I am no longer a breastfeeding mother, nor will I most likely ever be again. It has been almost five months since his last nursing session, so I am calling it: My youngest child, Eddie, is weaned.
Over the past 14 years, I have been pregnant or breastfeeding for almost 13 of them. I was breastfeeding an older child for at least part of two of my pregnancies, as well.
After all that time sharing my body, I was ready to have it to myself when Eddie was about two. I thought he would most likely wean himself over that third year of his life, as most of his siblings had.
Eddie had other plans, though. His third birthday came and went, and he was still happily breastfeeding whenever I would agree. He got very good at arguing his case when I wasn’t so willing.
“Mama, I need the baba [his word for nursing] because you’ve been at work all day,” he once explained when I had said: Maybe later. “You love me? I have baba?”
I’ve written here before about how normal, natural and healthy it is for children to continue to breastfeed for as long as both mother and child agree. I knew it was normal for him to equate breast milk to a form of liquid love.
Even so, as he grew and his legs dangled farther to the floor when he sat in my lap to nurse, I was ever more ready to end this aspect of my mothering.
First, I started building rules around when and where we breastfed. I stopped nursing outside of my own home or my parish church around his third birthday; it was easy to explain that “baba is for home and church.” We dropped nursing at church next.
Then I started to build rules about when we nursed at home. First, I night-weaned. It’s normal for some breastfed children to wake up in the night to nurse. I was tired, though, and ready for uninterrupted sleep. My husband Clayton started dealing with night wakings, usually by snuggling Eddie for a while, then putting him back to bed.
When he was sleeping well, I started limiting breastfeeding to bedtime, wake-up time, when I came home after work and owies. I then started to drop some nursings, starting with bedtime, then when I came home and finally owies (kisses were good enough by then).
As his fourth birthday approached, however, Eddie was still having a morning breastfeed every day. It was our cuddle time, and he cherished it. He was unwilling to just cuddle, though; he always wanted the baba.
So I did what many a desperate parent has done before me: I bribed him.
I told him when he said bye-bye to the baba, I would buy him a special present. He could get the “bye-bye baba present” as soon as he wanted, just by weaning. I added a deadline, though: He needed to say bye-bye and get his present by the time he turned four.
There were many nights when he declared he was saying bye-bye to the baba at bedtime, only to wake up and say “not yet!” and latch on. I was started to think my plan had backfired.
And then on the morning of his fourth birthday, he did it. We were visiting my parents in Nova Scotia, and he was sleeping in a sleeping bag in the room. He woke up, climbed into bed, nursed for 10 minutes, and then unlatched.
“Bye-bye, babas,” he said, kissing and patting each side tenderly. “I am a big boy now, I don’t need baba anymore. I love you.”
He then wrapped his arms around me and had a little cry. I might have joined him.
Later that afternoon, racing his cars around his new race track at his birthday supper, he told his older brothers: “I am big like you now. I don’t have baba anymore!”
Almost five months later, I can’t believe he was nursing earlier this year. He is so big and tall and grown, no longer my baby. When I look at him now, I often think of a passage from the Bible, Psalm 131: “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”