I nursed my little boy for the last time on 27 February 2017. There were no tears from the 23-month-old the next day, but boy, did Mama weep.
It all started a few weeks before that, when the husband and I felt that he could do away with the morning and pre-nap feeds as I noticed he was merely comfort-sucking and not actually taking in any milk. Those feeds were, surprisingly, incredibly easy to wean off. All I had to do was plonk him on my lap in the mornings and tell him that there was no need for Mama’s milk, and he would happily run off to the living room to rummage through his toys. For naps, I used to lie down beside him on my bed and have him feed until he drifted off to sleep, but when it came to weaning the pre-nap feed, I told him that he could hug me instead and we could fall asleep together, and he happily did just that too. It all seemed too easy.
I didn’t think too much of weaning E off those two feeds, because I still had the opportunity to nurse him at bedtime and I didn’t really mind doing that except for the fact that he was due to start school soon; from our experience, we reckoned it was just better to at least plan to wean him off completely before he embarked on the next phase in life. I didn’t have a date or plan in mind, in part due to my lack of experience in actively weaning a child (F weaned herself off the final morning feed at 21 months old, she simply ran into our bedroom while we were holidaying in Hanoi and watched cartoons before breakfast was served) and also my reluctance to let go of my baby, who seemed to have sprouted overnight, far quicker than what Mama’s heart could cope with.
I don’t know what prompted me to start weaning E off the bedtime feed on the last day of February. M was working late that evening, and I had just cleaned the kids up after getting them fed at dinner. Before I knew it, I whipped out the bedtime story (Time For Bed by Mem Fox) that I have been reading to F for years and told E that Mama’s milk was ‘spoilt’, that we could read a book instead and I would cuddle him as he falls asleep, and he…said, “Okay!” He was clearly ready. I wasn’t, and I still don’t know what possessed me to wean him off before I was done.
This went on for a few nights and that…was it. No tears, no drama, just my boy reading (what is now) his favourite book whilst sitting on my lap, and me cuddling him to sleep. A week after the final feed, E even said this a few times while we were in the car on the way to F’s school, “No more Mama milk. Spoil spoil. Read book, okay? Sleep sleep.”
Oh, how my heart broke.
Breastfeeding had been a part of my life for the past five years. It’s almost all I know about feeding a child. You see, both my children refused the bottle and I latched them on for 99.98% of their milk feeds (0.2% being the bottle feeds which failed spectacularly). I had felt trapped at first. I couldn’t go anywhere without them. I barely slept because no one else could bottle-feed them. If I went anywhere without them, it was for my annual haircut, and even then, I was anxious the whole time and sped home just to be back in time for the next feed. Both F and E had painful reflux too, E being the one who suffered from a more severe form than F did. E, especially, screamed hysterically and arched whenever I tried to feed him; for two months, I thought he hated me. Every feed had me wrestling him (not kidding) until I perspired and both of us ended in tears. He was underweight (completely off the chart, not even on the lowest percentile) and yet, was pained by nursing. I was devastated and exhausted and at my wit’s end as to how I should help him put on weight without causing him pain. It was cruel and punishing to go through this, even as I fended off naysayers who had much to say about my breastfeeding. Our paediatrician then put him on MUPS and much too slowly, breastfeeding grew to be a mildly better experience. But it was too late, breastfeeding had scarred me physically and emotionally. I was bone-tired, resentful, and I felt unattractive, having to bear witness to what pregnancy and motherhood had done to my body over the past five years.
Yet, I didn’t want to stop nursing my children. As much as I felt tied down, it was the one way I knew how to mother. If I couldn’t meet their other needs, I could still nurse them. If nothing else went right in motherhood, there was nursing to count on. And there were plenty of occasions when they smiled and cooed and played peekaboo with me as they nursed. Breastfeeding, as gruelling as it was, forged unbreakable bonds between my children and me, and weaning felt like some sort of an un-welcomed rite of passage.
They are growing up much too quickly for me to play catch-up. I am losing them.
For both F and E, I checked on my supply each time I was in the shower after they weaned. It took more than a month before my supply dried up for F. It took two weeks in E’s case. I cried in the shower that evening. We were holidaying in Bali, and there I was, standing in the shower, relieved (and feeling guilty at the relief) that I need not sacrifice my body that way again just to keep my children alive, mourning every single night when I had the opportunity to hold them close to me and comfort them, wincing as I tried to forget the hurtful remarks that people had hurled at me for breastfeeding my children, trying desperately to recall that twinkle in my baby’s eye as he or she nursed, stroking my fingers absent-mindedly as I struggled to remember how they clung onto my index finger with their tiny, tiny hands. Five years went much too quickly, but the days were so very long and at times, painful indeed.
A month has since passed and E has cheekily asked for Mama’s milk on a few occasions. Sometimes, I catch myself lifting up my top when I hold E in my arms as I put him to bed, only to stop halfway and realise that I have nothing left to give. But I guess we still have cuddles. I will always have cuddles, so long as they let me.
And when that is no longer, the memories are forever mine to keep.
Photography: Grow Old With Me