The shape, the weight, the way they lay.
All of this has changed since weaning.
I can’t say I was unaware of the physical shifts once my milk dried up and my breasts moved from being a source of life to mere ornaments hung over my ribs. I think of the time spent leaking milk onto all of my favorite t-shirts. Being out in public and having large round wet spots, announcing to the world that I was in desperate need of a nursing pad or my baby.
After nursing my oldest daughter to just before her third birthday — four months of that time in tandem with her sister — I fully expected to nurse my youngest to that point. I never thought we would reach our end long before her second birthday. I always wondered how I would know, really know, when the time was right for both of us to sever this part of our relationship.
When the time came, I knew.
I felt it in my gut, and in my body, each time my muscles tensed up at her request to nurse. My nursing aversion was worse than ever. When you feel this way during the course of breastfeeding, it can feel almost like you're being used solely for the milk you provide. I specifically remember the turning point during this time. I would walk in the door from being away and would be immediately rushed and hung on until I sat down. Once seated, she would violently grab at my top until I gave up and gave in.
For me, this was more than just an inconvenience. This behavior was triggering — as a survivor of sexual assault.
It made me feel like I was not in control of my body. Even with my beautiful little girl looking up at me — I would find myself feeling isolated and alone. Our first few nights were challenging and emotional for us both. The way your heart hurls itself into your throat when your baby is crying, and you know this one thing would make it stop. This one feeling is enough to throw you into a place of guilt and grief.
We waded through this uncomfortable place in our relationship.
We were figuring it out as we went. I would hold her and whisper in her ear as she ripped at my top. I would assure her that I loved her and that my milk was all gone. Knowing this was not true and at any moment she would feel comfort if I just gave in, pushed me to a level of self-control I'd never reached before.
This was a mutual relationship, and I had decided this was the time for a reason.
“Mommy loves you all the way to the moon. I am sorry my milk is all gone, but mommy is here, and I will hold you until you fall asleep little babe. I’ll never let you go.”
This mantra was mine for her, and each night we moved further from tears and closer to longer stretches of sleep. After three nights, she no longer asked to nurse.
Our breastfeeding journey was over.
I was excited and felt such a sense of freedom in my body. No one could touch it without my permission — ever again. This new way of being lasted for a month or so before this massive guilt took over and sent me into a dark place. I would look at her and cry — feeling guilty for ending the breastfeeding relationship I had treasured for so much longer with her sister.
Concern plagued me and left me feeling like maybe I had robbed my last baby. The physical manifestation of these feelings led to an increase in self-loathing. My mood dipped, anxiety spiked, and my shape changed. I hadn’t only experienced changes in my moods and outlook but also a dramatic change in my breasts. Once full and heavy — they were now lifeless and empty.
So many changes at one time left me feeling unbalanced and unprepared for this stage of motherhood. It was like I had given up these huge pieces of myself and there was no way to get them back. It’s been almost a year, and sometimes I find myself grieving the loss of the connection and uninterrupted time with my last little girl. In retrospect, this time has allowed me to understand and accept how badly I wanted my body to feel as if it were fully mine again.
We have found other ways to bond and still share quiet and intimate time together. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself when my mind floats to self-judgement.
Weaning has given me the tools I need to encourage my daughter to know her personal limits and when she needs to direct her energy inward.
I want that for myself, and I want that for my girl. I want her to have the kind of mother that knows her limits and doesn’t continue on the same path when it no longer feels okay.