Weaning: the heartbreak no one talks about.
Like many parents, during my pregnancy and after childbirth, I did a lot of research on nursing my child. I read the articles. I practiced with different holds. I made sure her latch was just right, and soon after she was born, my daughter and I settled into a breastfeeding relationship and rhythm as seamless and natural as pregnancy had been. Our bodies were in tune with each other in such a miraculous way. Breastfeeding wasn’t without it’s hardships, but compared to the difficulties so many other breastfeeding parents can encounter, ours was relatively effortless. I planned on nursing Marceline until she turned two or until she weaned herself. There seemed to be no end in sight and other than moments of feeling touched out, I was happy with where we were at in our breastfeeding journey.
In September, however, that changed. We decided to sleep train Marci and one of the ways we had to do that was to stop letting her fall asleep by nursing. After experimenting with nursing only during the day but not letting her fall asleep at the breast, we found that it just didn’t work for us. Unlatching when she began to nod off was frustrating and confusing for her. So I made the decision to wean her off of breastfeeding completely.
There are so many articles that prepare you for weaning your child. How to make it an easy transition for them, how to avoid clogged ducts and mastitis as your supply dries up. But no one prepares you for the emotional toll it takes on you, the parent.
I’m sure for many parents, they feel relief. Freedom. No more heavy, leaking breasts. No more hands clawing at your shirt, demanding milk. No more nights’ sleep interrupted by feedings. Me? I launched headlong into grief.
My daughter and I had made it three months shy of my two year goal, and I was immensely proud of us. But I was deeply mourning the end of this chapter. This particular bond that no one else on the planet shared with her—that one act so intimate the only other thing that came close was my pregnancy where I also literally shared my body with her—it was over, and I would never get that back. I would bond with her in different and new ways. But I would never share that closeness with her or anyone else ever again.
The transition for both of us was difficult. It was confusing and frustrating for her, and heartbreaking for me. I knew the only way I could make the process shorter and less painful was to be consistent; but every time I had to say “no, baby, we don’t do that anymore” when she would ask “nurse? Please?” it was like a punch in the gut. I realized that this was just another sacrifice I would have to make as a parent: this was best for her, this was best for us, even though I was not ready.
It’s been almost two months since we nursed for the very last time. My grief has eased into sadness. I don’t know if I’ll ever be “over it.” Sometimes, in my dreams I look down at my breasts and see drops of milk only to wake up and realize I’m empty and dry. Marci will ask every once in a while, “nurse, please?” But I don’t know that she even knows what she’s asking for anymore. When she sees me naked in the mornings or after a shower, she giggles at my nipples and looks at them quizzically like she’s trying to remember a distant memory. When she’s inconsolable, it takes everything in me to not scoop her in my lap and comfort her how I used to. Our mother/daughter bond is still strong, still growing. But I feel… empty somehow. Like an empty vessel that will never be filled again in that way. That will never be needed again that way.
I wish I had a positive end for this. I wish I had a “don’t worry, it gets better!” note to end on. But I don’t.
I will say this though. Weaning is not just hard for your child, it can be hard on you too. And just like you comfort your child and understand how hard of a transition this can be for them, extend that kindness to yourself as well. It is normal to be sad. It is normal to grieve. It is normal and okay for your sadness and grief to outlast your child’s frustration at the end of this chapter. Normal and okay.
But if you need to know anything, remember this: you are not alone.