When my boys were each six months old, I weaned them off a single feeding, supplementing with formula. The next feeding followed a month or two later. This method was effective – perhaps too effective with Benjamin, who finished weaning himself at ten-and-a-half months, a full six weeks before I was ready.
When Lilah turned six months old, I reasoned that if I waited another couple of months, I could wean a feeding by using my stored breastmilk and we wouldn’t have to use formula at all. I pumped and stored every morning. Around the beginning of July, I took stock of my freezer full of breastmilk and realized that I had roughly 450 ounces of milk that would not expire until after the child turned a year old. Seeing as she was not actually drinking any of the milk yet, I stopped pumping after nine months of getting up before the baby in order to beat her to my mammary glands.
And there the milk sat. Her ten-month birthday rolled around, and I still was making no moves towards weaning. Lilah nursed four times a day, in between consuming about the same number of calories from solid food as the average linebacker. My husband, wise man that he is, said nothing beyond the occasional query about why we were using up half our freezer space for milk that no one was drinking. To which I rejoindered that we’d have plenty of freezer space if he got rid of all his frozen processed food wrapped up in plastic and bleeding BPAs into the pseudo-food he so adores.
Don’t mess with a mama who isn’t ready to wean.
Part of my reluctance has to do with the fact that this is my last baby. Once she weans, it is over. I will never again be in that phase with the little one so eager to latch on to me. I will have no more babies – children, yes, but no more babies. I will know for certain that this phase in my life is over. I am just not ready to lose her babyhood.
Sure as the sun will rise tomorrow over the smog-filled LA freeways, this child will grow hair and learn to walk and start talking and then start talking back. She will learn her letters and then to read and start worrying that she is too fat. And I am just not ready to let go of the heavy warmth of a baby.
Benjamin, now three, still has that weight against my body, but Zachary has slipped out of babyhood forever. And, as I have written before, my two boys have taught me that we don’t get to keep the babies. So, I am hesitant to guide her in the first step away from babyhood.
However, I am going to let you in on a little secret here: the main reason I don’t want to wean my littlest is because breastfeeding is easy.
Oh, I know we like to go on about how hard it is to nurse, and in some ways it is. It is exhausting and time-consuming and ties mama to baby. But, if you can sort of let those concerns go – if you can decide that it is for a short time and you want your time consumed that way and you don’t mind being tied to your baby – then it’s pretty easy. There are women and babies who have physical problems nursing for a variety of reasons and I do not mean to belittle their experiences. My point is that for those of us whose breasts work according to plan, it’s simple.
Simple because the equation is easy. All that is required is a baby and a mother, with the optional accessory of a nursing bra. When I am nursing a baby, I can sink down into that glider holding the child and know I am doing absolutely what I am supposed to be doing. I am parenting perfectly simply by sitting there and feeding her.
And that’s about the only time I get to feel like I am parenting perfectly.
The rest of the time I am yelling too much or fucking up potty training or breaking up fights. I am not all that great a parent most of the time. I am the best mother they have, but it is really fucking hard. There are too many decisions and too many ways to get it all wrong.
Breastfeeding? It’s straightforward. I am nourishing the baby, and that’s just what I am supposed to do.
As soon as the baby becomes a toddler, we move from easy answers straight to multiple choice with seventy-seven possible choices. Even worse is the fill-in-the-blank of the preschool years. God help me when I get to the teenaged years, where it’s one long essay exam in which all the answers are incorrect.
Watching another mother at the YMCA nursing her 21 month old, I spilled out my reluctance to wean one feeding. “I know I need to go slowly, one feeding at a time,” I told her. “It’s easier on me hormonally that way. But I can’t seem to bring myself to cut out that mid-morning feeding.”
If I was hoping she’d try to talk me into extending my breastfeeding, I had chosen the wrong ally. “Well,” she said, switching sides, “it’s sure a lot easier at your baby’s age. When I wean my daughter, it’s going to be hard. She’s old enough to notice.”
That mother was right. I do not want to nurse till Lilah is two, much as I’d love to freeze her at eleven months. And so, on Saturday, I got her up from her nap and fed her milk in a cup. She happily gulped it down, not seeming to care that we had skipped her post-nap nursing. But I felt it, in a tingle that went unrelieved.
When she wriggled down to play with her fire truck, I watched my baby crawl away from me.