On Breastfeeding, Weaning, and One Mother’s Identity

Welcome to the Carnival of Weaning: Weaning – Your Stories

This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Code Name: Mama and Aha! Parenting. Our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles about the end of the breastfeeding relationship.

Weaning. I have thought about, started, restarted, forgotten about, discussed, and then started again, writing about weaning. I am flat out terrified of the idea. Other than a brief period, lasting less than a year in 1997, I have been nursing since 1993.

For 18 years I have nurtured a child at my breast; the intensity of the newborn period, the unbroken daily ritual of the next one to two years, followed by the gradual decrease that accompanies a new pregnancy or an aging child. For most of my experience this decrease has been joined by a new newborn where I would struggle to balance the demands of two (or once three) children who seemed to feel most connected, most satiated when mothered at the breast.

Not only has breastfeeding defined my mothering journey, it has defined my adulthood. My oldest was born months after I graduated from high school. Just as I was beginning to understand the autonomy that was associated with choosing what you did and when I had another person who was depending on me for care and nourishment. I’m not sure who I am if I am not a nursing mother.

When I’ve shared my experience with other mothers they are sometimes horrified, commenting about wanting “their body back” from a nursing baby. To be sure, I have been known to stamp my foot in protest when a toddler demands to nurse for the umpteenth time while I was trying to make dinner. I recently participated in a discussion with my four year-old that went like this:

Me: Please stop twiddling.

Her: Why?

Me: Because it’s my breast, and it bothers me.

Her: No, they’re my breast.

Me: I don’t think so. They’re attached to my body.

Her: Well, we shaaaare them!

But the experience of having my “body back” is so long ago that I have no memory for which to wish. It would be as foreign as suggesting having one’s body back from teeth brushing or showering or any of the dozen other things that we do with or to our bodies on a daily or semi-regular basis.

She will wean. I want to erase that sentence.

She will wean. All of the others did. I always limit nursings at some point – I am really bad at nursing during pregnancy and tandem nursing and even without those externalities somewhere close to age three things simply start to be uncomfortable. But I’ve never actively weaned a child. In fact I don’t remember the last nursings of any previous children. In some ways I’m really sad about that. However, I don’t remember that last time I carried any of my older children, either. Or the last time I cut up their food or tied their shoes. I suppose that when breastfeeding becomes so intimately intertwined with mothering, it loses some of the distinctiveness and mystique with which it is associated in our current culture.

She will wean. As difficult and physically uncomfortable as I find nursing an older child to be, it is nothing compared to the identity crisis I fear facing when I am done breastfeeding for good.

Breastfeeding taught me how to mother.

It connected me with the women who had come before me and let me reach out to the women who came after. It showed me that responding to an infant’s needs was easy and did not mean that I would subjugate my own. I nursed as a single parent, while dating, and in a traditional marriage. I’ve worked full-time, part-time, and not at all. I’ve gone to school and completed two degrees (working on a third) while breastfeeding. I’ve spent months in close, constant physical proximity to my breastfeeding children and have been separated from them for a week or more at a time. Breastfeeding enabled me to quickly find like-minded mothers when moving to a new town for the first time in my life, and now it helps to pay the bills as I help other new mothers.

She will wean. And I will still be her mother. I will still be a mother. I will still be a breastfeeding mother.
None of what breastfeeding taught me or gave to me will disappear when I am no longer nursing a child.

_________________________

Jessica is honored to share this life journey with her five children, her partner, and an amazing assortment of family, friends, and random folks who make it all so very interesting. Most likely due to being exposed to 1980s issues of Mothering Magazine during her impressionable childhood years, she has been known to engage in such devious activities as homebirth, home/unschooling, breastfeeding past infancy, and otherwise questioning the dominant paradigm. Jessica blogs in random spurts at Instead of Intuitions.



Thank you for visiting the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Dionna at Code Name: Mama and Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting.

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (and many thanks to Joni Rae of Tales of a Kitchen Witch for designing our lovely button):

(This list will be live amind updated by afternoon May 21 with all the carnival links.)

  • Is This Weaning?: A Tandem Nursing Update — Sheila at A Living Family bares all her tandem nursing hopes and fears during what feels like the beginning of the end for her toddler nursing relationship.
  • Memories of Weaning: Unique and Gentle — Cynthia at The Hippie Housewife shares her weaning experiences with her two sons, each one unique in how it happened and yet equally gentle in its approach.
  • Weaning Aversion’Gentle Mama Moon shares her experience of nursing and unplanned weaning due to pregnancy-induced ‘feeding aversion’.
  • Three Months Post-Mup: An Evolution of Thoughts On Weaning — cd at FidgetFace describes a brief look at her planned (but accelerated) weaning, as well as one mamma’s evolution on weaning (and extended nursing)
  • Weaning my Tandem Nursed Toddler — After tandem nursing for a year, Melissa at Permission to Live felt like weaning her older child would be impossible, but now she shares how gentle weaning worked for her 2 1/2 year old.
  • Every Journey Begins with One Step — As Hannabert begins the weaning process, Hannah at Hannah and Horn‘s super power is diminishing.
  • Reflections on Weaning – Love Changes Form — Amy from Presence Parenting (guest posting at Dulce de Leche) shares her experience and approach of embracing weaning as a continual process in parenting, not just breastfeeding.
  • Weaning Gently: Three Special Ideas for SuccessMudpieMama shares three ideas that help make weaning a gentle and special journey.
  • Guest Post: Carnival of Weaning — Emily shares her first weaning experience and her hopes for her second nursling in a guest post on Farmer’s Daughter.
  • 12 Tips for Gentle Weaning — Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting describes the process of gentle weaning and gives specific tips to make weaning an organic, joyful ripening.
  • Quiz: Should You Wean for Fertility Treatments? — Paige at Baby Dust Diaries talks about the key issues in the difficult decision to wean for infertility treatments.
  • I thought about weaning… — Kym at Our Crazy Corner of the World shares her story of how she thought about weaning several times, yet it still happened on its own timeline.
  • Celebrating Weaning — Amy at Anktangle reflects on her thoughts and feelings about weaning, and she shares a quick tutorial for one of the ways she celebrated this transition with her son: through a story book with photographs!
  • Naturally Weaning Twins — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses the gradual path to weaning she has taken with her preschool-aged twins.
  • Gentle Weaning Means Knowing When to Stop — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl writes about knowing when your child is not ready to wean and taking their feelings into account in the process.
  • Weaning, UnWeaning, and ReWeaning — Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy discovers non-mutal weaning doesn’t have to be the end. You can have a do-over.
  • Prelude to weaning — Lauren at Hobo Mama talks about a tough tandem nursing period and what path she would like to encourage her older nursling to take.
  • Demands of a Nursing Kind — Amy Willa at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work shares her conflicted feelings about nursing limits and explores different ways to achieve comfort, peace, and bodily integrity as a nursing mother.
  • Breastfeeding: If there’s one thing I know for sure… — Wendy at ABCs and Garden Peas explores the question: How do you know when it’s time to wean?
  • Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Two, Three? — Zoie at TouchstoneZ discusses going from 3 nurslings down to 1 and what might happen when her twins arrive.

19 Responses to On Breastfeeding, Weaning, and One Mother’s Identity

  1. Dr Laura Markham  

    I love your depiction of breastfeeding as simply part of the tapestry of mothering, from which the child moves on with no more drama than she moves on from being carried. I think your experience must be closer to the way women have lived for millenium, in which mothering always and nursing were inextricably linked. Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. Tam  

    “Breastfeeding taught me how to mother.”
    I couldn’t agree more. The self efficacy I gained through breastfeeding my firstborn was enough to carry over into every aspect of my parenting. I hold my head high and feel completely at ease with the decisions we make for our family.

    This is a wonderful post and reminder that just because we may not have a nursling at our breast, we always have a nursling in our hearts. Thank you.

  3. Maud  

    I was going to congratulate you on such a wonderful breastfeeding history – when I realised that would sound as silly as congratulating you on continuing to breathe. Breastfeeding is just what you do. And when it’s what you no longer do, you’ll be fine. It’s always hard to come to the end of a chapter, isn’t it?

    • jessica  

      lol – I do the same thing :). Ends of stages are hard. My oldest graduated from high school last year and turned 18 this past fall and while she is still living at home attending school it has been a stark reminder of how quickly time can pass.

  4. Shannon R

    Wow – 18 years! You are a living history of breastfeeding. I loved this perspective on your experience: “I suppose that when breastfeeding becomes so intimately intertwined with mothering it loses some of the distinctiveness and mystique with which it is associated in our current culture.” Wisdom like that can only come from allowing breastfeeding to take its natural course and being open to the journey along the way. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us.

    • jessica  

      It makes me feel old ;). We were having a discussion at our LLL meeting this morning about whether or not a pump needed to be part of a first time (SAH) mother’s registry. Several of the mom’s commented about how much they liked having a nice little hand pump around if they needed it. While I love my Avent that I bought with the middle child I found myself saying “back in the day we used hand expression for engorgement…” I felt like I should follow it up with some comment about kids and their music lol.

  5. Dulce

    I could relate to so much of this. I have been nursing a decade less than you (since January of 2004) and am currently nursing three little ones. I understand exactly what you mean about it just being a part of mothering and also how much it tends to define us. Thank you so much for the beautiful post!

    • jessica  

      it sounds as if you are in the thick of it :). In addition to being defined by breastfeeding I was so long defined by having a little child. It is odd to now be the one with empty arms only having to look around every once in awhile to make sure I have some idea of where the youngest of the children are playing. I miss the intensity because with it came clarity and purpose. It is both extraordinary and pedestrian and I find that an amazing feat!

  6. Anelie

    As a first-time mum I am in awe of your experience and dexterity, especially as just nursing one active little baby has almost been more than I could handle at times (his current trick is attempting to roll over *while nursing*; after all why just drink when you can practice your new crawling skills too, right? ;-)). Do you think the closeness of cuddles and story times might make up for the absence of breastfeeding when your children are weaned? That’s what I’m hoping for, as it’s often the quiet time just after he’s nursed that’s my favourite ;-)

    • jessica  

      Absolutely! I think that cuddles and story time are a great way to maintain connection. I know that for me, though, breastfeeding “forces” me to engage in those activities. If it is “just” cuddles or a story it is far too easy for me to say in just a minute or I need to get dinner done or whatever. I also have a couple of kids who aren’t all that into cuddles as they’ve gotten older, but they were more than willing to have the physical proximity for nursing :).

  7. Gwen @ NeverMindTheRain

    What a wonderful story and so well written. I love how you talk about learning to mother through breastfeeding. I truly felt that was how I got to know my daughter as well, and will hopefully get to know my son as he grows up.

  8. Charlie

    Jessica! I loved this! I love the view of breastfeeding as part of our whole selves. Even though all of my children have weaned, I still identify myself as a breastfeeding mother.

  9. Aspen

    My link isn’t working, I think, because I’m not very good at all this tech stuff… Here’s a working link to my story! :)
    http://aspentreemama.blogspot.ca/

  10. Dionna  

    You are such an inspiration! I hope you make it over to Dulce de Leche’s blog to read Amy’s guest post. I thought of you when I read it :)

  11. Lauren  

    I love reading your thoughts about this. The idea that breastfeeding is simply another part of mothering like cutting up food or carrying children is so meaningful to me. It makes it less of an unattainable, “extreme” vision of mothering and brings it down to the everyday, where breastfeeding belongs. I’m currently breastfeeding two nurslings (4 and 1), and it’s always encouraging to hear from another mother who knows what I’m experiencing. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    • jessica  

      For a sociological point of view I understand the “extreme” argument but coming from what I would best describe as a “breastfeeding paradigm” that understanding in no way comes naturally. When I had my first all I knew was that babies were breastfed. Not because I was guilted into it or thought formula was crack or any of the either martyr based arguments – it was simply how you fed a baby. And if you had a baby you had to feed a baby just as you have to care for them in all other ways. So while it can get overwhelming and emotional in those early days it isn’t the *breastfeeding* it is being a new parent and all of the big and small adjustments that go with that.

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