Thoughts On Weaning

by Ann Douglas

I wrote this article back in 1992, when I was nursing my third child, Erik. I have since been blessed with another nursing baby, Ian, who is now eleven months old.

My eleven-month-old had an accident a couple of weeks ago. It was one of those freak accidents that you can never anticipate. He was practicing standing, when he suddenly lost his balance and came crashing down. As he landed, he bit his tongue.

At first I didn't think that there was much wrong with him. He probably bit his lip, I thought. Poor little guy. I nursed him, he fell asleep, and I lay him down for a nap.

A few minutes later, he woke up screaming, his face covered in blood.

I knew something must be wrong because he smelled funny -- almost like raw meat. I forced his mouth open, and saw that his tongue was bleeding profusely.

We headed for emergency and, after a long wait, they stitched up his tongue. I took him home and he nursed a bit before the painkillers and the trauma made him fall into a deep sleep.

It was our last nursing session.

Over the next few days, each time I offered him the breast, he would shake his head violently, and arch his back. I persisted, trying to nurse him when he was half-asleep. He would wake up crying, and soon I would be crying, too.

I felt so powerless. I wasn't ready to stop nursing this baby. He was my last baby, and I had intended to wean him gradually, to savour the twilight hours of my days as a nursing mother.

But that scenario had been ripped away from me.

Within a few days, he was taking a cup, and handling solids remarkably well, but the moment I offered him the breast he would start screaming. I pumped milk for a few more days, in the hope that he would decide to go back to nursing once the pain subsided, but the moment had been lost. I no longer had a nursing baby.

He was fine. I was a wreck. My engorged, leaking breasts were a cruel physical reminder of the loss of something precious, of something that I was not yet ready to let go.

I cried, day and night, for two days before I was able to stop. I felt such emptiness, such a sense of loss. I just wanted my nursing baby back again.

Some friends were terrific, encouraging me to grieve, to cry and to go with my feelings. A few others were clearly puzzled by the extent of my grief. After all, the baby was going to be just fine once his tongue healed, wasn't he? And he was able to drink from a cup. There was really nothing more to worry about, was there?

I was devastated. I remember thinking that things would never be the same, that I would never again have the opportunity to share the wonderful bond that develops between a mother and her nursing baby. I felt as if my baby had been taken away from me, and replaced by this child who was crying in pain, and who I seemed unable to comfort.

Without the breast to offer him to ease his suffering, what was I to do? I had lost my mothering instincts. I no longer knew whether he was crying because he was hungry, tired, or in pain. Those first few days were a nightmare as I struggled to find other ways of caring for my precious little child.

A few weeks have gone by, and the milk has left my breasts for the very last time. I can still get quite teary thinking about the awful accident that ended our nursing relationship, and indulging in "if onlies" if only I hadn't let him play on the deck, if only I'd been there to catch him when he fell, if only he hadn't been sticking his tongue out while he was playing. If only I could press the replay button and do it right this time.

But we don't get the chance to replay life, do we? An accident can happen in a split second, and change our lives in some significant way forever.