Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Motherhood is really hard, the weaning edition

Bony babies aren't cute. They look like scrawny birds. They look fetal, while at the same time looking eerily geriatric. But they do not look cute or cuddly or nurtured.

Caleb didn't gain weight for the first two months of his life. As a matter of fact he lost weight, and an alarming amount of it. It was only after we started "supplementing" breastfeeding with formula that he at least went into a weight holding-pattern. We never really figured out what was wrong. He fell asleep every time I put him to the breast. He didn't latch on well. He just didn't care.

When we poured formula down his little baby throat, he would accept it. This at least prevented the doctor from calling him "failure to thrive," which, despite my academic and clinical knowledge as a nurse, I heard as a criticism of my abilities. But I stubbornly would not give up the hope of breastfeeding. I nursed him every two hours, by the timer, around the clock. For sixty-some-odd days.

I cried. A lot. Every time I held his bony little body I felt a sickening thud of failure. Every time someone said, "Oh, he's so tiny!" I heard an indictment of my mothering abilities.

Breastfeeding had always come very easily for me and my babies. My first two babies were fat, pink piggies who nursed like champions, and I was a milk machine. This time, I felt dried up. Rejected. I did not recognize mothering from behind a bottle, but nursing, which had been the very definition of mothering for me, an act of nurturing, nourishing, and symbiosis, was failing. Nothing seemed right anymore. I didn't want formula to be the answer. But bottles were quickly becoming preferable to an exercise in desperation.

Then, he figured it out, almost literally overnight. His older brother was in the hospital, having had emergency lung surgery. I was at my wit's end, sleepless, worrying about two children. And he just started doing it right, and got fat and greedy and cute. Somehow, all those hours and tears and worries paid off.

And now? After all that hard work, the gratification of success, the struggle to define myself, yet again, as a mother, I'm weaning him. I am taking it away from him. After all that effort, I'm walking away from it.
Because I can't do it anymore.

Yes, breastfeeding is amazing. Beautiful. You know all the arguments. They're all true. And you know what else? It is one of the hardest things I've ever done. It leaves me exhausted, physically and emotionally. I can't eat enough to maintain energy for both of us. I'm still up at least once a night. I hate the way it makes my body look-- soft and matronly and indulgent. There are days when I just do not want to be touched, or needed in such a, well, needy way. I'm ready for Jeff to be the one who can make it all better sometimes. I want to recognize myself inside this body again. I am, quite literally, sucked dry.

So the weaning begins, hopefully to be done somewhere right around his first birthday next month.

And, as breastfeeding is a perfect metaphor for my mothering style, weaning is the logical extension of that metaphor. Where do I draw the line? How do I embrace the conflicting emotions that arise in this one parenting act? The wanting to be "free," the guilt associated with that desire?

I've done it twice before. This is the last time. One of these days, one of these nursings will be the last one-- the very thought leaves me feeling distinctly adrift. It's almost unthinkable that I will never do this again, that my little Caleb is growing apart from me, and that there will never be another little baby who needs me to give him sustenance. And yet. I am looking very forward to the liberation.

It's part of the complex balance that I must negotiate, measuring my impulses as mother, wife, woman, daughter, sister, me.... It's all in there, tugging at me, and none of it is black and white. I just have to find the best shade of gray that I can.

1 comment:

  1. You really do write beautifully. Have you considered writing a book or articles for the web or magazines?

    This post truly touched me.


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