Maya and I spent the weekend at my mom’s while Dave was working. I hadn’t seen her since October as she and her partner like to go away during the rainy winter months. A very interesting thing happened while we were there. Maya, who normally nurses in the morning and at night, did not. I have to admit I was almost giddy with optimism. “Maybe this is the weekend she will finally stop breastfeeding!”, I thought excitedly. Even though a part of me knew it was likely just the new scenery, I remained stubbornly hopeful. We had been talking to her for several weeks about the fact that little girls cannot have num nums forever. Only babies and little girls have num nums. Not big girls. And she was a big girl. Then we waited for the anticipated cognitive dissonance to resolve. I want num nums…but only babies have num nums and I’m a big girl! How can this be? Of course, when we got back home our normal breastfeeding routine reared its ugly head. Sigh.
I had never wanted to wean Maya. I wanted her to wean herself when she was ready. The few mothers I know who had breastfed their kids all told stories about how one day their kids, at around 1 year of age, just suddenly stopped breastfeeding. I assumed this would be the case with Maya and didn’t give weaning much thought. Now, however, that Maya and I are nearing the 3 year breastfeeding mark, I do have dark moments where I think that this “weaning on her own time” idea is a bunch of crap.
It’s not something I talk about very openly with people. When I told people I was still breastfeeding Maya after she’d barely passed the magic one year mark, I got the hairy eyeball. “Oh you’re one of those mothers”. Those meaning the mother who hauls her 10 year old out of class for a feed. Several women confided that the thought of their children actually being able to use words to ask to be breastfed was downright creepy. I wonder what they would think of Maya, nearing three, demanding to be breastfed? “Mommy I want num nums!” As I try to put my boob back into bra “Mommy those are my boobies!”
I had always planned on breast feeding Maya. There was never a question. Being adopted I am convinced that any problem I have ever had is somehow connected to the fact that I was not breastfed. (Joking mom!) I was lucky that Maya not only took to it very quickly, but that I never experienced any of the horrible things that can happen to one’s boobs when they are primarily being used to sustain the life of a baby. The only breastfeeding regret that I have is that I never thought to get a “before” shot of my boobs. They were quite lovely, really, and now are looking more and more like, well, deflated versions of their former awesome selves. They have been unceremoniously flattened, like when one uses a rolling pin to make pizza dough or pie crust.
What I do remember in the early weeks of breastfeeding was the constant awe I felt when I realized that this little baby was thriving purely on the nourishment that my body was giving her. It was an amazing and humbling experience. Of course it is totally natural and mammals do this on a regular basis, it is hardly a miracle, but the actual lived experience felt wondrous.
The other miraculous thing about breastfeeding was that it seemed to cure everything. If Maya was crying for any reason whatsoever, breastfeeding would calm her. I was like a superhero and my superpower was my boobs. Vaccination needles? No problem! Dave would get the horrible task of holding her down while the doctor forced the needle into her leg, and I would soothe her with my super boobs.
There was only one time when that strategy was not effective. My mother stayed with us for a month a few weeks after Maya was born. She and Dave took Maya to try and give me a rest. While I was trying to sleep all I could hear was her screaming at the top of her lungs. Finally they gave up and brought her back up to me. The only thing I knew how to do was nurse her, so, of course, I tried that. She had just nursed, but nursing was my only tool in the tool box. It quieted her, so I assumed she must simply be incredibly hungry. When she was done, I put her over my shoulder to burp her. It felt like someone was slowly pouring a gigantic bucket of lukewarm water on me. It took my brain a few seconds to catch on to what was going on. She had barfed, literally, all over me. I was drenched. I had no idea a body that size could hold that much liquid without exploding.
The other interesting thing I noticed about breastfeeding, was that my boobs almost immediately transitioned from “sexual object” to completely and utterly utilitarian. I breastfed in pubic. I didn’t make a show of it, but I didn’t shroud myself either. I had tried to shroud myself like I’d seen other mothers do. But the whole putting the cover on, and then putting my head down this cover to check on her felt even more “Hey look at me I’m BREASTFEEDING” then discretely lifting my shirt. And why exactly should I be hiding? Feeding my baby was not shameful. Out of a combination of laziness and indignation I refused to allow other people’s discomfort to shame me into hiding myself away. That doesn’t mean, however, that I wasn’t a tiny bit mortified when I was in the supermarket, with Maya facing me in the shopping cart, and she reached over, took my boob right out of my shirt and attempted to latch on – at the exact time an employee walked right by. He didn’t even try to muffle his laughter. The only person who ever commented when I breastfed in public was my brother-in-law’s memorable line, when he remarked with shock, “Oh my God your nipples are HUGE!”
I can’t remember when Maya started calling them num nums, but num nums is a term she has used both for my boobs and the milk they contain. My mom took Maya into a shop one time and thought it was a riot that Maya pointed at a rack of bras and said to her “Bye bye num nums.” That’s what she says to my boobs when I get dressed and put my bra on.
I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that breastfeeding has been one of the best things I have done for Maya and for our relationship. It is the only time where we sit quietly and share such silent, intimate, skin to skin contact. I completely believe the research that suggests that these moments are vital to brain development and attachment. Coming onto 3 years, however, I am convinced that I am done with breastfeeding. I have done my time and I want my boobs back. I want them to be mine again.
This is my plan. Like I did for potty training, I started to bring up the topic. “You know Maya, mommy won’t have num nums forever.” “Why mommy?” “Because mommy’s only make num nums when they have a baby and num nums is only for babies and little girls.” “Not big girls?” “No. Not big girls.” “Just babies and little girls?” “Just babies and little girls.” “But mommy I need num nums to make me feel better!” “Well there are other things that will make you feel better right? Like hugs make you feel better.” After these conversations I watch to see what evolves before the next converstion. Here is what I’ve noticed.
In the morning, when she’s sleepy and cuddly, she is my baby and wants her num nums. But if she wakes up on her own and is wide awake, she is a big girl and won’t ask. I have noticed that when she plays with her stuffies and they have hurt themselves, she will tell them that they need a hug. When she plays with her baby dolls and they are upset, she will try to give them num nums. She recently asked me to help lift up her shirt so she could give her baby num nums. She looked up at me as she held the baby to her chest and asked “Is this right?” It was one of the sweetest things I have ever seen. She is such a loving and caring girl, and I saw this as another sign of her desire to nurture and comfort her dolls. On a child development level I knew it was the beginning of developing mastery over a skill she will need in adulthood. I told this story to someone and they asked if didn’t think that her giving her baby dolls num nums was weird. To me, this question simply shows how bizarre our society has become, when a girl models something as natural and normal as breastfeeding, something she herself has been doing for her whole life, and it is considered “weird.”
Although what I’m doing with Maya may be technically weaning, I feel like it is a nice compromise between my desire to have my body back, and Maya’s desire to become a big girl. Like most things that Dave and I do as parents, our strategies are based on an ebb and flow of information – we communicate to her a new idea and we let her communicate her readiness back to us, and so on. So far it has worked pretty well. And despite my desire to stop breastfeeding, I know that there will be a time (actually now) when I will tear up remembering her standing in front of me waving as I get dressed, saying “Bye bye num nums.”