On Breastfeeding, Bonding and Weaning

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I’m eating cold chicken fried rice from a takeout container in the light of the fridge; door left open with me staring into the shelves like some culinary masterpiece will present itself. It’s almost midnight and I’ve just been lying on the grass outside with a dear old friend who is visiting from Israel. I get to see her once a year, her arrival marked in the calendar as soon as she books her flight. Tonight was just about us – I left my two-year-old at home with papa for the routine of bath, books and bed. I was free from that and free from the more-usual-than-not back and forth my son and I have over breastfeeding.

How do I know it is time to wean?

Like teenagers, my friend and I lay in the grass watching the clouds pass overhead, stars twinkling above us, not a care in the world. Since we both have children this is far from our reality. We care, about so many, too many little things. Tonight thought, was soul nourishing – conversation that had nothing to do with diapers and education and the potentially controversial topic of my breasts still being used to nourish and soothe my son.

I feel aligned with photographer Jade Bell, in her strength in allowing the relationship with her son prevail over anything else. I tell myself that my son and I will be done with the “booboo” routine by the age of three and the pictures of Jade nursing her 3 year old son don’t confirm or change this thought, I’m simply thinking (as perhaps Jade did too) that for sure by then the dance will end.

Days can pass without nursing my son. We get through bedtime without him asking, he cries and he’s comforted simply with a hug. But just when I think we are done with it for good, he asks for it. I rationalize. I debate. I suggest alternatives to him but so far, I’ve continued to concede to the desire of my 25-month old. Some days I love it. Some nights, it drives me mad with rage that he’s asking. Shouldn’t this be done by now? I want my breasts back! Am I preventing independence by indulging him?

Weaning comes with variances and styles. Phase the breast out, offer milk. Have someone else do the nighttime routines. Just stop. The first day will be hell, really hell, but by day three you’ll be laughing. Go away for a few nights – he won’t want it when you return.

I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering what the ‘right’ method is and I’ve come to this: I will only know when I know. When I’m either too tired or mad by the idea of breastfeeding or when I do take that 48-hour self-care reprieve I so desire, it will end. Some may argue that it’s laziness or co-dependent to let our breastfeeding routine continue and the truth is it’s personal and quite frankly, nobody’s business. It’s not ‘right’ to wean at 3 months or 6 or 12 or 18 months. It’s not ‘wrong’ to be breastfeeding a child at three. The more I’ve had to sit with this, this who-knows from one day to the next if he’ll ask, the more I’ve actually let go of any rules I read about parenting and really tuned into the personal needs of my son. He will succeed at potty training when he does. He moved into a bed from a crib easily at 18 months. Some days he likes broccoli, most days he does not. I’m not being entirely indulgent with him. We talk about it ending; I think he understands that it’s winding down. Like Jade Bell I don’t breastfeed in public anymore, it’s just not something I want to do.

I also understand that he’s my little guy, and he doesn’t take a soother or suck his thumb and maybe this is just our little thing, our gift of lingering in the tender skin on skin moments that trace back to his first breathe in this world. I feel lucky (and a bit surprised) that I’ve been able to continue to breastfeed.

After I finished eating cold take out I stayed up and wrote until 1am. The alarm went off at 5am in my bedroom, my son coming to cuddle shortly after that. The visit with my distant girlfriend is so cherished, lying on the grass that evening even more so. I won’t forget it for a long time – it was so freeing to lie there, late as it was. Admitting to being famished afterward and standing in front of the fridge simple means I’m human. I feel similarly about breastfeeding – me eating cold take one night and me ‘extended breastfeeding’ my son is so very private, and makes me neither a terrible or grand person. My son will one day know when he’s done, I trust that with our continued discussions and his emotional growth, it will one day be like watching the clouds pass over the stars and the feeling of grass on my back on a warm July day – an image that brings happiness. Ruminations of bonding with my son. Tender and loving. I won’t remember the exact day he stops nursing, unless I mark it down, and I doubt I will. That’s too methodical. I’d rather mark the milestones of growth with sweet nights that pass into memory with fondness.

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