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baby falling asleep breastfeeding

When Weaning is Drawing Near

By Jessica Ashley

I can see, not far in the distance, the last days of breastfeeding my last baby. It is as if a large, friendly vessel is making its way toward us, and we wake each morning and say farewell to each day measuring how far away it is.

This ship carries things, lovely moments and new opportunities that I value. Like wearing regular bras that aren’t stained and stretched from so many months of unhooking and re-fastening, the ones that boost my workhorse boobs and give me back that part of my body to own again. Like the hope of losing the last pounds that nestle comfortably in to my hips so long as I am nursing. And the pure joy of watching my daughter bound into the next part of toddlerhood, running as she does with arms behind her like she’s holding up her cape in the wind.

But it also brings the bittersweet cargo that these are the final moments of what has been an intimate, quiet gift of motherhood for me. Even when it has been hard — when my breasts have been unbearably full or during the early days when I barely had time to pee in between nursing sessions, when I have cried through those ten to 45 minutes in a chair while my family was eating dinner or running around in the sunshine or deeply sleeping — I have loved to hold a baby to my beating heart and know I alone was nourishing her growing brain and tiny body. Later, when we got into a routine, I held tight to the times when my climbing, dancing, stomping toddler was still for a bit, when she needed me for comfort as much as anything else.

I felt the same way with my son a decade ago. I was a stay-at-home mom then and so it was convenient and comforting for us both to keep up the breastfeeding for 18 healthy months. Then I got my first professional blogging job, jetted off to New York City with throbbing boobs and said a silent farewell to what had been. When I got home, I sat in our nursing spot and used our baby sign to ask if he’d like to try again after those three nurse-less days.

“I’m all done,” he said sweetly and decisively, and turned back toward his toys. That ship felt more like a speed boat my uncomfortable then-in-laws were immensely relieved to see had finally docked.

I didn’t place any breastfeeding expectations on this baby, understanding that each child and circumstance is different and the shoulds can be devastating to a mother who greatly wants or doesn’t want to nurse. But she latched on in every way, and so we’ve somewhat surprisingly arrived at this place as she turns 20 months old.

She still asks, still hands me the Boppy, gathers her stuffed animals and makes her way into my lap. And she really breastfeeds, even if the time is gradually getting shorter and she’s easily distracted by noises and light and questions about where Daddy is. Before she barrel rolls off of me to play or ask for breakfast or run to find her brother, she contentedly twirls her curls and mine, sings, smiles and snuggles her babies, all while she nurses.

I stroke her cheek, hold the back of her head in my palm, wink back at her in an inside joke kind of way. And then I turn my attention to Words With Friends while she tucks her fingers inside my t-shirt. It feels like such everyday familiarity that even typing the routine for others to read surfaces a shyness I rarely share.

In two weeks, I will be gone for three full days. Much like that trip ten years ago to NYC, I expect to come home to a toddler who has grown out of her baby breastfeeding. I expect that the throbbing at my chest will also be from my heart, beating with anticipation of letting go and letting that be good.

I will probably cry. And try to get a squirmy girl to settle into my arms by singing to her at bedtime or covering her cheeks with lipstick kisses. It’s also likely that I will laugh at my littlest one who is very excited to talk about potties and squeals as she shows off her belly. I might even order a sexy new red lace bra that only unfastens in the back.

Because good and hard often go together, arm in arm, raising a free hand to welcome the ship to shore while the other palm is pressed close into what is for a few more precious minutes.

 

Jessica Ashley
About the Author

Jessica Ashley

Jessica Ashley is a content strategist, editor and writer. She’s the founder of Single Mom Nation and author of the award-winning

Jessica Ashley is a content strategist, editor and writer. She’s the founder of Single Mom Nation and author of the award-winning Sassafrass blog. Jessica is one half of the podcast Write-At-Home Moms, is a former founding senior editor at Yahoo! Shine and has contributed to Huffington Post, Huffington Post Live, Martha Stewart Radio, Disney’s Babble.com, The Bump, TakePart.com and more. Jessica wears inappropriately high heels to the playground and is mom to a stand-up comic, awkward breakdancing, Tae Kwon Do-ing son and a drooly-kissing, delicious-thighed baby girl.

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Comments

  • Sam

    Thank you.  This is lovely.  We share similar nursing histories.  I breastfed my son 16 months and was a mess when we weaned.  Now I’m breastfeeding my daughter, my last baby. I love the cuddles so much, and free food 🙂 but also really look forward to having my body back and not having to think ‘can I nurse in these clothes? ‘

  • Gabbi

    It is hard letting go, but also exciting to think of owning your body again. I will warn you that your trip may not result in the ship docking though. When my son was two and I was ready to be done, I went away for 9 days and did not pump. I figured I’d come home dry (and I had been reducing sessions before that) and we would be done. Not so- apparently there was still milk and he was very very interested in still nursing upon my return. It took many more months to wean him. I love nursing my kids and I am currently nursing my 8 month old, but aside from those 9 days away, I have been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for 6 years now without a break. I’m excited to rediscover full ownership of my body again some time in the next year or so, but I will miss that special relationship of gently sustaining life.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, this is lovely and really captures how I think about weaning.  I fully expected to be done with breastfeeding by now, but at 18 months, my kid’s still going strong, and I oscillate between wondering when and how I am ever going to get this child weaned (she still nurses 2x/night or more, in addition to morning and bedtime, gah!) and how someday in the not so distant future, maybe without me even realizing it in the moment, there will be a Last Time She Nurses.  I hope to have a second baby before I’m done, so weaning her won’t likely be the true end of breastfeeding for me, but it’ll be the end of breastfeeding her and it’ll be terribly bittersweet.  It’s made all the more poignant by the fact that I have a BRCA mutation that predisposes me to breast cancer, so when I wean my last baby, I won’t get my breasts back–I’ll get them removed.  I’m at peace with that plan, and grateful that the particular mutation I have allows me to nurse my kids before I have to do a preventative mastectomy, but it makes the weaning and the nursing that precedes it all the more meaningful.  Which, come to think of it, is really quite a blessing.