I’ve been weaning my baby this week. Or, more accurately, my nine-month-old baby decided to wean herself last Monday, having discovered that biting was far more fun than suckling. And yes, I know that Babies Under a Year Old Do Not Self-Wean, and all nursing problems can be solved with sufficient quantities of fenugreek/blessed thistle/gentian violet and the assistance of Dr. Jack Newman, but there is a certain degree of engorgement past which one no longer desires to place a biting baby near one’s nipple. At any rate, I no longer wish to place a biting baby near my explosive, football shaped, cabbage-laden breasts. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve accepted the end of my breastfeeding days. There are the mood swings, for one thing. I treated myself to a pedicure Friday morning (a long-postponed birthday present) – and found myself in tears at the sight of my no-longer-swollen feet and ankles, reliving the glorious final days of pregnancy: oh, those golden times of enduring a constantly aching back, peeing every five minutes, constantly timing the Braxton-Hicks contractions and trying to convince myself that they really hurt. I found myself wondering if I was really done childbearing with only two babies … maybe one more eensy weensy baby wouldn’t hurt. That was Friday. Saturday I spent lying on the couch, longing for death. Suicidal thoughts are not part of my ordinary psychological make-up; they are an intense, and thankfully short-lived side-effect of any alteration in my milk supply. I had them while the supply was on its way up, when the little Pie was two weeks old, and so I knew to expect them when the supply was on its way down.
The timing of this weaning process, though unexpected, is not necessarily that bad. I weaned my son at nine months, and felt as if I was emerging from a dark tunnel, blinking dazedly in the bright sunlight. And I was returning to work back then, on campus three days a week, marveling that for thirty dollars, someone would actually take care of my baby for me all day. My postpartum experience has been different this time around, less terrifying and overwhelming. I’ve actually been able to enjoy my chubby baby, her fat little smiley cheeks. When she cries, I may feel distressed, but I don’t feel that sinking sense of panic that characterized my first year of mothering. But the downside of that is a sharper sense of loss as my baby becomes a grasping, determined little crawler, lunging with greedy hands at any toy her brother dares to play with, biting lustily at any bottle or breast that comes her way, flinging spoonfuls of cereal joyously across the kitchen. Now would be the time for me to think longingly of those peaceful hours of nursing, with my newborn infant cradled lovingly in my arms. Except that nursing never really was a peaceful thing for us – more like a sprint to the finish line, milk spraying dangerously as the baby gasped for air between mouthfuls. Neither of my babies have been enthusiastic nursers, exactly. The Bub was prone to going on strike, pulling away and screaming as the let-down hit. The Pie was a bit less melodramatic about the whole thing, but she had her own ways of letting me know when she was done.
What I miss, I think, is the feeling of being necessary, in such a bodily way, to my children’s well-being. It raises the bar a little bit – now, my mothering depends on what I do: my limitless patience, my creativity in coming up with exciting craft projects, my ability to organize elaborate birthday parties complete with clown entertainers, goodie-bags, and hand-decorated cakes shaped like Dora the Explorer. These, perhaps, are not areas where I expect to excel. I can envision myself coping well as a parent to teenagers, listening sympathetically to the teenage-Pie’s sagas of unrequited love (I might cope less well with love of the requited variety), but before all of that comes a much more intimidating frontier: Childhood. I’ll let you know how it goes.