Wow, how did it get to be November... I'm sitting at Starbucks at 7:21, sipping tea and typing. Today is the second day of my 40th year, and the first day of no more mama milk for Willow. I got out of bed at 4:40 this morning, in hopes of making things easier. Willow generally wakes up between 4 and 5 for a little nip before she goes back to sleep, and then again once or twice before finally getting up around 7 or 8. So, on this day, I got up, got dressed and ready to go, packed my laptop and Brent's earphones, my toothbrush, comb, and a few other things, and headed out the door at about 5:45.
The first bus on a Saturday morning stops a half block from our house at 6:01. It is always packed and standing room only. Packed with folks who are just getting on the first bus of the day, packed with nurses and construction workers on their way to work, packed with students going to class or work or somewhere to study.
I was nervous as I crept around the house hoping Willow would remain asleep at least until I left. She did wake up, however, only moments after I got out of bed, but I dutifully ignored her cries and went about my business, having been told by Brent in no uncertain terms that he could, indeed, handle the situation. She didn't cry nearly as long or as hard as I was afraid she might. I was relieved, but also had pangs of feeling a little superfluous, visions of what's to come, I suppose, as my darling girl needs me less and less.
I never envisioned weaning Willow myself, I always had in mind that she would wean on her own, in her own time. However, when I had these soft-focus, halcyon visions I didn't have a clue about the difficulties of nursing even in the best of circustances, much less the changes that would happen as Willow grew out of infancy and into toddlerhood. My determined thoughts of "I would never allow THAT", meaning all the groping, twiddling, and disrobing I had witnessed among my nursing friends with their own toddlers, dissolved in the harsh light of Willow's insistence and my own inability to set some firm boundaries with the little girl I carried, bore, and am now helping to raise. The truth of having had her in my belly all those months, the unimaginable depth of bond which occurred during and shortly after her birth, and her beguiling little face all converged to make it nearly impossible for me to set limits on the nursing. I did, of course, begin to set some limits. After a while I stopped nursing her in public with very few exceptions (e.g. the doctor's office). I began to dislodge her twiddly, pinchy little fingers from the opposite breast, a habit that annoyed me no end. I talked to other moms I knew and asked them about their weaning stories. The biggest thing I found was that the idea of the child weaning herself, all on her own, is largely a myth. Some moms I've talked to have talked of their child self-weaning around a year, and one friend of mine has a daughter who just weaned this summer, shortly before entering kindergarten. But between 1 and 5, if a child weans it is usually not of his own accord. My friend whose daughter just recently weaned at just shy of 5 years is the most ideal of weaning stories, as I had originally envisioned. And this friend is one of the few moms I've talked to who was able to set boundaries early, firmly, and without guilt. She began setting boundaries even when her daughter was still a baby by most standards: older than a year, but not yet into toddlerhood with all its attendant habits and quirks. And, finally, her little girl gave up the one or two nursings a day, it went down to once a day or every other day, and then nothing. This is an unusual story, and its main instructive value for me was that I had a decision to make. I could wait until Willow was somewhere between 4 and 6 and see what happened, or I could wean her myself. In all this I realized another piece of my little ideal scenario: that Willow would wean by about 3. I was not prepared in any way to continue nursing her through her preschool years. I have admiration for moms who do that, but I knew that was not me, and already I was losing patience with the whole business and Willow wasn't even two. And in everything that Brent read on the subject the point he kept finding repeated over and over was that by 18 months, at 2, 3, or even 4 children generally will not choose to wean themselves.
One mom I talked to had begun to use a ticket system when her daughter was about two and a half. She allowed the little girl 5 tickets a day, one of which would need to be saved for bedtime. This worked well for them but I knew that, given her age, it would be a stretch for Willow to grasp that once the tickets were gone so was mama milk for the day. Sometime in September, I think, I started using the tickets. I knew by then that I was moving toward weaning, but needed to get aligned internally with the whole idea, both intellectually and emotionally. Through many talks with Brent we had decided weaning would be best for everyone involved, but the more we talked about it the more I realized I needed some intermediate steps. As Brent put it, I would spend some time setting all kinds of boundaries and trying everything, and none of it would work, and then finally I would wean. This is essentially what happened, and though it was in some ways an interminably long few months from the time I first had an inkling that this was what I would need to do, I'm in a bit of disbelief that I've arrived at this time and place. Willow was at the breast the first moment she could be after she was born, and has nursed every day of her life. Other than Brent and myself, the nursing has been the biggest constant in her life so far. I'm still too close to it all, and too spaced out from getting up so early, to really feel the fullness of the feelings I know are there. But it's a mark of time today, how time passes so slowly and yet, when the moment we've been waiting for comes, all that time is suddenly gone.
We experimented and started with 10 tickets each day. This was a wake up call for me, who had thought I maybe nursed her 5-6 times a day. Really it was more like 10-12. I tested the waters and allowed her to use all her tickets one day before bedtime, and as I expected she did not understand that part of the ticket concept. As time went on I reduced it to 8 and then 7 tickets per day. This week we talked up the whole idea of no more mama milk, and told Willow that yesterday would be the last day. We had a little "good bye mama milk party", which shared a cake with my birthday, and sang a little "good bye mama milk" song, and had a milk bath (a bath I take with her, where she gets mama milk), all the while saying "last day of mama milk" or asking "do you get mama milk tomorrow?" At first she answered "yes", but then by bedtime last night she was answering "no". So, we know she has some small concept of what it all means, but she still says "ma-mook" for many things that she wants... if she wants crackers and I'm delayed in getting them, for example, she may start shrieking "maaa-moook!!!" rather than "caaaackoooos!!"
So time passes, time stands still, and now it's 8:20 and Old Navy opens in 40 minutes. As I listed all the things I would do with my delicious uninterupted time online this morning, I caught myself and remembered how fast the time would go and began to prioritize things in my head and align myself with the fact that I would not get all my emails cleared out, I would not get my blog fully updated, and I would not get all my little file folders entirely organized.
I'll close with a line from a favorite song by Kate Bush, "Jig of Life": "I put this moment here... I put this moment here... I put this moment here..."
Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtBZSIrmgiU