The Bond that Didn't Break
It's been about two months ago now that I weaned Apple from nursing. She was 21 months old. Similarly, Totes was 22 months when I weaned him.
One of those foot-in-mouth comments that I recall making pre-kids was that if a child was old enough to ask for it, they shouldn't be nursing still. What a flippant thing to say when I had never even ventured to comprehend the incredible bond that nursing can create between a mother and her child!
I've read that when I child's eyesight is first developing, they can only see about a foot away, which is just the amount of distance between their eyes and yours when they are breastfeeding. How many countless hours did I spend in those early months staring into both of my little babies' beautiful eyes? More than I can remember but will also never forget.
I thoroughly enjoyed breastfeeding both of my kids for as long as I did and I applaud those that continue past the time we did. It does become a very dependent relationship and is (was for me) a lot of pressure on mothers to be there to comfort our children. I always feared leaving for too long when they were little. Knowing that Mamma's Milk was the cure-all to any cry. Weaning is not easy and I dreaded it both times. These are also moments that teach us parents who the boss really is in our relationship with our children.
With Totes, I can sarcastically say I got lucky. On one hand I did in that I had a great excuse that resonated with him on why we had to stop. In the late spring of 2014, just shy of his second birthday, I started getting paralyzing intestinal pain. I had experienced this pain once before a few years back but at this point it started happening frequently... several times a week. I became terrified of it, not knowing when or if it was going to happen again. The onset seemed to happen after I ate so I basically stopped eating and immediately went in to see the doctor. Based on my symptoms, she ordered X-rays and more tests. I was actually just arriving at the Tulip Festival with Totes and a friend when I got her follow up phone call that I had gall-stones and would need my gallbladder removed immediately.
I was sent off for surgery the next day and spent two nights in the hospital, going under anesthesia for two separate surgeries. One to remove the stones and the second to remove the gallbladder. I have terrible reactions to anesthesia (which is the main reason I opted against an epidural in both my labors) and had a really rough recovery. I also contracted a post-surgical infection! The whole experience was about a 1,000 times worse than a drug-free childbirth, no lie.
Totes has always been a very empathetic boy and still is to this day. He will jump through hoops and do anything we ask him to if we tell him we are going to cry or be sad. It's so adorable and very useful. Contrary to Apple who laughs at us when we say that.
Those two nights in the hospital for my surgeries were the first nights I had spent away from Totes ever. Even though I had night-weaned him previously, we co-slept and he nursed to sleep for night time and naps, plus several times during the day. I had five small incisions on my abdomen that were bandaged. So when we were reunited and he pulled up my shirt for the first time to get his milk, he was immediately concerned. "Mamma hurt" he kept saying. We explained to him that I couldn't do that anymore because of the 'hurts' and he never once complained.
It was almost too easy and just like that, it was over.
Apple was a little more difficult. Partially because when she doesn't get what she wants, watch out. Typical of girls and their tantrums though! She also always followed a schedule naturally while I could never get Totes to do so in those early years. So with Apple, we were down to just twice a day. Nap time and bedtime. But we were both very dependent on those moments. Her to drift off to sleep and me because of the ease of getting her to sleep. In less than five minutes, she'd be dozing off and I could peacefully lay her in her crib to settle in and sleep soundly. Those quiet moments of just her and I snuggled warmly and still together in our rocking chair were some of my favorite parts of the day and always have been since she was born.
How would I get her to sleep without this arrangement? She was so impatient with the sleep routine I always tried to create for her. She never let me read her books or rock with her before bed... we had to get straight to the point. The milk.
So what would I do?
I had arranged to take the kids to my mom's house at the end of January before flying off the next day to Cabo to meet up with my husband and several of our Seattle friends to celebrate and attend a wedding. We would be gone for four nights/five days, our first kid-free vacation. I knew this would be the right time to cut it off.
The last night I spent with her at my mom's house before leaving at 5am to catch an early morning flight to Mexico was completely wild and unexpected. It's like she knew what my intentions were. I had tried to drop hints that night before, making little comments before bed like, "Ok, let's go have milk and then it's all gone!" Since I had night-weaned her months before and we were pretty ridged about only nursing for sleep-times, she was used to hearing the "all-gone" story so I didn't think she'd pick up on the finality of my comment... but apparently she did.
After being asleep for about two hours, she started stirring around midnight. I had just about settled off to sleep myself but by about 12:30am, I finally went into her room and tried to help soothe her back to sleep. I continued trying this for the next four hours. She was inconsolable at times and wailed like I've never seen her wail before. Nothing I did fully calmed her down so finally, out of desperation and exhaustion, I nursed her one last time. It was 4am and I had to be up in an hour to leave for the airport. I hoped that she would just nurse for a few minutes and go right to sleep like usual. However, every time I tried to move her off, she startled awake and latched on harder. She had never done this before so the only thing I could finally do was lay us both down and let her have her binky. I set the alarm and dozed off for 45 minutes myself. When I woke up then, I was able to peel her sweaty head off my chest and roll her onto the bed. She was finally completely passed out and I was able to creep away.
The thought had passed my mind multiple times in the middle of that night to cancel my trip. That this was a clear sign that she wasn't ready for me to leave her. Was she sick? At one point in my attempts at consoling her, I asked her if she needed medicine, to which she said yes to. I gave her Motrin but it did nothing. I was so perplexed by what could possibly be the problem and overwhelmed with guilt for being the reason. But after getting those precious 45 minutes of sleep, my head cleared enough to be overwhelmed, again, but with excitement and to intense desire to peace the freak out. I needed this now more than ever!
I was giddy as I walked through the airport to the terminal to board my flight, I'm sure the lack of sleep had a bit to do with that too. I walked as slow as possible, knowing there was no one running ahead of me to catch or no one lagging behind me to wait for. It was just me in that moment with no one else to look after.
My mom did a great job prepping Apple for the cut off too. She regularly talked with her and confirmed that the milk would be all gone. The kids did so great and had a blast for the days there were with Grandma. We all did. We talked on FaceTime twice each day with only a meltdown from Apple the very first time. We came back together refreshed and missing each other.
The first day we were back, at one point Apple, very teasingly, questioned me, "Milk all gone?" I confirmed and that was that. She went on her way.
Our naptime and bedtime routine immediately moved from "milk and sleep" to "book and sleep". We put pajamas on, got into our sleep sack and read books in the rocking chair. At that point, I turned off lights, laid her in bed and said goodnight. She would take the next ten minutes to rearrange her three blankets over and over until she found a comfortable position I guess, then drifted off to sleep.
We never really had a meltdown until a few days after we got home. Apple brought home Hand Food and Mouth and was naturally feeling awful. We took her into the doctors office and as soon as our doctor entered the room, she lost her mind. She screamed until we left and continued the car ride home. Screamed for milk. It was nap time by the time we got home and I tried to read to her but she wanted nothing to do with it. I held her until finally, exhausted, she fell asleep in my arms. But I stood strong and kept repeating "the milk is all gone". That was the last struggle we've had there.
Books have since taken over this girl's life. She loves to look through anything and everything we have around and I often catch her sneaking off into a corner to flip through the pages by herself. We read anywhere from 5-10 books before going to sleep now and those have become the peaceful, somewhat quiet and still moments I have with her. I indulge in these moments even more because Totes never took an interest in books. But he's starting to come around as he sees me reading to Apple so much.
Weaning happens in so many forms. From the binky, a favorite lovey, bottles to diapers. It's a part of parenting and childhood and one more phase to think back on with nostalgia and humor.