When my son was born, I was filled with a mix of joy and terror. Okay, mostly terror. Taking care of a baby completely freaked me out—I felt like I was living in a pop quiz I hadn't prepared for. To compensate, I fretted over everything: swaddling, bathing, soothing, even what to dress him in every day. But breastfeeding? Eh, that was barely a blip on my radar.
Obviously it wasn't because I knew what I was doing in that department. No, indeed. But thanks to my ignorance, I approached nursing the same way I would a giant bubble floating in front of my face: enjoy it while it lasts, kid. When I clutched my tiny baby to me for the first time, I left it up to nature and my body and the heavens above to eke out some colostrum for him, and miraculously, a little came out. Holy crap, we're really doing this, I remember thinking as I looked down at the top of his downy head.
But I still wasn't ready to enlist my boobs for the long haul. Horror stories about supply issues and mastitis were creating static in my brain, and honestly, I was too overwhelmed with everything else to even wonder how much longer I'd breastfeed my kid. Oh sure, I had my limit in mind before I delivered—a year, ideally, but no more than two—but taking it day by day felt a little easier, a little more natural for me.
So that's what we did for the next 12 months. Eventually, my sense of wonder about nursing gave way to the routine: Strap on the pillow, curl up with my hungry babe, and wait for the familiar sting of letdown. Sometimes breastfeeding was a chore. Sometimes it was boring. Sometimes it felt like precious moments slipping through my fingers. But it always felt right for us, and as he steadily packed on the pounds and inches, I couldn't help but burst with pride. He was growing! And I was helping to make that happen!
When my son's one-year well visit approached, I was expecting another seal of approval from the pediatrician. But this time, he grimaced at the growth chart and showed me where my son should be and where he currently was. The gap wasn't big, but it was there. He gently asked whether I was still nursing and if my supply was keeping pace. Reflexively, I was ready to say, "Of course it is!" but then I remembered the increased feedings, the crankiness, the insatiable hunger. My cheeks burned. I felt like a fool and a failure. For the first time, it hit me: my breastfeeding days were numbered.
Turns out, my son already had weaning on his mind. A few days after the well visit, we were in our favorite nursing spot, as usual, and I had just gotten him into position to eat. The milk was on its way—I could feel it—but rather than latch on, he just stared at me, as if to say, Are we still doing this? Like a soon-to-be jilted partner, I pulled out all the stops to cajole him into staying around, to nurse just one last time. I might have even said "C'mon" a couple of times. Finally, he gave in, but I could tell his mind was made up. He was done with breastfeeding, and there was no turning back.
Stopping cold turkey was strange for me. On one hand, I could dump the stained nursing bras, the box of nursing pads, the godforsaken pillow. I could drink wine without reservation. My boobs would go back to being my own. On the other hand, my son no longer needed me in the same way. No more would he want to snuggle with me for several long stretches a day. He was really, truly growing up, and the thought thrilled and terrified me. In the end, of course, there was no need to read the articles on how to wean my baby. He took care of the job for both of us. Weaning myself, on the other hand, would take a little bit longer.
Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+
How to Wean a Baby
Photo of Bonnie and Joshua Vengrow courtesy of Love, Louise Photography