Tag Archives: breastfeeding

My Boobs Are Sad

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A while back, I mused about what would become of my breasts  when I was done nursing my youngest of my two children, Emily.

Emily weaned completely about six months ago, shortly after her fourth birthday.

I had written so many posts about how we were “almost there” with our weaning, that I haven’t really bothered to write anything about the fact that we actually did “get there.”

Weaning had been a very long process for us that took close to two years, as Emily slowed her nursing sessions to twice per day, and then only to once per day either in the morning or before bed.

I had wanted weaning to be a gradual and mutual decision.  I didn’t want it to be traumatic for either of us.  The beginning of my nursing relationship with Emily had been very traumatic as I suffered extreme nipple damage and had to really fight to keep my supply and the nursing relationship between my baby and myself.

Initially, I felt robbed of the “perfect” nursing experience with my daughter.  I’d had tons of struggles and antenatal depression with my first child, and had ended up needing to supplement with formula with him.

Although I am beyond thankful that all was well that ended well with my son, when I was pregnant with Em, I was really committed to the idea of exclusively nursing.  I felt certain that I had been better educated on breastfeeding due to the trial and error with my son, and that everything would go off without a hitch.

My confidence was shattered shortly after Emily’s birth when my nipples became mangled as a result of her tongue tie.  For 11 weeks, I battled a nipple wound that would not heal.  Finally we got things sorted out, but my supply never got back to what it needed to be to be able to pump milk for her to have upon my return to my job at 12 weeks after her birth.

I took a huge amount of comfort in the fact that she continued to nurse whenever she was with me, and that she almost always refused the bottle at daycare and then would reverse cycle all night with me.  Sure I was tired, but I was thrilled that we were not having to supplement with very much formula, and that Emily was such a champion nurser.

Eventually, I accepted that while our relationship was not what I could label “perfect” from the get go, it ended up being pretty amazing and sweet.

And it endured much longer than I thought it would.

My son had weaned completely at 23 months.  Like I said, we’d had to supplement him with formula, but he continued to nurse first thing in the morning with me until one morning he woke up, asked for milk in a cup and that was that.

I don’t remember having any truly intense feelings related to this weaning.  Sure it was bittersweet, but it was not devastating in any way.  And as a first-time mom, I was thrilled I’d been able to milk it out to nearly two years (pun intended!).

I had figured Em would wean around the same time.  But she didn’t.  She turned two and then three and still loved her milky cuddles with mama.  Around the time she turned three, we started talking about what it would be like for her to not nurse anymore.  Long story longer, she went another whole year and was still occasionally nursing when she turned four.

Then she stopped.

It was so gradual.  It was almost unnoticeable.

To be honest with you, I don’t really think about it all that often.

Until I do think about it and then it is difficult to stop thinking about it.

A client came to my office with her toddler a while back.  The child grew fussy, and she surprised me by offering him her breast, which he eagerly took and settled right down.  It was absolutely the most natural and graceful thing to watch.  I told her how thrilled I was that she was nursing her toddler, but the image stayed with me throughout the day and into the night along with a feeling of deep sorrow.

It had been the first time I’d seen a mom nursing since I weaned Emily.

And this is going to sound crazy, but I felt an actual physical sensation in my breasts like I used to feel when my milk let down.  But it was different.  It was like the shadow of that let down sensation, and I felt bereft.  It was like my boobs actually felt sad.

When you are bonding and nursing with a new baby, your body creates oxytocin which is the chemical that signals the need to produce milk.  It also creates a drowsy, sweet, loving feeling between you and your baby, which for me also extended to the world at large.

So, when I saw this mom nursing, it was like I got a surge of oxytocin but there was no milk and no baby to nurse.  I went home and felt the need to give Emily and Jack extra cuddles.

I think about how I am no longer nursing at other weird times too.  Like when I went to the pharmacy and was browsing the antacids and realized that I could take alka-seltzer again.  It used to be my go-to remedy before pregnancy and nursing, but it has aspirin in it so you can’t use it during the aforementioned times.  So I purchased it with a mix of hey-this-is-awesome and hey-this-is-super-sad.

I’m bummed about weaning in a lot of ways.  It makes me sad to not have that connection with another human any longer.  It is a reminder that children grow so quickly and things change faster than you can ever imagine.  I also blame the ten pound weight gain on weaning, as well as some of my hormonal shifts and mood swings. . . although I realize those should be well regulated by now.

There is no going backwards in life.

And as I continue marching forward, I am having trouble trying to figure out what to do with these floppy appendages that seem to be a permanent DDD cup size now and give me back and neck pain.  They are like an accessory that has gone out of style, only I can’t pack them away into the back of my closet or toss them in the junk drawer.

Once upon a time, they were pert and pretty.  They attracted people and were objects of potential sexual pleasure.  Then I had kids and they became vehicles of nurturance and nutrition.

About a week after I had Jack, I developed a urinary tract infection and went to a doctor.  She was excited to hear that I was breastfeeding and shared that she had nursed her kids and it had been a great experience for her.

“But your breasts are ruined for sex forever,” She had mused.  “They become like these tube socks with golf balls at the end.”

Well. . .

I guess mine are more like balloons with permanently erect, frozen peas at the end, so her very lucid description was a bit off there.  But she was right about one thing–  my boobs are of no use for my sex life anymore.  There is a cognitive dissonance that these soft things that Emily still likes to pat and rub her face on could be used for anything other than bringing comfort to my babies.

So, I guess it is a blessing my husband is an ass man.  Anyway, I digress. . .

Six months after weaning Emily, and I am still wondering what will become of my breasts now that I am done nursing.  I’m trying to figure out how I feel about them, and what to do about the sense of sadness and loss.

At the end of the day I am very proud and content with the nursing relationships I had with both Emily and Jack.  They were conflicted and diverse, but they were filled with love. Even as my boobs feel sad that it isn’t something I’ll ever share again with another human, I am grateful for the experiences I did have breastfeeding.

What was your weaning experience like?  Did you experience any hormonal shifts or depression with weaning?  Talk to me in the comments below.  I love to hear from you!  And please feel free to share my post on social media, or with other nursing/weaning moms in your life.  xoxo and momaste!  

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The Love Song of a Mom as Her Baby Turns Four (and is finally weaned)

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 After a full day of birthday excitement, Emily fell asleep almost instantly.

I leaned over her where she lay, nestled in the Hello Kitty pillows and blankets of her new, big-girl bed.

Much as I had, four years ago to the day, I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her downy forehead, kissing her repeatedly, nuzzling her curled fist.

Her fingers smelled like birthday cake.  Vanilla and cream.

Tears prickled in my eyes and nose as I forced myself to stand, collect my dignity and I left the room of my little-big-girl.

We had a great day–  all the highs and lows you would expect of life with a four-year-old.

She’s actually been a little mean to me lately.  I don’t take it personally, really.  Except, it’s just, when she opened her new Frozen umbrella in the house and held it up between us saying, “I don’t want to look at your grubby old face, Mama,” well, it stung a bit.

I was also wounded by her rejection of the birthday bouquet I bought her.  Last year her heart’s desire was a bouquet of flowers on her birthday.  Thinking I would make it a tradition, I got her another big bouquet this year only to be screamed at because she didn’t want flowers.

Of course, in both instances, three minutes later she was telling me she loves me as big as the sky, a giraffe, the dinosaur at the science museum, and the whole world.

  
I wonder if that is what the relationship between a mother and daughter is like, that push and pull, the love and loathing, the devotion and distance?

I also wonder if the fact she is now completely weaned from nursing has anything to do with her grumpiness towards me.

It probably doesn’t.

I’m probably just protecting the sense of rejection  because my onset of tears at her bedside had a lot to do with the fact that she has not asked to nurse in over a week, and the fact that we have talked about her fourth birthday as being the weaning Rubicon.  My words.  Not hers.

It is a natural progression.

My gratitude runs plenty deep for how gradual and mutual our weaning has been.  While I never, ever thought I would be “that mom” nursing a preschooler, I also very much wanted Emily to feel like she was totally ready to move on from nursing.  I didn’t want it to be sad, scary, or traumatic for either of us.

There were some moments where is was sad.  Moments when I thought she would ask to nurse and she didn’t.  Moments where she really wanted to nurse and I just didn’t have it in me and she cried because I set a boundary with her and refused.

And the exceptionally rare moments when she was truly exhausted and fell asleep at my breast–  this big doll of a child who grows lankier by the day–  and my heart filled to bursting and then broke because it doesn’t last.

None of it.

I remember those early days of nursing my kids through the nights and how perpetual it seemed, how there was no perspective to know that it was all really just a fleeting gift, how the never-ending sense was illusory.

I’m really proud Emily and I made it through nipple trauma, being touched out, my return to work, lack of societal support, and the general social stigma of a full term nursing relationship.

I really will treasure it.  And I hope somewhere in her exponentially exploding brain she will remember a little snippet of how much she loved nursing.  I pray she will feel it is something normal and natural, and that she will pay it forward with a little nursling of her own someday.

I think of how patient she was, even as a newborn at my breast waiting for my milk to come in.  I think of the adoration she lavished on me, her cheek nuzzled into my chest.  I think of how she would stop nursing to smile up at me with a big, milky grin.  I think of how she would refuse her bottles at daycare all day and then stay up all night nursing because she wanted mama and just mama.

I don’t know if I’ve ever known a love so gratifying, or a feeling as powerful as nourishing a child from my own body.  Maybe that is selfish.  Maybe it is.

But I will let this be.

I will let it go.

And after the tears run dry and my vision clears, I’ll be just fine with it.  It is a very natural progression after all.

When my son turned four, I was expecting his sister.  His birthday was a major milestone, and a major holiday for us.  We had a huge party and we celebrated him with all the glory due a firstborn turning four.

But there must have been a part of me that was distracted, and didn’t really realize the significance of a three-year-old-toddler morphing before my eyes into a four-year-old-preschooler.

Emily is my last baby.

The significance is palpable.

In many ways, but most of all, in the damp salt of my tears as I walked out of her room after putting her to bed on her fourth birthday.

  
***author’s note:  the very next morning, emily came to me as soon as she got up and asked to nurse.  just goes to show how utterly unpredictable this parenting gig really is.  of course i allowed it, because even though she is four now, i prefer to be guided by her needs and by my heart as a mom, rather than a date on a calendar.  xo.  

“M” is for. . .

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"M" is for memories. . .

“M” is for memories. . .

All summer, we have been saying Emily is three and a half.  But the truth hit me the other day that she is really and truly almost four.

My baby will be four-years-old in two months.

Put that in your pipe, and so forth.

It really seems like four years is so much different than three.  Like when a kid turns four, they turn a corner and are no longer Mama’s baby.  Or toddler.  They fall into a totally new category–  “preschooler.”

I’m just not ready for that.

“M” is for “more”.  More time.  

Emily is a beautiful child.  She is wild and vivacious.  She has curly hair that gets all tangled.  She is so proud of how long it is finally growing, and many days she wants to just leave it be.  “I just want it all frowsy,” she will say when I offer braids of pony tails or a little bun for ballet.  She is strong-willed, carrying a big ball of fire in that Hello-Kitty purse with her ballet slippers.

Emily is also sensitive and sweet and she has a huge heart.  She worries about other people and is eager to please.

She is equal parts sweetness and strength.

“M” is for “magnificent”.

Over the summer, she has gone from nursing a solid two times per day, to maybe asking to nurse twice per week.

It is a really big change for us.

She will go an entire week, before noticing she has not had mama-milk, then she’ll ask for it either at bedtime or in the morning.  Sometimes she will simply rest her face in my chest and sniff me, or pat my breasts in a casually fond way, as if to say, Hey there, I remember you.

“M” is for “mama” and “milk”.

For the most part, people including my husband, extended family and friends have been supportive and understanding about my nursing relationship with Emily.  Since we’ve only been nursing in the morning and at night for the past two years, give or take, I have never had occasion to nurse her as an older toddler in public.  I know it would raise some eyebrows.  Part of me wishes I could have this experience as a lactavist.  Another part of me shudders at the judgement I would garner, and knows I would never have the tits for it.

I do not, however, shy away about talking about my full-term breastfeeding.

Recently, I had a physical.  During the triage, the medical assistant asked me where I had my mammogram done.  I told her I’d not yet had one.  Then I mentioned that I was actually lactating and didn’t even know if they do mammograms while a woman is lactating.  She asked me how old my baby was.  I told her Em is three and a half (almost four, almost four…  I know!).

She looked at me in horror as if I had just told her there was a rancid, green discharge seeping out of my navel.  “You’re nursing a three and a half year old?”  She asked in obvious disgust.

There were a number of places I could have gone in that moment, but I chose to smile as sweetly as possible at her and say, “Yes.  We are proponents of full-term nursing in my house.”  She said nothing more.  I did mention to my doc that the assistant had been rather judgey-wudgey, and told her about nursing Emily.  My doc is awesome.  She said her sister had nursed her baby well into the toddler years, and if a family is happy with it than so be it.

So.  Be.  It.

Turns out I still have to have to mammogram, lactating or not, but that is another post for another day.

“M” is for “mammogram”.

We’ve been working on this weaning thing as a team, Emily and I.  I wanted for us both to be ready, and I wanted us both to be comfortable with either nursing or not nursing as the case may be.  But I had firmly decided that at four years of age, I would tell her the milk-center was closed for good.

But like most parenting decisions I’ve made never to do (e.g., pacifiers, co-sleeping, hotdogs), I knew if she wanted to nurse on or after her fourth birthday, I would probably cave, especially if it was important to her.  More than anything, I do not want weaning to be traumatic for either of us.  And so far, for the most part, it has not been.  There have been times where I refused to nurse her because I was too hot or tired, and while she miffed for a moment or two, it was okay.

But it is a loss of sorts, this whole weaning thing.

I’ve really enjoyed my nursing relationship with Emily.  I have so many memories of her plump, round face gazing up at me as she nursed as a baby.  I even enjoyed pumping for her when I went back to work.  It sounds crazy, because pumping–  UGH!  But I did.  I liked it because it made me feel connected to her.  I even kept a two ounce vial of milk I pumped for her in the freezer.  I have it still.  It’s probably three years old, but I can’t bring myself to throw it away…

Last night she asked to nurse for the first time in about a week.  I told her okay, but I didn’t know if there would be a lot of milk there, because she is a bigger girl now and she isn’t needing it as much.  She didn’t care and nestled in.  But after about 15 seconds, she let me know there was only a tiny bit of milk.  She tried the other side.  Same deal.  Only a little bit.

My milk supply is finally catching up, or letting go as it were, with the decreasing demand for it’s product.

This is a really big change for us.

“M” is for “mourning”.

As a nursing mom, you cultivate and protect your milk supply at all costs in those early days of nursing.  You obsess over it.  Schedule time for extra pumping sessions.  You talk about it non stop.  You compare it with other people.  I can remember feeling actual jealousy over photos of freezer-milk-stashes that some moms would share on Facebook (yeah, it’s a thing nursing moms do online in breastfeeding groups, in case you weren’t aware…  we used to get jealous over someone else’s huge ring or handbag, now we get jealous over how many baggies and ounces of boobie juice are in the freezer…).

While I’ve gotten comfortable with my body’s ability to produce, and haven’t needed to obsess or stress about my milk supply in ages, the realization that my body has recognized it no longer needs to make milk is new territory.  It is a territory in which I am sitting in a quiet discomfort, knowing there is not anything I can do to change it.

Emily will wean.  I can not have any more babies, so this means my breastfeeding journey of this lifetime is coming to an end.

I guess I can’t really explain why this is such a poignant turning point for me.  I struggled to nurse my babies, and it was an important victory.  So there’s that.  It is also the tangible connection to my children, a physical nurturance that I will never again get to give them.

In a way, I can be fine with all of this.  I nursed Jack until he was about to be two, and Emily is nearly four, so that makes a total of six years of my life spent nursing my children.  I’m proud of that, not because it makes me any better than anyone else who did it longer or shorter than me, but because it is just something special to me.  Something I did.  Kind of like going to Toronto by myself when I was in grad school.

Strange as it may sound, breastfeeding is also a really important part of who I am as a person.  It is something in which I believe.  It is something about which I am passionate, and something I seek to promote, normalize, and provide education to those willing to listen or ask.

And I’m sure it will continue to be an interest and a passion of mine.  My goal for my next life (when Emily is in school full day) is to become a La Leche League leader and to eventually get my IBCLC.  I would love to help other women fulfill their nursing goals, whether it is for a day, a month, a year, or four years.

So, “M” is for “metamorphosis”.

Things change and it has to be okay, because there isn’t really anything we can do, other than acknowledge, breathe, and accept.

Here’s the good news:  Emily and I are still as close as ever.  We chat and cuddle and play and drive around listening to princess music.  Even though weaning will alter our relationship, it will not weaken or break it in any way.  Just as I trusted in my body to make milk for my babies, so will I trust in my relationship with Emily and our ability to be close to one another no matter what.

“M” is for “Momaste”.  The mom in me bows to the mom in you.

When Will We Wean?

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It seems like I’ve been writing posts for the past two years about weaning my daughter, Emily.

It seems this way, because I HAVE been writing posts for the past two years about weaning Emily, who will turn four in November.

While there were several nursing strikes and times where we have skipped sessions, Emily, for the most part, has insisted on having her milkies first thing in the morning, and then right before bed.  I really thought she would wean at two.  Then, when she didn’t, I really thought she would wean at two and a half.  And then three years came and went.

I’ve been talking to her about how she is a bigger girl now, and how it is okay for her to have milk from a cow, or milk from a coconut, or milk from a goat.  She seems intrigued by the idea of all these different milks, but has been fairly insistent on her mama milk.

Since she turned three (and I inwardly thought enough is enough about nursing), I’ve been operating on the “don’t ask/don’t refuse” policy.

Until recently, she always asked.  Until recently, I never refused.

But over this summer, there has been a gentle shift in our breastfeeding relationship.

There were some nights where I was way too hot and sweaty to have her on me, and I gently refused to nurse with her.  During these times she got upset and cried and it was hard for me to tolerate.  Instead, I would offer her a cuddle, or a song, or a story, or to watch “Baby Mine” on Youtube seven times.  She would eventually settle down, and I would maintain my sanity.

The major difference was we were both okay with it.

For me, weaning is an emotional topic.  Emily is my last baby.  I fought so hard to nurse both my children, so the ending of this very special and intimate relationship is a bittersweet for both of us.  To feel I am finally in a place where I am ready, willing, and able to wean Emily completely is a major milestone.

Don’t get me wrong, had Emily been ready to wean at two or three, it would have happened.  I would have felt sad, but would have gone gracefully following her lead.  I’ve certainly never forced Emily to nurse.

I believe a child and mother come full circle with their nursing connection when both are ready.

I know some find nursing a toddler to be crazy or creepy, that I should have set a limit way back when, and that it is just plain weird for a child to be able to ask for what they need/want.

Someone I am “friends” with on Facebook just posted a really judgmental statement about full-term nursing along with an article about a mom nursing her three-year-old.  Out of morbid curiosity, I scrolled down the comments her friends had posted, and was saddened to see so many people who found it to be a negative and icky thing to nurse an older toddler.

I personally cannot fathom why someone would NOT want to nurse a child beyond infancy, but that’s just the point–  I don’t understand it.  It isn’t my brain, or my situation, or my story to tell.  So, I try not to be judgmental about their judgment, or to take it as a personal affront on my beliefs or relationship with my child.  Everyone’s relationship is different.  If you aren’t one of the people in the relationship, then yeah, you’re not going to get it.  But to rush to calling something mean names because you don’t understand it is not nice, IMHO.

What I’m rambling around to A.) is that despite the fact it has lasted longer than I expected, my nursing relationship with Emily feels like it has been right for us.  And now it feels right that I am pushing the weaning a little bit more assertively than I have in the past. And B.) Don’t judge what you don’t know/understand.  Please.  We moms already take enough crap and make enough second guesses for every move we make in this society.

I have let Emily know that it is my body and if I don’t want her to nurse she will have to respect my boundaries.  Because like any other relationship, breastfeeding is a two way street, and boundaries need to be respected and attended to.

Over this summer, there have been other times where Emily forgot to ask for nursing.  And I left it at that.  There have also been a few occasions where Emily slept over at a grandparents’ house and went without nursing and was totally find.

As I write this, it has currently been two and a half days since she last snuggled into me to nurse.

It feels like we are getting there, and I’m so glad we are both okay with it.

I’ve let her know that when she turns four, we will no longer do milkies.  Her three year old brain is processing this information, but it feels like it will be time, and we will both be read, willing, and able.

Musing on Aching Ovaries, Weaning, and the End of the School Year

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It helped more than you can imagine that you took the time to read my incredibly neurotic last post about wacky mid-life hormones.  And to those of you who commented to let me know you are in a similar boat–  well, you just rock.  Sometimes I guess bemoaning my aching ovaries has its place.

So thanks for that love and support.

I had another thought that made me wonder. . .

. . .  as my journey towards weaning continues with Emily, how is that affecting my hormones, and how is that affect on my hormones affecting my emotional/physical state?  My three and a half year old daughter continues to nurse one or two times per day, usually.  Sometimes she goes a couple days without nursing, and I’ve been practicing the whole “don’t ask, don’t refuse” thing.

Breastfeeding is all about hormones.  I’ve noticed that there are times when the oxytocin rush from breastfeeding is more effective than a dose of Zoloft.  But then there are other times when it makes me want to claw off my skin.  So, I wonder if my hormones could be additionally out of whack, not so much because I am going into perimenopause (which I don’t really think I am yet), but because my body is just confused from this whole march towards weaning?

Do any of you know anything about that?

Today was also Jack’s last day of second grade.  He’s had a great year, mainly because he had a phenomenal teacher who really supported and inspired him.  We have had no tantrums about school or homework, and more importantly none of the somatic complaints that he was voicing last year.  I’ve felt so blessed that he’s had this safe space to be in during the day, and I really think it has allowed him to grow and learn emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally.

That said, I sort of dread the summer.

Jack and I both have a hard time with change.  It really rocks our boat in a big way and can lead to anxiety and anger.  I totally understand where he is coming from in this regard because I am really right there with him.  This year, he is doing some summer day camp about which none of us are particularly thrilled.  I’m praying there will be nice kids there, attentive staff, and that Jack will not be miserable all summer because of it.

This morning I sort of broke down and cried.  I was just so overwhelmed and sad about not being there for my kids as much as I want to be, as much as they NEED me to be.  It is really, really hard.

My husband took this job in February with the expectation I would be able to cut my hours at work.  This has not come to pass as I cannot leave my program in the lurch with no staff, and financially we are still digging out of a pretty deep hole.  So, we are both at our limits and have not really been available to each other.

So, this morning when my daughter wanted to look at books instead of put on her shoes, everything just crashed around me and out came the tears.  I pulled it together pretty quickly, and Emily’s hug was like magic.  I got the kids out the door and felt a surge of pride watching my little-big-boy march into the playground for his last day of school.

So, it’s not all bad.

And you all are still here.

So, it’s not all bad.

One random final thought:

When Jack was a newborn and I was struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, my husband would take our colicky little son and walk him around the house.  The Spouse would sing this chant that I believe is from Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.

It went, “I have arrived, I am home, in the here and in the now.  I am solid, I am free.  In the infinite I dwell.”

This little chant came to me today and gave me comfort.

So, yeah, I am home with my achey, breaky ovaries, my mommy guilt, and my anticipatory anxiety about the summer.

In the infinite we dwell.

Momaste.  xoxoxo.

When Breastfeeding IS All About Me

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Many of you who have been blogging with me for a while now know I have continued breastfeeding my daughter, Emily, who is now three and a half.

Yes. You heard me right. I’m nursing a toddler who is really now more of a preschooler.

I always thought she would self wean around age two, like her older brother did. But two years came and went and we were still nursing quite a bit. Three years passed and she had gotten down to two nursing sessions per day– once first thing in the morning and then right before bed.

To be honest with you, I don’t mind it. To be really honest with you, I love it.

I love the stillness and connection we share during those times, which is really only a few minutes now, before she is off and running or sound asleep. I love knowing her diet is being supplemented with the best stuff nature can offer. I love that it continues to reduce my risks of feminine cancers. I love that we are continuing to share a biological connection, that I continue to nourish her as I did when she was floating inside me.  I love the way she strokes my face and looks at me with total contentment.

Don’t get me wrong–  I have been talking with her about weaning for the better part of a year, but it has been a laid back conversation between us. For example, one night we had this conversation:

“Someday, Em, you won’t need milk-kee-kees,” I said, using her special code word for booby time. “You can have milk in a cup. And you can have milk from a cow, or milk from a goat, or even milk from a coconut!”

“I sink I will have milk fwom a cow,” she said decisively and then paused to think.  I could see the wheels turning.

“What are you thinking, Emily?”

She started to laugh, “I sinkin’ about a cow dwinkin’ milk fwom a cow in a cup!”  We both cracked up over that one and then she decided she wanted her nighttime nursies so I whipped out the boob.

I never planned to be nursing this long, and I keep thinking she will wean any time now, and it will be okay.  I don’t offer her my breast any more, but I don’t refuse it if she asks, either.  She has very nice nursing manners, and she doesn’t bite.  We also had such a hard time nursing in the beginning, that I feel it is our karma to be enjoying a wonderful companionship at the breast now.

It is a nursing relationship that works for us.

For a lot of people, weaning happens naturally at a year or two.  Other women have to wean prematurely due to complications, health issues, or separations from their babies.  Then there are women like me who chose to allow the child to self wean when they are ready.  Whatever the reason, weaning is a personal choice and process that happens between mother and baby.   There should be no judgement or hard and fast rules about how a mom goes about weaning her child.

A lot of people don’t really understand “full-term” nursing.  I think part of this misunderstanding is do to lack of education on breastfeeding in general, and also to lack of exposure.  Many women who do nurse past a year, or gasp! two years, are criticized by friends and family.  I’ve heard moms say even their pediatricians have been critical and negative about nursing an older baby.  So, many women are not open about it when the breastfeed past the times that society thinks is “acceptable.”

Another stumbling block is the overtly sexual connotations breasts have in our highly sexualized culture.  Many find it weird, kinky, or disgusting if a mom choses to nurse past infancy.  This view, IMHO, is totally unfortunate.

Still others believe a child will become clingy, dependent, and socially ostracized if they breastfeed longer than a year.  This is usually not the case.  In fact, there are studies that have shown children who nurse longer are actually more independent, confident, and do just fine socially.  I can tell you for a fact this is the case with my super-strong-willed daughter.

Finally, there is the camp that states it is “all about the mother” when a woman and child nurse into toddlerhood, that it is satisfying some bizarre need the mother has to infantilize their child.  While I can see how this assumption might seem logical, I don’t think it is necessarily the truth.  A child has to be willing to nurse; it isn’t something that can be forced.  Nursing is a relationship.  It takes two to tango.

This doesn’t mean a woman won’t have pangs of mixed emotions when her child weans.  Some women are thrilled to “get their body back.”  Other women feel a sense of loss and sorrow.

For example, I submit the following for your consideration:

Tonight, for the first time ever, Emily responded to my offer to have milk in a cup instead of milk-kee-kees by choosing the cup.  I’ve been offering her this choice for months, and she never once has taken me up on it.  I was surprised when I poured out her milk, but there was a part of me that figured she would still ask for nursing once we got into her room for bedtime.

She didn’t.

And that kind of shocked me.

And it hurt.

I sat down in the rocking chair that I always sit in to nurse her, and then stay in as she falls off to sleep.  She started to climb into her bed and then she came over and hugged me, said goodnight, and covered my face with kisses.

Is this really happening?  I asked myself.  I hugged on her for an extra moment, in a state disbelief, certain she would change her mind and climb up into my lap.

She didn’t.

And then I realized I was feeling a little clingy and uncomfortable, so I let her trot off to her bed.  I knew if I offered, she would climb up on my lap and tuck in, but I also knew if I did that it would be satisfying my own need to be her mom, as opposed to her need to assert herself.

I figured I had to let her go, so as not to give her mixed messages about her ability to wean when she is ready.  Because to give her mixed messages like that would be unfair and confusing for both of us.

None of this means she won’t want to nurse tomorrow first thing in the morning, or be off the boob wagon by tomorrow night, and that’s okay.  But it does kind of make me feel we are a step closer to that weaning stop on our journey.

It took her longer than usual to fall asleep, and I sat there in the rocking chair with my feeling of sadness because three and a half years may seem like a really long time to you, but it has gone by in the blink of an eye, and change is hard.  I feel so blessed that ultimately this has been a wonderful experience, and I have given her a really positive view of breastfeeding that I pray she will carry with her throughout life.

Hopefully, as my daughter and I grow, both as individuals, and together in our relationship, we will find new and wonderful ways to feel connected and safe and special with one another.

What was weaning like for you?  

About the Time I Tried To Sell My Newborn On the Internet, Or, Postpartum Depression

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Jack's few-day-old feet

Jack’s few-day-old feet

I’ve ruined my life.

The thought thundered, endless as the tide, in my ears.

I’ve ruined my life.  I don’t know how to do this.  I just want this creature to go away.  

I was a week into my new existence as a new mom.  What was supposed to be the most precious time, full of adoration and cuddling a darling new baby, was turning out to be the darkest time of my life.

Upon birthing a tiny human, everything was suddenly different.  Routines in which I’d been comfortable for decades were altered by the nonstop needs of my son.  I couldn’t find time to brush my teeth or drink a cup of tea.  Being out of work and home alone with a baby felt isolating and scary.  I missed being alone with my husband.  I hadn’t slept in days, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to balance my checkbook.

I sat, at our dining room table, trying to make sense of the numbers in front of me– a chore I’d done hundreds of times in my adult life.  I knew the shapes in front of me were numbers, but there were black holes in my brain where I was supposed to know what to do with them.

In desperation, I looked up as my husband appeared in front of me with Jack in his arms.

“We have to sell the baby!”  I cried.  “I can’t make these numbers make sense.  We’ll never be able to afford life.  Do you think we can sell the baby?”

It is a fortunate thing I married a level-headed individual.  “We don’t have to sell the baby,” he said calmly.

My eyes were bleary from not sleeping as I looked at him.  He swayed with our son in his arms.  Why was Jack so peaceful with him?  I felt clueless when it came to comforting him.

Nursing was excruciating, not at all the tender and nurturing experience I fantasized about while pregnant.

In fact, nothing about motherhood was what I expected.

My pregnancy with Jack had been idyllic.  I had never been happier or more emotionally balanced.  I slept great and was barely uncomfortable, even at full-term.  In all honesty, I could have stayed pregnant with Jack forever, it was so awesome.

But now he was on the outside, and I felt devastated.

His cry sent me into tailspins of panic the likes of which I’d never known.  Somehow, my husband had the patience to rock and coo at our son in ways that calmed him, but instead of reassuring me that it was possible for us to have a content baby, it infuriated me.

It was like the two of them were conspiring to make me see what a failure I was as a mom.

“It must be nice being the fucking father of the year!” I sobbed, enraged that my husband was already a better parent than me.

It is another very fortunate thing I married someone who didn’t take this sleep-deprived insanity personally.

And we were so very sleep-deprived.  We hadn’t slept more than 45 consecutive minutes since my water broke at one a.m. and a 22 hour labor and birth ensued.  I was totally prepared to follow the advice of “sleep while the baby sleeps,” but Jack did not sleep for more than an hour at a time, and it was shocking how much he wanted to nurse.  My nipples were inflamed and raw.  This pain plus sleep-deprivation equaled the revulsion I felt towards this tiny being who never ceased caterwauling.

I felt a despair at being a new mom and it was shameful.  Fury grew as I internalized it.

I never wanted to hurt my baby.  Never.  I did adore him.  I thought he was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.  But sometimes when I couldn’t get him to stop crying, I just kind of wanted to open up the window and quietly slip him out.

I felt like the shittiest person in the world for feeling these awful feelings, hence my desire of looking into selling Jack on the internet, which at the time seemed like a totally plausible epiphany.

Postpartum depression is a complex combination of factors.  As a social worker, I could give you a bunch of clinical jargon and criteria.  But I’d rather talk to you as a mom who has been the fuck through it.

For me, a hormonal roller coaster met my history of anxiety and depression, acute sleep-deprivation, and the result was a sense of epic failure.  Though I have no evidence to back it up, I also believe having pain meds during my labor complicated my recovery and was an impediment to successful initiation of breastfeeding.  The poor breastfeeding relationship fed insecurity, and deepened my sense of failure.

Motherhood seemed a trap in which I had ensnared myself and my husband.

Nothing prepared me for motherhood.  I had worked with children for over 15 years, but nothing prepared me for the exhausting onslaught of new responsibilities.  Jack was what you would call a “high-needs” baby.  He wanted constant holding, needed lots of soothing, and was incredibly alert.  Meeting the needs of this kid while still recovering from birthing him was intense.

I really can’t over-state how fucking miserable sleep-deprivation is.  I’m not talking about pulling an all nighter, staying out partying until 3 a.m., or having an occasional bout of insomnia.  I’m talking about not sleeping for days and nights on end, to the point where your nerves are so frazzled if you actually got a couple hours in which to sleep you would be too anxious to even put your head down.

Sleep-deprivation has been used as a form of torture, and I learned first hand why it is so effective.

It was like I could hear Jack crying, even when he wasn’t, and it would startle me out of my skin, flood me with anxiety.  I’m sure this hyper-nervous state also did nothing to help my milk supply, which in turn frustrated my ever-hungry baby.

Two weeks after Jack was born, my husband had to return to work.  He had really been holding me up through this disaster we were calling- air quote- parenthood, and I dreaded him leaving us, even for a few hours.

I paced around the house and refused to hold Jack.  It pains the deepest core in me to admit this, but I wouldn’t even look at my beautiful, new boy that morning.  I wouldn’t nurse him.  As luck would have it (not) I had burned off half my areola in an unfortunate attempt at using my breast pump, so I had no pumped milk for the critter.  My husband had to mix and give him a bottle of formula.  Jack guzzled it down in breathtaking cooperation, but I sank deeper into the abyss of self-hatred.

I want to note this intense refusal to parent my son lasted a few hours at most, but it was awful.  I still feel guilty when I remember turning away from Jack to lie on the couch, my breasts engorged and soaking the front of my tee shirt.

Jack was never alone, my husband or other family held him, and I know that connection to other humans was really important.  I can’t help but think of other women who don’t have this kind of support network, who suffer without help, and who’s babies claim the unfortunate side effects of maternal depression.

Jack and I were lucky.

Of course my husband could not leave us like that.  Something had to be done, so he basically shoved me into an intensive therapy program where I went, with Jack, every day for two weeks.  It was almost immediately helpful.

There was a poster on the wall that said something like, “It isn’t always about stopping your baby’s crying, but learning to tolerate it.”  Seeing that poster was an “ah-ha!” moment for me.  I slowly learned to stop taking it so personally when Jack was crying, as long as I was attending to his needs and he was safe, warm, fed, and in dry clothes.

I saw a psychiatrist and was started on a very low dose of an SSRI, considered safe and compatible with breastfeeding.  Jack and I were evaluated by a competent lactation consultant who diagnosed a tongue tie in him and mastitis in me.  Once we got these issues treated, we were on track with our nursing, and my self esteem soared each time I put him to my breast without pain.

I participated in group therapy with other women and their newborns and learned I was far from the only woman experiencing this crazy confusion.

I also learned it didn’t make any of us bad mothers.

Medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy went a long way, but another thing that really helped was learning to sleep in shifts with my husband.  We altered our schedules so I would go to bed each night from seven to midnight.  If Jack needed to be fed during this time, my husband would give him a bottle, which allowed me to get at least a five hour chunk of sleep.  Then he would bring Jack to me and I would nurse him whenever he woke for the rest of the night.  This allowed my husband to get a chunk of sleep before he had to get up and go to work the next day.

It was amazing what a few hours of sleep did for all of us.  Within a month of Jack’s birth, we had gotten into a routine that was not altogether convenient, but did work.  I continued to attend weekly therapy, which helped me keep my thoughts in check, and also helped me feel supported and connected.

A couple other things were really helpful for my growth as a new mom.  At the suggestion of my best friend, who’s daughter was three months old at the time, we signed up together for a baby yoga class.  It was a fun way to interact with our babies, and was great for getting us out of the house and among other new moms.

I also took Jack to an infant massage class, and learned some new ways of bonding with him.  Since it turned out Jack had reflux and was a bit colicky, massage was a great way of comforting him when he was uncomfortable, and proved to me that I could meet the needs of my child.

In this process of childbirth, postpartum depression, treatment and recovery, I learned many women share a similar experience.  My depressed brain drowned me in the belief that I was the only shitty person who had ever thought she’d ruined her life and would never learn how to be a good mom.  The truth is, none of us are shitty, and many of us struggle.  It isn’t an easy world in which to be a mom, what with all the constant judgement, scrutiny, and pressure to balance everything and look sleek and sultry doing it.

And experiencing postpartum depression does not mean we stop loving our babies or love them less for even one second.

The good news is we are getting better at recognizing and treating postpartum depression and anxiety.  The bad news is there are still tons of women who struggle and feel too stigmatized by cultural notions of mental illness or ideas of what makes a “good” mom.

In retrospect, I could be pissed with the nurses who breezed in and out of my hospital room while I sobbed with newborn Jack in my arms as depression stole my soul mere hours after his birth.  Or I could hold a grudge with the crappy lactation consult who gave me about four seconds of her time and didn’t recognize Jack’s tongue tie.

I could berate our shitty system of managed care that has women pop out babies and then tosses them out of the hospital in a remarkably short time span.

And I could rant about how in this country, it is a crime against the human family that women are pushed back into the work force to support their families merely weeks after giving birth, when nursing relationships are barely established.

I could grieve those first few days I “lost” with Jack.

But I’m not going to go there.  Not today.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the small victory of all those who championed me through that dark chapter of my life.  I’d like to celebrate all I learned about myself, motherhood, and the strength of my family at this time, and the fact I birthed another baby and did not have even the slightest twinge of PPD with her.

I’d like to share this story in hopes that it might light someone else’s way.

Finally, I’d like to pat myself on the back for not selling my baby on the internet, tempting as the idea seemed at the time.

There’s hope.  Don’t be ashamed.  Get help.  Know you can and will do it because there is nothing in the universe quite as strong as a mother.  And please don’t sell your baby.

It does get better.  We have not ruined our lives.

I’d love to hear from you. . .  Have you experienced PPD?  How did it affect you and your family?  What did you learn?  What was helpful?  What advice would you give a new mom who is depressed?

If you or someone you love are struggling with emotional issues beyond the “baby blues,” please talk to your doctor today and learn what is available in your area for help and support.