Three times today, Kathleen fell asleep, head nestled just below my shoulder. She went from restless hands and squawks to warm, quiet weight in my arms. I kissed the top of her head and rested my cheek or chin there, and I closed my eyes and sat with her. Eventually, I got up, walked slowly, carefully up the stairs and deposited her in her crib, where she took a much shorter nap than she needed. Since she was a few weeks old, Kathleen has napped best in her swing. My fussy baby would be relieved and quickly settle to the rhythmic motion of the swing, and she'd wake up smiling. But she is growing fast and the swing doesn't seem to be able to handle her weight, so I'm trying to wean her from this favorite place. (It's genetic. My grandmother thought my mother was awful for putting me in my swing, but one day they were trying to do something together and suddenly my nana wanted to know where the damn swing was.)
As for the regular kind of weaning, it's done. I washed my nursing bras yesterday and put them in a pile of things to pack away, things I'm done with for this baby. Kathleen has two teeth now, and she BITES! If she were getting actual nourishment from me, I'd try to stick it out. But I have never made enough milk, not nearly enough, and since I've been mainly providing comfort for a while now, she can suck—and bite—on something else.
We gave it a good run, Kathleen and I. For the first four months or so, she sucked long and hard from me before getting her bottle, but somewhere around four months she realized, "Hey, want my food the easy way." So she started taking the bottle first and then having some time on the breast. And slowly her willingness to go to the breast diminished until we were only doing it at night as part of our bedtime routine. Even then for the last few weeks she's been off and on, not satisfied. So it was time for both of us.
It feels like a rather small milestone of how big my girl is getting. In many ways it was harder for me when I stopped with Henry. Five weeks we lasted. Five weeks of pumping and pumping and pumping with brief stints of putting him to the breast when he seemed like he could handle it, trying to judge how tired he was getting, knowing he needed his bottles with his extra calorie formula and knowing that taking that in was hard work for him.
I cried when I returned the pump. I had to return it to the birthing center at the local hospiatl where he was born. I cried for the happy beginning we didn't have as I listened to an ecstatic new dad talking on his cell phone in the hallway. I cried thinking of the two days I lay in a bed in the hospital while my baby struggled elsewhere. I cried over my body's failure to do what it was supposed to do. And I cried because it was just one more piece that was not what I expected, what I wanted, what was supposed to be.
And then I went home and I tried to let it go. I still regret that I was unable to breastfeed Henry, but giving up when I did was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was literally getting drops when I pumped, unmeasurable amounts. Still I hated to give up, but I found myself talking to Henry, promising to pick him up in just three more minutes as I tried to finish out a solid pumping stint. It just seemed silly. So I turned in the pump and I picked up my baby. So many times in the later months of his life, when he was too unstable to move, I gave thanks that I did that, that I held my baby when I could, because we got to so many days when I couldn't. And of course now, I can never hold him again. Breastfeeding is best—but not always.
I knew that part of my problem in breastfeeding lay with Henry and part lay with me, so I resolved with Kathleen to do what I could to make the experience as successful as possible given underlying issues I had with producing milk. I put her to the breast early and often. I took fenugreek until I smelled like maple syrup. I ate oatmeal every day. I offered the breast first every time. I stayed hydrated and tried to relax. I pumped after or between feeds. I talked to lactation consultants who all said I was doing all the right things. And still my baby was hungry. So I gave her a bottle. And I was irritated every time I bought formula and it doubled my grocery bill. And I was touchy when I read or heard pro-breastfeeding stories. I wish it worked. I wish I worked. Because I liked it. I loved snuggling with my baby. I loved the that time of slowing down, the quiet mornings together, the way her hand rested on my breast, her eyes peeking up at me and then closing sleepily. And it was worth it. The extra long feedings, the pumping, the frustration were all worth it for those quiet moments.
So we're done now. But my girl still snuggles in to me, her body still and warm in my lap. We can still stop for a moment in our day and sit together and slow down the world with sleepy breaths. That's what we did today, and I loved it.