My Arms Will Always Be Theirs
Centennial CO USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 5, September-October 2007, pp. 206-208
In August 2006, my daughter, Kait, made it official -- just two short months from her third birthday, she became an independent toddler and she was finished with breastfeeding.
With the coming of spring, she began to skip nursing sessions here and there. Week by week her number of daily nursings slowly reduced. As spring warmed into summer, we played at parks for much of a day; sometimes with friends and sometimes it was just Kait, my seven-year-old son, Jason, and me. We went on long hikes with friends in the mountains, splashed in our backyard "kiddy" pool, and built castles in the sand. The days of missed nursing sessions turned into nursing only at night. An entire day would go by and Kait would fall asleep quickly, happily, needing rest from her active days and not asking to nurse. The nursing-free days merged until two weeks passed without nursing. When she needed to nurse after an injury or she was feeling frustrated with the world, there was no milk for her. I started holding her and comforting her instead of offering my breast, knowing that offering when there was no milk would only make matters worse.
That summer her world opened up. She was mobile the entire day running to each new fascinating thing, and then running back to tell me what she'd discovered. She was interested in playing cars with Jason and imagining grand oceanic journeys from the bunk beds. She was interested in dressing up her dolls and stuffed animals and laying them down for naps. When they woke, she'd make them a snack in her kitchen.
For two and a half years, most of Kait's nursing sessions were spent on a nursing chair -- the comfy rocker-recliner my mother gave us just before her birth. Her body would drape across my lap as she nursed. Jason sat next to us and I read to him, keeping him entertained until she was finished at the breast. That summer, she nursed less and listened to stories more, snuggling into me to get a good view of the book, pointing at pictures, and marveling at a ladybug or a race car or a tizzle-topped Tufted Mazurka á la Dr. Seuss. Soon she was completely captivated by the stories and started to ask for books of her own choosing to be read instead of nursing. The nursing chair is now called the rocking chair.
As summer cooled off, we realized that Kait was fully weaned. It really happened over a long period of time. She started weaning around six months when she began eating solid food. With that first bite of mashed banana, nursing took a small shift to the side in favor of other things. It didn't occur to me then that she would ever be finished. I knew she would eventually not nurse. Jason had self-weaned at age three when I was pregnant with Kait, so I already had experienced the full circle with one child. With nursing such a big part of our daily routine, I never gave a thought as to how or why nursing would end.
In the fall, my friends asked how I was doing with the fact that she was weaned. "I'm so all right with it." I would answer. "It was a natural progression for both of us. We nursed as long as we both needed and moved on when we were ready," I said. I felt liberated. I was wearing a regular bra and I loved it -- I still love it. The baby gate was removed from my side of the bed and I was getting more sleep. This is what it's all about -- a natural, child-led weaning where we woke up one day and realized we were finished. I was ecstatic, and I was proud of my accomplishment of nursing two children longer than I had ever expected for just as long as they needed.
Then, six months later, Kait asked for milk. "Mama, can you fill up your milk again?" she asked. "Mama I want milk," she said. The tug at my heartstrings was overwhelming. I always want to give her the comfort she needs, and yet I don't have milk anymore and I didn't want to start nursing again. I have moved on, and my body is my own again. But there was my daughter asking to nurse. Some of her need was due to exhaustion. She stopped napping just after she stopped nursing. "I don't have any milk left, but I do have arms that can hold you tight," I said.
"Okay, mom," she said. I picked her up. Her little arms encircled my neck and held on so tight in her "big squeeze" hug. I gently swayed and we danced to the music on the radio. She rested her head on my shoulder, relaxing. When I thought she was satisfied and when I was ready to continue with the project we had just started with Jason, I put her down. But she wasn't finished yet. "Mama, can you pick me up and make me warm with your arms again?" She asked. I did. Jason worked on the project on his own for a while and welcomed me and Kait back when she had received all the comfort she needed and we were both ready.
The other day she told me that she used to drink milk from me but doesn't anymore. She said it was yummy, and then asked to go play outside. A short while later she ran back into the house, hugged my waist tight while beaming up at me, and then ran back out to play again.
My warm arms are always ready to hold my children. My breasts are my own again, but my arms will always be theirs.