Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A different sort of Mother's Day present

This Mother's Day, Luka has decided to wean himself from breastfeeding. He's 15 months, he's definitely finished up, and I'm more than a little sad.

It's been a slow process really. Since he started sleeping all night (by some kind of freaking miracle) of his own accord by mid-February he dropped the night feeds. Then he dropped the feed after his daytime nap (which was great, as it didn't mean I had to express for Paul to feed to him on the days I was at work). But he had still been having his early-morning feed with great gusto until about 2 weeks ago. Then, suddenly, some mornings he'd want to feed, and some mornings he would complain, and just want a cuddle or to get up and play.

At that point, I kind of knew we were finishing up with breastfeeding. So for what is now his 'last feed', I took careful notice of everything.

I walked into his room, grey in the half-dark of early morning, to find him standing up at the end of the cot. When he saw me, he lifted his little arms up and I gathered his warm little face up to mine. I sat down on the chair next to the cot, badly aiming as usual and nearly falling onto the floor. I righted myself and tipped him sideways into the crook of my arm. It's a movement that I never thought would have become second nature, given how ridiculously uncoordinated breastfeeding was at first.

As I pulled my singlet down, he opened his pink mouth, wide, like a little bird that's seen food coming. Every time I fed him it reminded me of Sylvia Plath's wonderful poem"Morning Song" about being mother to a newborn: "Your mouth opens clean as a cat's". He began to suckle quietly, slowly opening and closing his eyes, and winding his fingers through my hair. He always pulled at my hair, it always hurt, and I never minded.

I stroked his arm, his cheek, his side. I registered every curve of him. Eventually, he was nearly asleep again, and just rested his warm hand, fingers splayed, against my chest. When he rolled off me, full, I stood up and laid him back into his cot. His eyes stayed closed, but he stretched in that wonderful "punching the sky" move babies have, then lay softly asleep.

And the next day, when I tried to feed him and he complained and just wanted to get up and eat toast, I cried. And I cried for a few days after, but I'm not going to cry any more.

I'd always intended it to be his decision when to wean, but I'd always assumed I'd get sick of breastfeeding before he did.

We had a very good run. I was lucky, and I acknowledge it. I had the usual scrapes, cracks and bleeding nipples but really, we got breastfeeding established early and relatively easily. I can't remember much about the days in hospital - apparently the day I gave birth I had lots of visitors, and I've seen myself smiling in the photos, but I don't remember any of it (possibly as I'd been awake for 36hrs, plus *oh yes* I gave birth).

But I do remember the midwives at Cabrini were a huge help (apart from the crazy Irish one that slammed shut all the windows in my room, proclaiming "You let in a fly, the baby die!")

I remember my favourite midwife stopping me when I was trying frantically to get Luka to attach and saying: "Look at him. See how he's looking up at you? He's getting to know who you are, what you look like, how you smell. Don't rush him." She moved slowly and with difficulty, and only had full use of one of her hands, but that woman could handle a newborn baby like she had 8 good hands.

Luka was a frequent feeder, sometimes getting up to 13 feeds in 24hrs (which, like a lot of Luka's habits, I thought was abnormal til I got on the ABA forums).

There were some seriously difficult periods of breast refusal that I didn't really talk about or let myself think about at the time. The first was at about 3 months where I had to force his head against me to get him to feed (in our house it became known as the "fighty feed"), but he was still little and I usually won, and was determined not to feel rejected.

At about 6 months he suddenly went through a period of feeding round the clock every 2 hrs, and then backflipped to screaming and screaming when I tried to feed him at night (though nothing else would settle him). Paul had to walk him around until he settled, and then sometimes I was able to slip him onto the breast, although usually it took several rounds of settling.

These aren't great dramas by comparison to what other mothers have gone through, but they were dramas enough at the time. I wasn't the sort of mother that falls in love with their baby at first sight. When he was born, I didn't want skin-to-skin contact, I just wanted someone to take him away so I could go to sleep. Feeding him was a big part of our getting to know each other. I wrote in my diary at the time: "I am learning to love Luka by breastfeeding him." If I couldn't have breastfed, I know I would have got to love him in other ways, but that was the way it happened for us.

We breastfed for 15 months, and I will miss it. I will miss his quiet body against me, the thought that I am nourishing him with no help from anyone else, and how useful it made me feel when I felt I couldn't do anything else right.

So, a different sort of Mother's Day present. We have lots of cuddles, still. But it's the end of something important.

We've come from here:

to here:

The boobs are off-duty til next time round. But I'm glad to have had this chance.