When It's Over
photo by Viera Photographics "As long as she wants." "Until she's done." Whenever anyone asked me how long I planned to nurse Hermione that was always my answer. Hermione and I fought hard for our beautiful nursing relationship and I was in no rush to give it up. For the past few months she was only nursing three times a day (down from almost ten at it's height), in the morning, after her nap, and in the bath before bed. She would nurse more often if she were sick or hurt. I loved that I could always be a source of instant warmth and comfort to her. I loved the snuggly, quiet times with her. I loved nursing her in the middle of the night if she woke up and needed me. Sitting in the rocking chair with my sweet girl, feeling like the only two people in the world will always be my happy place. The smell of her hair, her little hands waving around and stroking my face, the sweet way she would say "milkies please Mommy." I loved and cherished every second of nursing my girl. I truly thought she would nurse until she was two or three. And I would have been fine with that. More than fine.
And then she was done. After 20 beautiful months , one day (January 2nd) Hermione woke up from her nap as she always does screaming. "Milkies please Mommy!" "Milkies please Mommy!" I went into her dark, white noise filled nursery, picked her up and headed for the rocking chair. As I pulled down my shirt and bra for her she started to freak out, scream, and cry. This went on for a little while and finally I realized she wasn't going to nurse so we got up and out of her room. It took 15 minutes of hysterical crying before I finally got her to calm down. At one point I had to just lay her on my bed and stroke her hair and belly while she screamed and flailed-no amount of snuggling or cuddling from me was helping her. Eventually she did stop and with the help of some green juice and a little Sesame Street on my iPad (yes, I let her watch it) she settled down.
At bath time that night when she would normally grab me in the tub and nurse for 15-20 minutes she just stared at me and said "fix it." Fix what? I still have plenty of milk so I was more than confused about what she thought might be broken. I tried to convince her to latch on as she was clearly agitated and upset but she just wouldn't. It was as if she had forgotten how. The whole scene felt very similar to when she was a newborn and wanted desperately to nurse but just couldn't figure out the physicality of it.
The next morning she woke up again asking for "milkies from Mommy" but again wouldn't nurse and got terribly upset when I offered it to her. The same thing happened after nap time, and the "fix it" scene happened in the bath that night. She was done. Despite asking for milk something in her little body was telling her it was over, that she couldn't nurse anymore. My heart was breaking. If she had seemed happy and not conflicted about her decision the shock might have been lessened for me but her inner turmoil was sad and confusing. For the past 20 months I have met her tears and cries with nursing and now that was no longer working.
On top of the emotional shock at the sudden loss of our sweet nursing bond, my body has started to react physically to this change. My breasts are sore and engorged again as they were the first few weeks of her life. My hormones are on a roller coater ride as they adjust to not creating or sustaining a baby for the first time in 30 months. I cry randomly. I feel emotionally exposed and raw all over. All eerily similar to the immediate weeks post partum.
In my head I know that breastfeeding Hermione for 20 months is a huge accomplishment we should both be very proud of. We did it. We nursed until she no longer needed it for nutrition or physical comfort. We ended on her terms, as sudden as they may have been. The challenge now is creating new routines to occupy the time we would have spent nursing. We are still working on finding a way for her to wake up that doesn't lead to screaming and crying. We will get there.
Despite the loss of our intimate, beautiful nursing relationship I know those 20 months have bonded us in ways we might never fully understand. Even if she is no longer growing in or being sustained by my body she is still my baby. I am still her mommy. Her weaning has led me to appreciate each snuggle, kiss and hug that much more. More so than her learning to walk or talk this milestone has made me acutely aware of how fast children grow up. My baby is turning into a big girl before my eyes and it is the most beautiful, exquisite pain there is.