For the past two years and nine months, I envisioned myself writing about this subject many times. I knew it was inevitable - a necessary if bittersweet step towards the sort of independence and growth my little one would eventually need. There were times when I lived in absolute fear of this happening, times when I simply felt sad that it would happen one day, and times when I was more than ready for it to be so. With a bit of nudging from me, a few nights of tears from both of us, and a lot of discussion, Dora has stopped nursing. I'm sure there are many people who might think that, at 2 years and 9 months, she was long overdue for weaning. There may be others who think it happened too soon - that the fact that I had to push her a little bit meant it was too early. Either way, it has happened, and we have thus far survived this transition relatively unscathed.
Dora and I graduated from nursing during the day or at bedtime a while ago, but it was that middle-of-the-night, get-back-to-sleep nursing that we couldn't find a way to stop. My pediatrician once told me not to get in the habit of nursing her in the middle of the night (once she was old enough to sleep through without eating). I remember thinking, "you're not the one who has to get up the next day and go to work after a sleepless night". Five minutes of nursing and she was back to sleep, and so was I. Even though I've had several business trips that have left us separated for days, once reunited we have always picked the habit up again. I kept hoping that she would just lose interest - this, the baby who refused to take a bottle with such determination that she would go 8 hours between feedings even when she was very, very young. A minor dental crisis spurned me to more decisive action. About a week ago, after many, many discussions about how mommy milk is for babies, I told Dora that we would snuggle back to sleep instead of nursing. She was tearful, frustrated, laying on the ground moaning - but I held my ground and within 20 minutes she was back to sleep in bed. We had at least one more night of real resistance, and a few tears here and there - but overall it has been much less traumatic than I had imagined.
My experience breastfeeding Dora has been absolutely beautiful. Aside from those first few incredibly difficult weeks, and the months and months of bottles refused, it was easy, loving, perfect. In those early months, I spent hours gazing at Dora's sweet angelic face, watching her deep blue eyes flutter shut as I listened to her swallows, her tiny baby hand on my chest. During my deepest moments of anxiety, settling onto the couch together to nurse was my surest way to calm down - deep breathing and a dose of oxytocin do wonders to settle the nerves. The rush of love a mother feels when breastfeeding her infant is explainable through science - the pituitary gland releases oxytocin and prolactin, causing the nursing mother to feel intense love for her baby. It's more than that, though, isn't it? To me, that's the feeling of my heart and soul expanding, opening up to a love I never knew possible. That's not a hormone working it's magic on my brain - it's my baby, reaching in and connecting with me in the most primal, most basic way.
Two nights ago we were sleeping in a hotel room in an oceanfront hotel in Atlantic Beach, NC. Brian and Dora had joined me for a work trip, and we stayed an extra night for a mini-family vacation. Dora woke me up in the middle of the night, crying. She did not want to lay down and snuggle, did not want to join Brian and I in our bed. She looked at me and said, "I want milk like a baby". I looked at her sweet face, her blond hair a wild frame around it, and I felt my heart swell with the longing to give her just what she wanted, to hold her close and listen to her breathe and swallow, breathe and swallow. Instead, I offered her an alternative - a drink of regular milk, held in my arms like a baby, followed by brushing of teeth and snuggling in her bed. Within minutes she was asleep again, a little baby island surrounded by her big white bed.
I laid in bed next to my sleeping husband, tears running down my cheeks as I bid a final farewell to nursing my sweet baby girl. I knew then that our time together in that way was gone for good. The full moon was huge and yellow, slowly rising over the black ocean, it's white streaks reaching from shore to horizon. I imagined myself on the dark sand, the moon above me and the cool, hard sand below, letting go of our sweet time together like a tiny paper sailboat, bobbing up and down, sailing out to sea. All of our love and tenderness and intimacy floating away on the dark waves, the strength of our connection like the moonlight on the water, transcending space and time, touching both shore and horizon.
I let go of this time with love, with as much strength as I can muster, with the knowledge that I will hold it in my heart forever, as a sacred and beautiful space in which I discovered the depth and breadth of my love. It's as if I've discovered an ocean within myself, a vastness unmeasurable by science or technology. Thank you, nature, for creating this experience. Thank you, Brian, for loving and supporting it for us. Thank you, sweet baby Isadora, for the amazing love you have given me, for the light you have brought to my life and the world, for the connection between us that I know will transcend space and time, touching both shore and horizon forever.