Crying Over Milk, Part 2

Nikon photos 022Hi Everyone,

Yes, it’s been 2 months since I’ve written anything.  I can’t believe it!  The last time I wrote I mentioned I was just starting to wean little Ela.  I was certainly having mixed feelings about it, but I decided after she turned one in March that it was time.  Over the last few months I’ve been dropping feedings, going gradually, to see how we would do.  We were down to one last evening feed before bedtime, probably my favorite time to feed her b/c she is so tired and relaxed and peaceful. All seemed fine.

And then it wasn’t.  And it hasn’t been.

About four weeks ago I developed a clogged milk duct. A painful, sore to the max, awful lumpy clogged duct.  I was exhausted and stressed out, but this was a new kind of exhaustion.  Not to mention I couldn’t sleep b/c every time I was on my side it killed.  I knew this was a possible side-effect of weaning, but I’m not sure I was really expecting it (at least not that kind of pain). I knew dropping that last feeding at night had to be done, if only to set my body and boob back to some sort of normal.

Boy was I mistaken.  I finally got up the courage to stop nursing Ela and since then nothing has been “normal.”

Yes, the infection cleared up. But It’s been a horror of hormones, emotions, fatigue and everything else since then. When I say horror, that is exactly how it feels. I feel like I am grieving something, which sounds ridiculous, but I have feelings of grief that remind me of when I lost my mom ten years ago. I cry at EVERYTHING. I cry at bottles, at heating up milk that comes from a carton out of the refrigerator and not me (mind you, I’d been giving Ela a bottle in the daytime so it’s not like we went cold turkey or anything).  I cry at songs, TV commercials and in the shower. I am absolutely bereft and never in a million years did I expect to feel this way.

Physically it has been no picnic either.  I am exhausted, like first-trimester exhausted. I get chills at night where my teeth chatter, and no number of fluffy blankets can make it stop. I’ve had heart palpitations, weird food aversions, loss of appetite and just feel sort of blah in general.

I scoured my baby books for any information on weaning side effects. Understandably, there is a lot of literature on the effects it has on a baby, but I was actually surprised at the dearth of info out there for how it affects a woman’s body.  An internet search did lead me to lots of blog posts and some journal articles about this and thank God, because I was beginning to think I was crazy!

Why doesn’t anyone talk about this?! Weaning is HARD! I am finding there are TONS of women out there that have experienced what I’ve been feeling…heavy, low feelings, physical aches and pains, a basic withdrawal of some sort that is hard to just put into words.

I’ve been struggling with this so much, but I think I’m starting to piece things together.  It was important to write this blog post today because I truly do think there is not enough out there for women who are weaning and experiencing these side effects.  For me, I definitely think there is a physical component at work.  When you nurse, all those good endorphins and oxytocin are released into your bloodstream, basically giving you a high whenever you feed.  After a year, my body must be used to that natural pick-me-up.  It will take time for my body to go back to it’s pre-nursing, pre-pregnant chemistry (let’s hope this happens fast b/c this sucks. Er, well, it doesn’t suck, that’s the problem, ha. ).

Mentally, it’s more challenging I think.  Ela is our last baby.  She is the last baby I will ever nurse.  She is the last baby who I can cradle in my arms, who will play with my gold necklace and pull my hair when she snuggles next to me and nurses.  I will never give that kind of nourishment to a living creature again.  It’s the end, simply put, of that charming baby phase.  No one even calls her a baby anymore.  She’s a toddler.  Gasp!

For days I grappled with whether I was doing the right thing.  I even researched ways to go back to nursing (which apparently you can.  It’s called re-lactation).  But deep down I know I will have to wean someday.  I will have to confront these feelings of sadness, of loss.  I know this all might sound ridiculous.  Loss of what? Your baby is fine! She is. But I’m perhaps not.  Not yet anyway.  I think it’s not something that is not often discussed, but grief can come in so many forms, so many shades.  Particularly after losing your mom, or parent, or a loved one, any other kind of loss feels so amplified.  It’s like your mind doesn’t know how to keep things in perspective and it goes into extreme grieving mode…the memory of past grief sends your brain into a tizzy.

So how’s Ela been with all this? Just FINE. More than fine.  She eats, and eats and eats some more.  She’s a tiny little thing who just loves food, loves to be fed, loves to laugh and loves to smear yogurt all over her face (and mine).  I actually tried to nurse her a couple days ago to see what would happen.  She looked confused and then laughed at me.  Something she’d always wanted and within a matter of days she’s moved on.

But that’s a good thing.  It’s reassuring to know she’s ok and not dwelling.  She’s growing and moving onto the next phase of her life.  Walking. Talking. Growing some more teeth (she still only has two!).

I woke up this morning feeling a little better.  I am getting there in small baby steps and am excited I actually had the drive to write.  And some time to cook up some yummy food for her and Kirina.  Let’s hope for brighter days. 🙂

From Ela’s (yogurt-smeared) highchair to your little one’s, bon appetit!

Crying Over Milk: The Unexpected Sadness of Weaning

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Wow.  Ela is 11-months-old.

When did that happen?!

She started off as a 5lb peanut and suddenly she is a crawling/standing/cruising 15lb butterball!

This week’s post isn’t really food-related.  But definitely nourishment-related.  I’ve made the decision to stop nursing in a month.

I can’t tell you how mixed-up I am over this decision.  I thought when the time came I’d be jumping for joy.  No more nursing in the car in a supermarket parking lot.  Yay!  In restaurants while trying to eat a meal.  Yay!  In front of llamas at the zoo (for real, this happened).  Yay!

Instead, I’m left with a rather heavy, emotional feeling, which I can only call sadness.  But why? I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past few weeks.

I never even thought I’d be able to nurse Ela.  I couldn’t nurse Kirina, my oldest, and didn’t expect anything different the second time around.  With Kirina, who spent time in the NICU while I recovered from a difficult childbirth, nursing never came naturally.  I was sad, frustrated and unfairly chided myself for being a mommy failure because I didn’t produce enough milk.  But I didn’t have to chide myself—Kirina enjoyed her formula and whatever breast milk I had and has grown into a fine, happy (sometimes crazy) toddler.

My experience with Ela, on the other hand, has been completely different.  She was handed to me minutes after she was born (an astounding feeling in and of itself) and almost immediately started rooting around looking to nurse.  For real!  I was completely and utterly amazed.  She knew exactly what to do.  I still find it pretty awesome that such a synergy, such a bond can exist between a mother and child, only minutes after meeting one other.

I cannot adequately describe the wonder of watching a little being grow and thrive, solely on the milk that I’ve been providing for her.   But it isn’t just Ela who’s been thriving–it’s been me too.  In unexpected ways.  Biologically I feel relaxed, calmer, when she latches on.  But mentally, that feeling of providing, of nourishing Ela on so many different levels…it leaves me content, happy and full of love.  I’m not sure how to even describe, adequately, that part of it.  I’m just stunned that in my life, I’ve had the opportunity to nourish someone’s tummy and someone’s soul.

We are not having anymore children.  So Ela is it in terms of all things baby.  Perhaps I am sad because the end of nursing means the end of that sweet baby phase, which I will never be able to experience again.  It’s overwhelming to think that phase of my life can be over just like that.  No more nursing her to sleep, no more rocking her in my arms in that way, no more playing with her little wisps of hair while I cradle her.   The fleeting nature of those tender baby years…I really feel that right now.

This post is certainly a bit sad.  But I am happy little Ela is thriving and ready for the next phase.  She’s starting to walk, use a cup, eat more varieties of food.  She is a sweet and happy little soul and I have to let her grow up.  I realized this a few weeks ago when I gave her some water in a cup.  She was thrilled! Her face said it all: “Mommy, you wench, you’ve been holding out on me! This cup contraption is great and it takes HALF the time to suck down liquids. Cool beans.”

Ok. She doesn’t talk. And she didn’t say “cool beans.”  But she will one day.

At any rate, I am thankful to have had this experience with Ela.  Anytime you feed your baby it is an amazing thing.  You, and only you, whether through breast, bottle or spoon, are nourishing your baby and helping them grow.  It’s the most important work you will ever do.

From Ela’s highchair to your little one’s bon appetite!