First, the umbilical cord is cut—the first physical separation between you and the baby you have been growing for nine months. Then, if you decide to breastfeed, you eventually have to let go of that physical separation, too.
I decided to stop breastfeeding my youngest child when she turned one. I was working full time and had just stopped pumping during the day at work. But we celebrated her first birthday, and I was still breastfeeding her in the mornings before I left for work and in the evenings just before she went to sleep.
Weeks went by, and I was still breastfeeding her. I just couldn't completely wean her. I wasn't ready. She wasn't ready.
By the time she turned 16 months old, I was breastfeeding her in the evenings only, which dwindled my milk supply to only a few ounces a day.
And just like that, I wasn't making milk anymore.
Oh, the emotions that coursed through me. I had cried after weaning my oldest child when he turned one, but I was prepared to stop breastfeeding him. I wasn't prepared to stop breastfeeding my daughter.
Every night during that first couple of weeks, my daughter would stand up in her crib and cry, "Mama, mama!" That panged my heart and I would cry, too. After I put her in her crib for the night, I would find myself whispering, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," over and over again. I realized I was thanking my body for the amazing things it had done for many months for my daughter.
There were many times I thought about going back to breastfeeding her again. Just one more time. But I didn't. (Despite the clogged ducts and searing pain from impending mastitis on a few occasions, I would still choose to breastfeed my children if I had to do it all over again.)
Eventually, her cries became fewer and we developed a new nighttime routine that involved reading more books and snuggling. She forgot all about the breastfeeding. I didn't. Even as I write this now, months after weaning, tears still well up in my eyes and stream down my cheeks.
Was I really ready to stop breastfeeding her?
Of course, there's no perfect answer. Instead of doubting my decision, I relied on a lot of self-care to help me understand my emotions.
This is what helped me take care of myself as I navigated the weaning experience:
1. I was extra kind to myself.
I reserved extra compassion for my mind and my body. I have been the main nutrition source for my baby—and I had to celebrate that.
2. Reflect on my experience.
I journaled to help me process my emotions. I also found that talking about breastfeeding with my partner, a family member or another breastfeeding mom really helped. I shared what I enjoyed most about it and why.
3. Get plenty of sleep and rest.
I developed a bedtime routine that helped me sink into a deep sleep. Take a bath. Read an inspirational book. Go to bed early. Rinse and repeat.