Weaned: A Bittersweet Victory

L'chaim! (www.wisegeek.org)

L’chaim!

Visions of riesling and NyQuil danced in my head. I missed them so much, especially the medicine, by the time I caught my third severe cold of the winter.

Being sick is no fun, but being both ill and home alone all day with a spirited 21-month-old is possibly the definition of the Pits. Even though I had planned to let Lila nurse until she decided she was done, I had reached my limit. I’d toughed out several colds, two bouts of pinkeye, thrush and mastitis, and more restless nights than I cared to count, largely medicine-free, but I was exhausted. For the sake of my health and sanity, I decided that it was time for us to wean.

We started by eliminating the naptime feeding. I explained that big girls (Lila considers herself one) don’t nurse, and I offered to read any story she liked (typically part of our bedtime ritual). Amazingly, there was no fussing.

A few weeks later, I set my sights on eliminating bedtime’s final feeding. For some time, Lila’s final feeding had become like a check-in. She seemed more interested in playing for a few more minutes than actually breast-feeding, so I was hopeful this tweak to our routine would take.

The Sunday night of Presidents’ Day weekend, Lila didn’t tug at my top for the final feeding, and I didn’t offer. The next night, I didn’t offer, hoping Lila was ready for the bedtime ritual (singing and reading), but then felt the familiar tug. This time, Lila was undeterred by the notion that big girls don’t nurse. She cried in protest. I relented. We nursed briefly. There have been only a few times since then that Lila has tugged at my shirt, and we haven’t nursed since.

But weaning has been bittersweet. My migraines swarmed back like unwanted guests, regularly storming my head. And troublingly, naptime and bedtime became unpredictable. Lila suddenly began crying, “Pain!” every time she was supposed to sleep. After giving her Advil a few times, thinking she might be teething, I doubted that a pain that only appeared at sleeptime could be so continuous, and would leave Lila alone, which resulted in wailing. Thankfully, it lasted only two minutes each time, but it felt infinite.

So I began pressing. When I asked what hurt, Lila offered a litany of her stuffed animals’ names. Each one felt successive pain. Luckily, I found that we could salve those pains by having Lila blow kisses, but she typically wanted to keep healing her stuffed animal kingdom with kisses, while I wanted her to sleep. We were clearly not at equilibrium.

And there was no better proof of our being knocked off kilter than Lila’s behavior when she was up for the day. My typically cheerful and outgoing toddler was suddenly constantly upset. She would protest everything, for no apparent reason. Lila’s new favorite response to whether she wanted to eat a favorite food or visit the local recreation center was to shout, “No way!” often while wriggling or running away from me.

It was a rough two weeks. Thankfully, a friend helped me see a connection between our weaning and Lila’s sudden and seemingly unexplained behavioral change.

I began reacting differently to Lila’s “Pain!” cries at bedtime. Instead of offering her Advil or leaving her to wail for those two endless minutes, I began talking to her directly about the phantom pain. I explained that what she was feeling probably wasn’t pain, it was her noticing that we weren’t nursing, because babies nurse but big girls don’t. I assured her that I still loved her, that I wasn’t going anywhere or taking anything away, and that the only difference is that she now drinks her milk from her Hello Kitty cup.

Interestingly, Lila seemed to understand and take comfort in this logic. She nodded and stuck her thumb in her mouth (her signal that she’s ready to sleep). I’ve had to give that monologue several times since, and it always works. Lila is now sleeping better, and her new favorite phrase makes me smile, as she repeats it: “O.K., good.”

And while weaning is a big change for us both (especially as I realize my baby is no longer a baby), it’s a good one. Happily, I can toast with a glass of riesling.

This article appeared in Motherlode.

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