Tonight while I was driving to ballet, a Paul Simon song came on the radio — one that makes me really nostaglic (Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard ... don't ask) — and for some strange reason it connected to my thoughts about how soon I probably won't be breastfeeding Daniel for much longer, and I started to cry.
We're already on the way. For the past month, it turns out that I've been weaning him, slowly and gradually, without much of a plan or intention, and today I didn't breastfeed him at all. My breasts hardly seem to notice — they're not leaking or hurting or anything. Maybe it's because I haven't stopped cold-turkey. The last holdout seems to be at night, when he wakes up next to me, and the easiest thing to do is to nurse him. I hope that will last for a long time. I hope my milk will stay, at least during the nighttime.
It started after what must have been his six-month growth spurt, when it became obvious that he wasn't getting enough to eat from me anymore. I'd feed him, but he'd still cry and seem hungry, particularly in the evenings. We thought, let's try a bottle of formula, just one, at night before he goes to bed. And Daniel was so grateful. The first time we filled a four-ounce bottle with formula, he sucked it down in a matter of minutes and stayed in a smiley mood until he went to bed. Pretty soon, it became the random bottle here and there — at church, at the mall. I thought I'd just try to pump more and force my supply to keep up or get bigger. But I was so busy this month that I let the pumping slide. Breastfeed less, and the body makes less milk. As it turns out, mixing a bottle of formula is so much easier than pumping. So it got to the point where it was my breastmilk supplementing the formula instead of the other way around. And today ... well, the only time I tried to breastfeed him, he wasn't hungry and just bit me.
Mostly, I'm OK with where this is going. I think I'm ready to make the transition, and I'm glad I've been able to take my time and ease off from it slowly. Breastfeeding is hard work sometimes, and physically demanding: My body has ached in the past eight months like never before. Weaning Daniel now means Stephen and I can try for another baby if we want. And even if that doesn't work out, I do look forward to going out and buying some sexy bras again! I am happy to have nursed for as long as I have; I never had a goal of one year or "until he weans himself," like some mothers do — which is admirable, but not my desire. In the back of my mind, I imagined I'd feel good if I could nurse Daniel for six months. I think he's received many benefits from being breastfed this long, and being on formula isn't going to change that.
What does hurt is that this is the first "letting go" I've had to face with my sweet, growing son. The images I have of looking down at his peaceful face, his busy mouth as I feed him, are etched on my heart. I remember the first time he latched on in the hospital — how he rooted around so purposefully until he found what he was looking for and went to town, the perfect little sucker. It's hard to imagine putting all that behind me. It is one of the most exquisite and intimate bonds I have ever known. And now I am teary-eyed again as I write this. (Do hormones run amok when a woman stops nursing?) Part of me wonders if I should pull out the pump and try to build back my milk supply, to go back to the way things were. I don't know if that's the answer. Maybe I just need to feel the sadness and be present to it. Another part of me would like to find some meaningful ritual that will help me honor and say goodbye to this part of our relationship. Do other women do that? I'd like to know. All I know for sure is that I will continue to cherish these nighttime feedings for as long as they last.