Miss Munchkin must have been around seven-eight months when I first came across this poem. I was still sleep deprived, still almost exclusively breastfeeding and just plain tired, and when I read this, I bawled my eyes out. It truly is so easy to get caught up in the never ending cycle, and to lose sight of things in the face of extreme exhaustion…
I remember a time when she was just a wee little newborn, and I was nursing her to sleep, and whining to a friend about how she just wouldn’t calm down or show signs of sleepiness. The friend (who is actually senior to me by quite a few years) told me to hold on to these moments because I would miss them later. “What?!” I had exclaimed, “You mean I have tougher days to look forward to?” “No no, that’s not what I meant” she assured me, “It’s just… you’ll understand when she is older” Looking back now I completely understand what she meant. Motherhood, at any stage of a child’s life, is not easy, and each stage comes with its own set of challenges, but I now know to cherish all that’s beautiful in each stage, because like all things good or bad, it won’t last forever.
The reason I am being all sappy is because as of today, it has been twelve days since I breastfed my little girl for the last time. To me breastfeeding has been such an inextricable part of motherhood that I can’t help but wonder now and then if something is missing. I am proud to have nursed her for over two years and I know I have done my bit and then some but I still feel empty. Then of course I remind myself of how ugly it got towards the end, and how much better I am as a mother now that I am getting my sleep back, and I tell myself it is perfectly okay.
There’s nothing I haven’t done when it comes to breastfeeding. I have breastfed her in every conceivable place, the nursing cover being my best friend. I have suffered through her teething and have bled and healed and bled again as she made use of her new found (very sharp) incisors. I have slept in intervals of two hours for the longest time because she had gotten into the habit of waking up for a snack all through the night. I have stayed awake in agony at nights waiting to use the toilet because she used me as a pacifier and refused to let go. I have nursed her in the baby carrier, while walking around in airports malls and what have you. I struggled through because I was confident I was giving my baby the best, and I wanted to provide for her for as long as possible. It was tough, but it was fulfilling, and anytime I asked myself if it was time to wean her, there was always some reason not to. Thanks to the immunity breastmilk provided, she would (touchwood!) not fall sick easily, and even if she did, she would recover fast. I told myself she was not two yet, and even if I made half hearted attempts to wean her before that, I would always give in, despite all the challenges.
When she turned two, I was running out of excuses to plough through, specially since it wasn’t fun anymore. She still would sleep only if she was nursed, although she wouldn’t ask for it at other times unless she was bored or was being refused something (like my phone!) It felt like I had no choice; no power over my own body. She had learned to pull over my shirt on her own, and she wouldn’t let me refuse. I had had two years of not getting enough sleep, and I was done. Capital D Done. Which is why I came to India, on this weaning vacation so to speak.
The irony is that the last time I nursed her I didn’t even realise it was the last time. Had I known maybe I would have made it more momentous. It just happened so suddenly. One night I was trying to nurse her to sleep as usual, and just as she was drifting off she suddenly sat up wanting to go play outside. After struggling for half an hour trying to reason with her when she reached for my shirt again something inside me just snapped and I said no. And that was it. She screamed for over an hour and half but I didn’t relent, instead consistently offering to cuddle her, or asking if she wants some warm milk and honey to sip on. She finally slept for the first time in over two years without being nursed and that in itself felt like a small victory.
I haven’t nursed her since that night, and she is taking it surprisingly well. Bedtimes are now amazingly a breeze, with lots of happy cuddles. She is sleeping better at nights, eating a lot better and not being picky. It was really hard for me to watch her fall sick (she caught a cold soon after I weaned her) and not do anything about it; it made me feel helpless. But we are both okay with it now. It has been a long eventful journey, at times beautiful and at others tough as hell, but like everything else, it had to come to an end.