I always meant to write a post about weaning Felix, but I never did. I wish I had. With him I reduced his feeds gradually over a few weeks, and then suddenly got hit with mastitis while we were in holiday in Austria. The doctor there gave me antibiotics and a pill to take to stop milk production. It was hard to make myself take it, I felt so sad. I remember standing in the little kitchen of our holiday apartment, hesitating, holding it in my hands, and then going for a long walk through the wildflower meadows. I weaned him at 17 months, mostly because I was eager to have another baby, and my body wasn’t up for that with him feeding every hour or so over night, which he had done since he was three months old. Once he was weaned he started sleeping like a champion.
Antonia likes to feed all night too. At least every two hours, and more frequently as morning approaches. I have cherished my breastfeeding relationship with Antonia, although it has at times been gruelling. Felix would always do a decent stretch of sleep in the early evening but Antonia never did, always requiring more within half an hour of going down, and more again two hours after that. I have fed on demand and fed her to sleep and it has been the magic cure-all for everything – if she trips over, if she’s tired, if she’s missing me, if she’s bored. She has delighted in it, to the embarrassment of some. Whenever I talked to my parents on skype she decided it was a good time to take advantage, and I think she was showing off. ‘Meh!’ she would declare, with emphasis and clear delight.
Her requests in recent weeks have included: ‘Meh time!’ ‘Meh outside!’ ‘Bedtime meh’ ‘Meh sofa!’ ‘Sit down Mummy’ ‘Meh now!’ Meh – yah?’ And the solemn, throaty, trusting ‘uh side’ (other side). I only ever used to feed her one side at a time but when I tried to cut down the night feeds a month or so ago I let her have two sides before bed, and she thought that was fantastic and needed to be experienced on every occasion. This was not a problem really during the day but quite frustrating at 1 and 3 and 5 in the morning.
I always planned to night-wean her in the summer holidays and I did, almost. I wasn’t willing to give up my sleep-ins so gave her a free pass around 5. Which crept back to 4.30, then 4, and then…
She got a couple of little colds, and wanted to feed all day and all night. We would get home from work and she would tantrum on the floor because I was cooking dinner and not breastfeeding. She would climb on my lap when I was eating breakfast and try to help herself. I started to resent it. This wasn’t nice for either of us. After a particularly disturbed night after her second birthday party on Sunday, on Monday this week I decided I’d had enough. I would just stop. That would be it. Classes start next week, I would have a week to get through the worst of it. I couldn’t bear the thought of another semester balancing precariously on nights of patchwork sleep, and the restriction of not being able to leave her at night.
It’s been going well. Last night at bedtime she said ‘all gone meh’. And when I picked her up from day care today, she said, cheerfully, firmly, in her little sing-song way, ‘no meh’. She is still disconsolate in the middle of the night but she is getting used to it. This evening, when I turned off the nursery rhymes we’d been watching after her bath, she said ‘meh now, peees?’ And I would have liked to, oh, I would. ‘Peees, peees, peeees!’ ‘Look,’ I said, ‘you can have some more weetbix if you’re still hungry.’ ‘Strawberry?’ she said. ‘Raspberry?’ And picked one up from the table as we went past on our way downstairs and that was the end of it. It is bittersweet.
I feel lighter already, younger, even. There is a heaviness to nursing – a beautiful heaviness, but a heaviness all the same. And, as Andie Fox has memorably put it, extended breastfeeding can be ‘a lazy mothers best friend‘. As it fixes everything, you can pacify them without having to think too much about it. You can sleep in together. You can entertain them wordlessly while you finish a conversation with a friend. You can bribe them to come to bed. In short, it is lovely, and an excellent tool. But there are other ways of doing things.
I feel I have been more alert and attentive to her since I’ve stopped. I feel I have more to give of the rest of me.
Of course the milk is not gone, yet. It will take a while. I have been expressing in the shower morning and night, but I think I’ll be able to drop to once a day soon, and gradually express less and less. I was terrified the first couple of days that I would develop another infection. It hurt. What am I doing to myself? I thought. I even got hold of antibiotics and intend to keep them close by me over the weeks to come. But now it seems to be okay. I am glad I didn’t have to take a pill, like the first time. This slow ebb is better.
I wrote this post two or three weeks ago, but it didn’t feel finished and I never got back to it. I remember Michael saying ‘soon the breastfeeding will just exist in your memory’. Which isn’t quite true. Antonia still remembers it, but she’s not upset or wistful in any way. She sat on my lap the other day, and declared cheerfully, ‘drink meh last time!’ (Last time I sat here I drank ‘meh’.) It’s more than a memory – it’s part of her body, and mine. But it’s ok that that part is over.