Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Weaning Path

If I say it very softly, maybe my daughter won't hear-- she's weaning.

When I found out I was pregnant, I decided that we would attempt to wean Ember at night, to prepare for the nighttime nursing marathons that no doubt will arrive with the new baby. Tandem nursing during the day was always on the table, if that's what she wanted, but I was surprised and delighted at how much she took charge of the process.

I say she because while I've encouraged her and led her down the path of weaning, she's the one who's made the decision. At first it was a few less nursings during the day-- after all, there are so many things to do-- then it was a few less at night. Nursing to sleep, whether at nap or bedtime, was the last to go, once she discovered how much fun it was for Mommy to make up stories about horses. They are our special stories, told only when it's time to go to sleep, and most of them end with Baby Horse being tucked into bed or snuggling up with Mommy and Daddy Horse. She loves it.

I thought I would be heartbroken when she stopped nursing, but instead I'm pleased at how naturally it's gone and how she's chosen other forms of closeness in its place. Physical contact with the "na nas" is still important to her, and we snuggle or cuddle often during the day. At night she often reaches for them if she's waking from a nightmare, seeking the reassurance she needs to fall back to sleep. Instead of emptiness, I feel great satisfaction that we've journeyed this long together as mother and nursling, and now she's changing roles to independent big sister as I prepare for another hungry little one.

Once I wasn't sure whether or not I believed that child-led weaning was a reality. I'd read about it and the concept rang true with my mothering instincts but so many other mothers I knew talked about deliberate and artificial weaning processes. I didn't want that for Ember but wasn't sure if I was just being idealistic. As it turns out, I didn't have to pry her from the breast. She's letting go, as she's ready. Since the "end" of her nursing, she's nursed once during an illness, and I'll nurse her again if that's what she asks. Weaning is a path not a one-stop destination. I thank God for every single nursing-- even the ones that made me cry, gave me chapped nipples, woke me up every hour of the night. I thank Him for the chance to do it all over again with my second child and for the blossoming of my first, from newborn all the way now to little girl.

Weaning, just like breastfeeding, is its own gift, given in its own time. It's a path I can say I'm happy to walk without knowing exactly where or how it's going to end.

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