Monday, March 21, 2011

How weaning (eventually) happened

After I took the girls for their check-ups in January, I joked with Brian that when the pediatrican asked me whether I’d considered weaning, I nearly answered “Which one?” Because of course our pediatrician was asking about Lyra and of course I wouldn’t have said anything of the sort. The fact that Adriana was still nursing at four years old wasn’t something I was trying to hide, but it wasn’t something I was going around advertising either. I wasn’t ashamed of it, but it’s not exactly the norm in mainstream parenting, and I’m not the kind of person who wants to stand out. And so I debated whether to write about this, but it’s such a milestone for us, perhaps particularly for us, that it would be a shame not to. And I think that, because it’s outside the norm, it’s worth sharing.

We went through stages when people would ask me about weaning. The first was when Adriana was a newborn, and people would ask how long I planned to nurse; when she was a little over year it came up again, since it’s very common to wean around the baby’s first birthday; and finally, people who knew she was still nursing when I got pregnant again asked if I had plans to wean. There were times all along when I considered it, even right at the beginning when I was tired and depressed and had thrush, and particularly when I was pregnant and it wasn’t always as comfortable as it had been. But it never seemed like the right time to wean completely, and it seemed as though it would happen eventually.

She got older and began to eat a bit of solid food, and she backed off of nursing a bit then. There was a point sometime before Adriana’s second birthday when I started pushing her to nurse less in the afternoons, because I found it frustrating to stop what I was doing so often to nurse her (and once I was including her more in what I was doing, she stopped asking so much--what she had really wanted was more of my focus). Sometime around the time she was two and a half, I began to refuse to nurse her in public. And because we were always going somewhere, pretty soon she was nursing only around sleep--to fall asleep at nighttime and naptime, and then when she woke up. That was our pattern when I got pregnant and it worked. She gave up napping not too long after her third birthday, so then those nursings were gone (although for the first couple of weeks, I would still lie down and let her nurse for a bit at what would have been naptime--she seemed to need something like that to make it through the afternoon). I pushed to get rid of the morning nursing, which worked for a few weeks, but then mornings got rough and we added it back in. A couple of months later, we dropped it without much effort.

It feels like a confession of sorts to say that after the baby was born I wished Adriana would stop. I was glad it was comforting to her, but the contrast between nursing a newborn and nursing a preschooler somehow overwhelming to me. I was ready to be done, but I also knew it was the wrong time to stop her. It was what she knew to do. It was reassuring to her. And with the adjustment to having a new baby at home (and then knowing that we’d be moving over the summer) it seemed like too much to ask.

There was one misguided attempt on my part to cut her off cold turkey. In June, I spent three nights in the hospital with a stomach bug of some sort. Lyra was in the hospital with me so she could nurse, but Adriana was at home with her grandma. She fell asleep for those three nights without nursing (but cuddled up with Grandma), so on my first night home, I laid down in her bed with her at bedtime, just like I always do, but this time I refused to nurse her. It was awful. Within a few minutes we were both in tears. Finally I nursed her, sad to not be done, sad to have tried and failed, relieved that it was so easy to make it all better again.

After we moved last summer I began talking to her about weaning. I told her that she was the only one of her friends that still needed “mom milk” to fall asleep, and talked about other ways to fall asleep. On nights when she did fall asleep without nursing (because we were in the car when she fell asleep, or because I hadn’t been home, or because she was tired and fell asleep during her story) I would point it out to her in the morning. Sometime before our move, I suggested that when she was four she wouldn’t nurse any more. I tried to talk about it as casually as possible, and it seemed to work. She began talking about it herself. And it went on for several months like that, and then in December one night she told me that she wouldn’t have milk to fall asleep. I got into bed with her, read her some stories, and then we cuddled up together. After about 15 minutes of tossing around, she told me--on the edge of tears, trying to be brave--that she needed milk after all. I assured her it was fine, and she nursed to sleep. She talked about it in the morning, and didn’t suggest it again.

I teased her the night of her fourth birthday about not nursing. She laughed, and said “Maybe when I’m eight,” which gave me a good laugh. But I knew I wasn’t going to cut her off because she had turned four that day. Then one night about a week later, nursing became uncomfortable for me, so I stopped her. She cried and yelled and hit and kicked, and then she fell asleep in my arms. The next night I stopped her before she was asleep. She cried a little, but didn’t throw the same fit as the night before. For two more nights I read her long stories until she fell asleep. On the fifth night she asked to nurse, and I told her that she was four and a big girl, and that I would stay with her as long as she wanted, but I wouldn’t nurse her. And that was it. That was the end.

I had been dreading bedtime. I was done with nursing and waiting for the right time for Adriana. Now bedtime can be so nice. (I won’t say it always is, because, look, she’s four; sometimes she’s going to fight it, no matter how tired she is.) Most nights I just lie in bed with her and read her stories. Sometimes she falls asleep during the story, and other times she just lies in my arms and I rest my face on her hair and feel the moment when her body relaxes and she falls asleep.


leelu said...

My mom nursed my brother and I until we were older too. I think around 3 or 4. I will have to ask her, but I know it was a while. She is convinced that it is why both my brother and I have such strong immune systems.

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