Today my day began at 2:30am with a lot of tears.
Let me back up… all the way to beginning of my breastfeeding journey with Luella. With all the troubles I had in those early days, it came as a big relief that breastfeeding wasn’t really one of them. The worst I ever struggled with was a bit of an oversupply and lots of leaking. Luella was a champ.
Despite what sometimes felt like the hospital working against us (I wasn’t actually allowed to feed her till about 10 hours after her birth), Luella had no problems latching on… and it felt like she didn’t let go for those first six months. She loved to eat – and it showed in those big puffy marshmallow cheeks. She fed for comfort as much for nourishment and I often fed her to sleep. It was the best tool in my box.
I was proud that I was able to continue breastfeeding her for a year, and then 18 months. Now that we’re approaching two years though I have to say, the honeymoon is wearing off.
Though Lu’s been dropping off feeds gradually on her own accord and I always said I planned to follow her lead in weaning, in recent months I’ve had to start nudging her along. At first I dropped her before-bed feed. She’d stopped feeding to sleep months earlier, but still wanted it for comfort before bed. The first few nights she protested but it didn’t take long to establish a new routine.
After that I was feeding just at naps, and overnight when she woke. Then the unthinkable happened. She fell asleep for a nap with her babysitter! Prior to this, she hadn’t had a boobless nap in at least six months. This was promising. Jim began looking after her on Mondays when I started teaching, and he started being able to put her down for a nap in her own bed. Then, when we went on holiday to Melbourne she spent a lot of time in the carrier and we went the whole week with no feeding to sleep for naps. This success continued when we returned home, and with a few exceptions she’s just been feeding overnight.
But this is where we seem to have hit our roadblock. And this is where I found myself at 2:30am today. With a child screaming for “baba”. As my supply started dropping off, feeding has become incredibly painful. So when I do let her feed her overnight it’s not those gentle dreamy feeds that allow us both to drift off.
Instead it’s intense sucking. She has to suck extra hard to get any milk out which means she fully wakes, and I’m fully awake and wincing in pain. If I try to cut her off it results in sobs. There’s no patting/cuddling/singing back to sleep. The bottle of almond milk on the bedside table seems to only offend her.
So I either lie there with her as she whimpers herself back to sleep or let her keep feeding till I wonder if it’s actually possible to suck the nipples right off of me. Today I laid in pain, listened to her whinging, growing more resentful with each minute of sleep I lost. I watched the clock till it turned 5:30 when I could foist her upon Jim. At which point Luella and I both lost our shit and I slammed the bedroom door and attempted to grab a few more minutes of sleep.
I laid there wondering if I’d done it all wrong. Should I have weaned her when she was younger and couldn’t “ask” for it all the time? Was my whole parenting style turning her into a needy little parasite, literally sucking the life out of me? It was certainly beginning to feel that way.
When Jim had to leave for work at 6:30 he came into the bedroom with Luella who carried an English muffin on a plate for me. “A present” I could hear her saying. Jim whispered to me, “she told me she wanted to ‘make mummy feel better.’”
Still bleary-eyed, I think I mumbled something about Sesame Street and put a pillow over my head. But reflecting on it now, I realise that’s what it’s all about. All my gentle parenting techniques are in service of raising a compassionate, empathetic human being.
She’s not an automaton who sleeps and wakes when she’s told. She’s a sensitive little person who seeks out others for comfort, and likewise is starting to show signs of caring for others. And our relationship, like any, has its ups and downs. At the moment it’s causing us both to have to compromise and neither of us is very happy with it. I’m exhausted and letting my iPad do the parenting this morning.
But what’s bringing me comfort that we’ll eventually get through this is the connection I know we share. Would we still have it if I hadn’t breastfed into toddlerhood? Maybe. Maybe in a different way. And will we lose something when we stop all together? Again, maybe. But I’m still very happy with where our relationship is and with my little girl and all her human emotions. (But don’t ask me how happy I am if I wake at 2:30 again tomorrow…)