Weaning… Who is suffering most

The night of the 7th February was the first night I let Robert sleep without the nightly comfort of breast milk. I know that I have been procrastinating on weaning for very long, but I maintain that I had my reasons.

During November Robert was frequently ill and was not interested in any other food or drink, and in December I was trying to build up his strength. During January he formed a very close attachment to me after the long school holidays, and up until last week the act of nursing was a great way to ease my guilty conscience over working long hours and abandoning him for two full days at the creche while I interpreted on a movie set.

But recently I became convinced that his need for this comfort has diminished. Twice last week he went to sleep with the bottle and instead of nursing him we cuddled and I tickled his belly until he fell asleep. But when he woke up during the night things were not as amicable. He insisted loudly on “mama” and cried inconsolably for a long time. I had a difficult time balancing between my loving instinct and my rationality. I managed to calm him down with loving talk and he resigned himself to drinking from the bottle. As Robert suffered his withdrawal symptoms, I had a terrible attack of guilt and sadness, while the neighbors suffered with insomnia I think, having been awakened in the small hours by a crying toddler.

As early as the next day Robert was open to gentle talk and convincing. He seemed to listen when I told him that “mama” was only for little babies who cannot eat or drink anything else. But as he went to sleep I was stricken with melancholy. I realize that my boy is growing independent of me and I will never recover this special closeness again. Two years ago he was still part of me, and yesterday I was still nursing him, but today this is one more thing he does not need from me anymore, and one day he will not need me anymore. I know it is stupid to think that way, but I cannot be rational all the time.

Today I am more concerned with the physical suffering from weaning. I had to express some of my milk to relieve the pain. A friend once told me that African women who are trying to stop lactating throw the milk they express against the wall. The popular belief is that if a woman disrespects and rejects the milk in this manner, her body will stop producing it. Maybe I will try this method if things do not improve, but I am a firm believer that my body will adjust naturally,  and there is no need for African superstition or western medication.

Robert has taken the transition in his stride, and does not ask for “mama” anymore. At sleep time he cuddles up to me and drinks from his bottle. He has even taken to calling the bottle “mama”, ungrateful little rascal.  So it seems that I am permitted to call these part of my anatomy my own again.  Their curiosity value to him is now only a little more than a pair of  “iya” (ears).  I am relieved of course, but still slightly wistful. I doubt whether I will have the pleasure of nursing again.

A bonus of the weaning: Robert does not wake up as often during the night. In fact he sleeps right through. I should have known that my watery milk is a poor substitute for rich full cream cow milk. Another reason to breathe a sigh of relief.

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