Child-Led Weaning

Last night, Fern plops down next to me in bed, hands me a book and says, “I’m not going to do nummy num. I’m just going to sit right here and you can read me a book.”

I’m just going to sit right here and you can cover me with sand.

The tactic of child-led weaning is an approach that has kept me in a perpetual state of crossed fingers. Like, I really hope this works, but I also suspect I may have to eventually install a barbed-wire fence around my chest to keep her at bay. There are lots of stories with the shock factor of Mother Still Breastfeeds her 8 Year Old Child! and I’ve been the recipient of the snide remark, “You still going to do that when she’s 16?” . Then there’s my mama friends, who report back from the trenches about desperate deals made in the back alley of night-time, “We won’t do milkies tonight and tomorrow morning I’ll let you eat an entire chocolate cake.”

Or an entire beach.

Nursing a toddler (and just nursing in general!)  is still uncommon in this country, as illustrated by the disproportionate debate caused by that Time Magazine cover. After working with children for 13 years, and then studying child development, letting Fern complete the gestalt of her need to breastfeed, for nutritional and emotional needs, is an idea that just made sense to me.

Unlike this totally amazing “house” she made.

But my experience with breastfeeding was not easy, and I often wondered through pain, tears and her low weight gain, “Where is my glorious mothering experience?”. Like many of the attachment parenting principles that we employed, it did not create the miraculous easy babyhood that was promised.

My little kingfisher catches her first frog.

Eventually though, those techniques DID work. We didn’t sleep train and we walked her down to sleep until she was nearly two and I lost enough Zzz’s to shorten my life expectency…but then one day she just rolled over after story time and fell asleep on her own. About four months ago, I woke in the morning with a start, wondering what was wrong…and then realized that the unfamiliar feeling I was experiencing was the result of a full night’s rest.

I wore my baby, we co-slept, I stayed at home and I just kept hoping that it would all come out in the wash. Because you don’t know…many of these techniques are like putting money in stocks and hoping you get a big pay out. Attachment parenting is not convenient…as a matter of fact, in my experience, it is a giant pain in the ass that requires constant readjustment of my expectations and desires, demanding that I work out all my demons, pronto. I haven’t followed Dr. Sears to the T either, instead turning to my inner advisor, Queen Intuition and her lackey, the Heart. Sounds like I’m a warrior, and maybe I am, but honestly I’ve been a little bit scared that I might just be a misguided fuck-up, experimenting on the future.

So you would think then, that the tapering off of daytime nursing and Fern’s proclamation last night would have parted the clouds and brought out the hallelujah chorus. Instead, it broke my heart and I had to snuffle my way through storytime. With every word of the story, I read into our future, and suddenly my daughter IS sixteen, and not only does she not want to nurse, she also wishes MOM would just disappear. I think back to the last time we did nummy nums, the night before, and realize I hadn’t been paying enough attention. If I had known it was going to be the last time…

Where are you?

With not needing Mom so much and always on the go, I am noticing a deficit in the amount of Perfect Baby Scent Snarfing that I have been able to inhale off the top of her head and my arms are wondering what to do with themselves, without anybody in them. For the last three years, I have been intimately attuned to Baby, weaving a web so I can always catch what she might need at any given moment. What she seems to need right now, is to be let go. It is cause for celebration, the development of a healthy, independent, securely attached child. It’s why I’ve followed my intuition, why I’ve made the choices I’ve made.

But it’s a cheap trick, that investment. There IS a big pay out at the end…in bittersweet coins. It’s the child that gets to keep most of it. As it should be.

There you are.

Always my path through motherhood reveals itself as labrynthine, and just you wait…I’ll be eating these words after she tries to drag my boob out at the playground today. And you know what? I really don’t mind.

Laundrytime is a glamorous thing.

Just now Jeff opened the door to grab clean undies and a dress for the day. Fern came bouncing in and ran to me, announcing, I just wanted to hug you. I need my mommy.

Fern my love, I will always be here.


13 thoughts on “Child-Led Weaning

  1. oh my goodness…beautiful, beautiful. as i embark on that same journey, never knowing what the next day, much less the next year, brings…i am once again in awe and delight at your perspective on motherhood. i hope i can be as wise, patient, strong and giving as you have been. willing to examine myself as one must when choosing to be in constant flux with another human being. fern is such a wonderful little child, bright and intelligent and independent and loving and amazing, and knowing her mama is always there for her has made her who she is. i honor you and all good mamas more than ever now, and your words remind me to look down as i nurse (right now!) to kiss those sweet fingertips and whisper i love you over and over and over again in those tiny ears. thank you.

    and just like you mentioned, i too have been reading and terrible at commenting lately. usually because i am nursing while reading and in a bad position to one-hand type. it takes forever! but i am LOVING your posts and i hope you don’t mind if i someday steal your idea for the little kitchen, but i’m sure with much less adorableness cause i could never pull it off. cutest gift ever ever ever!!!

  2. Beautiful words, Thanks for being so clear ya wonderful mom!!!

    I fed M till she was 2 and she slept with us and still does mostly, as its just us it makes sense. I read the Continuum concept when preggers and was so moved by it and tried to put much of it into action till it became too frustrating to try and adapt it all to my culture, still it was so valuable and those days were amazingly connected- I remember well the last feed, one afternoon the two of us starkers after a shower, laying in the bed in summer light, and I told her that was that now. She took it well thank god. I would never have managed to turn her away if it had been too hard on her.

    I adore the way Fern stated her position, I am sure I can feel her little bright spirit and in these pictures her eyes tell a thousand stories of being loved.

    I find more and more, one cant make decisions about these things and so resonate with your way of working your motherhood. I unlike you am only just beginning to put it all in context. Of course it makes me want to have another, to put all my learning into action from the very start. I am not surprised at all that you have worked with children for years, those little wise teachers they are. You have such a way of seeing the wood for the trees with Fern, and your choices seem to come naturally, it reminds me of a friends advice” a decision is never made till it is made” . Thankfully it doesn’t take me quite as long to remember that all things change and answers come when you trust them to.
    Thank you again fro taking the time to share the depth of you

    sending love form Me and M

  3. I am new to your blog and just read this post completely on the edge of my seat! I so enjoyed your humor and honesty.

    I am planning to keep breastfeeding my 13-month-old for quite a while longer, as he is my third (and probably my last) baby, and I guess I keep wondering, what’s the rush? I now look at my 5 and 3-year-olds and actually feel kind of guilty for weaning them each at 13 or 14 months. I think I felt a lot of pressure to do so, as people would make comments similar to what you described. But the crazy thing is, I look back and realize that they were so so little! How warped it is for our culture to set such rigid time limits on something such as this.

    Thank you for a fresh perspective and a great post. Hope to visit again soon!

  4. “What she seems to need right now, is to be let go. It is cause for celebration, the development of a healthy, independent, securely attached child. It’s why I’ve followed my intuition, why I’ve made the choices I’ve made.”

    I’m so sorry it’s rough on you Mary. This is so true though and you are doing awesome by that little sweetheart of yours. Good job beautiful mama! I love that she came in for the hug just as you were processing all of this too, a perfect little reminder. See, they know we need them too 🙂

    Clover stopped nursing right after she turned 3, just about exactly two years ago. It ended up happening because I came down with a horrendous cough that lasted for over a month and I finally decided to turn to some antibiotics. She wasn’t going to be able to nurse for a week while I took them so it seemed like the right time and I remember that first night at bedtime when I told her we weren’t gonna “have booboo,” I was fully prepared for her to fly into a rage-filled meltdown as was her normal reaction to such denials.

    Her actual reaction broke my heart, a soft sad whimpering cry, she knew, and we held on to each other tightly as she finally stopped crying and went to sleep. It got easier each night after that and after a few days she wasn’t even asking for it anymore. A bittersweet milestone for sure.

  5. What a beautiful and real post. I’m still nursing my soon to be three year old and nursed my other three through toddlerhood, so I relate completely. I remember when I realized my third was near weaning. We thought he would be our last and though nursing was driving me up a wall at the time, I was surprisingly saddened by what I saw as the true end of his babyhood. He weaned and potty trained about the same time, and just like that, no more baby (but he’s still my baby).

  6. Wow. I can’t even imagine the poignancy of time when you’re spending time day to day with someone growing, changing, but even still those moments of regret over what yesterday seemed ordinary, run of the mill. The present turns to past so fast. I know I’ve said it before, but Fern is a lucky, lucky little soul for having chosen you as her mama. You are so thoughtful on her behalf, so appreciative of her gifts. I love that she knew you needed her love just then, as you were processing, what a sweet connection, and one that will last for a lifetime.

    In our community so many mamas breastfeed (attachment parenting in many forms is definitely a big part of child-rearing here) well past the year and a half mark that I hardly even notice when they stop. Two to three years seems to be the turning point for many, though lots of mamas stop before then and some keep going till four or five.

    Each child and parent to their own.

  7. There it is again……that simultaneous accepting and letting go thing. Much of the same here for me at this moment. Fern does look like she’s passing into the next stage… bigger little girl ♥ I don’t know if you read the Magic Onions blog, but I saved this post from a while back and thought you might like to empathize with this mama bunny…..the sweetness just about killed me!!

  8. I love your blog and am a regular–silent–reader. But I wished to comment here, as I have wanted to many times before, to say I think you are amazing and your daughter is incredibly lucky. I value your voice, it inspires me toward a challenging honesty. Thank you.

    And so, I’ll share: I practiced attachment parenting with both of my children and can tell you from this distance–they are now nine and eleven–that the effects are long reaching and without a doubt beneficial. Emotionally there is a connection we share that is expressive and full of depth, and without the need for authoritarian control of every aspect of my children’s lives I’ve learned to trust their becoming.

    I now get to see my children–all children–as inherently smart, capable people, who, while still needing lots of guidance and cuddling, have valuable perspectives on what works best for them in life. I’m grateful for this view.

    Attachment parenting isn’t easy. But you are teaching Fern to be whole in herself, that her feelings and choices matter, that she has a say. And that something we all need to learn. Again, thank you.

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