In recent months, she had stopped wanting to cuddle in favor of nursing and I missed that. I also missed being able to sing to her without the constant interruption of telling me what verse to sing next.
I've loved the cuddling I get now.
I think for whatever bizarre reason, nursing Ellie gave me a sense of normal when a lot of my motherhood experience has been different. I've loved the convenience factor, and honestly, for a baby who has spent a great deal of her life in hospitals and therapies, the convenience of nursing was a lifesaver. I've loved that it gave me a very natural & easy way to comfort her after painful surgeries and procedures. I've loved that I've seen her grow and thrive and knowing that my body was, in many ways, responsible for that. I loved that doctors were so supportive - even offering me ideas of foods to eat to help her gain weight. And I've been so very grateful for a very supportive husband - even supporting me feeding a 32 month old toddler!
It was a really precious experience for us. While I am so excited for the coming phases of toddlerhood, this was my last real baby thing. (Well. There's still diapers.)
I suppose that is what I am grieving.
So I've weaned Ellie. And, amazingly, I really miss it. I'm really thankful we breastfed for so long and it never felt like we were going too long - I never had an end goal in my mind because it was just so easy and enjoyable and natural for us. I'm really, really thankful for that.
Also, a few months ago, some friends threatened to do an intervention if I fed her for too long - they didn't want us to end up on the cover of Time! Ha!
So that may have been a motivator too.
PS - Sorry - perhaps this was way too much information - but this is my personal journal/scrapbook & I wanted to remember this season of life for Ellie & I.
PSS- Please please don't misinterpret- the nursing thing for me was a special thing between my child and I & helped me keep some perspective & "normal" during some very not so normal circumstances & hard days. But - if you choose not to nurse or your body is unable to do so - that's ok too. I nursed for a long time because it worked for us, we liked it, it kept me sane, it was convenient, & I'm stubborn & wasn't ready to let go... not because I'm a judgy mom - do what works best for your baby & you & your family.)
PSS- FYI - if you do practice extended breastfeeding - don't freak out at all the awful ways many websites explain weaning an older toddler - it doesn't have to be awful. Our experience was very organic & simple really. No lemon pepper or screaming sessions necessary.