It’s 3:30 a.m. and while the rest of the house is warm and quiet, we linger in a state of night-time half sleep. For just about the last year and a half, those nearly-dawn wakings meant I pulled our sweet baby in close and she nursed her way back to dreamland with me contently dozing off by her side. It’s our way, the way momma and baby make those long nights a bit more soothing and ensuring that the perpetual lack of sleep of these early days is just that much less the boss of us.
Honestly, I never imagined it like this. Our oldest daughter never took well to nursing and by about 8 months she refused to even go near my mams. I remember saying to a close friend who was nursing her 17-month-old at that time that I never took her for a long-term nursing momma and realize now that she must have been at least mildly offended. Like somehow she had surprised us all with her fortitude (although she is truly a formidable woman).
Now, with the wee one, we’re nearly at that mark in our time nursing as well. Occasionally over that time I’ve said out loud that it’s time to wean. I was sure I would have stopped at about 9 months. So, I’ve popped off with all of the usual phrases:
“I need my body back”
“I need my freedom”
“She needs to start sleeping on her own”
And so it goes…but, really, every word was like placating some need inside me to hope that no other mom – whatever her mindset on nursing may be – would judge me for the fact that in my heart I’d rather never stop nursing. (I use the word never in a storytelling sense. Eventually, I would actually like my parts to be just mine again)
It’s less about the actual act, more about the realities of my own life and sense of being. Every yank on my shirt, every “boobie” request, every time that sweet baby’s eyes close as she nurses her way to sleep I am reminded that she is my baby, the last one. When she’s done, so am I, forever.
Our 6-year-old has taken to documenting it all for posterity in the form of drawings that while incredibly unflattering (note the closed eyes, fanged teeth and rats-nest hair), have sent roars of laughter through our house and given me an odd sentimentality.
Then, every time I threaten to end it all after a marathon nurse or a bite that drew blood, I take it back without much hesitation at all because I know one day she will walk away and I will have to face my womb’s own mortality.
I’ve known that day was coming for a few months now. The wee one was slowly but surely cutting back on her milk intake. She would go entire days without asking to nurse. Then a few days. I would offer it just to make sure she hadn’t forgotten about me. Nights were our time.
Then, she started going entire nights. Not every night. But, a few nights a week she would sleep straight through and I would wake up in the morning with my nose a little out of joint. When I would offer the boob to her at a 3:30 a.m. wake-up she would nurse for only a few minutes and then want to go back to her place in the bed.
My womb was suffering from a severe bout of the babies moving out. This whole new motherhood stage was headed out the door.
A friend joked that now I could promptly and more appropriately move into perimenopause. My nearly 41-year-old body would agree with her. But, my head wants to linger in my mid-30s when the end of the childbearing years seemed a lifetime away.
Stay with me baby, I tell her. Her giggling as she runs the other way speaks a thousand words.
The wee one continues to move toward her next stage of emancipation, looking at me lovingly with those eyes that remind me she is her own woman. While she often shares her appreciation for the nourishment, lately it is more and more clear that we are rapidly weaning ourselves of this place in life. Moving on to the land of toddler-hood based on her choices and her own knowing of the right time.
I know I should be grateful that she has been able to wean herself. But, that piece of me inside that wanted to stay asleep in that nursing chair with her, snuggling in the quiet, makes my chest ache a bit – and then, of course, fill with love.