Self care is doing hard things: weaning.
It may be my birthday…but it’s a big day for my little guy that we’ve been preparing several weeks for. After about 900 days of breastfeeding, today is “no more booby day”. A big, emotional, but what I feel in my gut to be the right choice for us. He’s taking it really well! (Being spoiled today helps!)
I think often about self care and what it means. Since so much of my own life focuses on skincare, pure ingredients and “pop” health trends (or cycles, really), such as yoga or oil pulling, that’s what I usually come to my mind about self-care. When I’m run down, I fall back on asking for more massages from my partner, doing a face mask, or “treating” myself to something (usually an experience) that makes me feel good. But when some area of your life feels like it’s falling apart, a scented bath won’t cut it.
This fall reminded me that taking care of one’s self is so, so much more than focusing on relaxing and pampering.
True self care is doing the hard stuff that you may be dreading.
Not as sexy or simple as a fragrant soak and cleansing mask, but doing hard things truly takes care of your soul. Welcome to my mini series of how the hard things I’ve been tackling has been helping me take better care of me…and hopefully inspire you to tackle some of the hard things on your list as well!
We all know that in the long run, procrastination feels bad. I feel procrastination in my stomach and shoulders, and it hurts. It makes me feel queasy and makes my mind race. I know I’m not alone in this… and my advice to others is always the same: It’s easier to start a task anywhere rather than sit around waiting for the perfect time, the perfect idea, until you are somehow “better”, or for someone else’s permission. So, reluctantly, I too have been doing some hard things in order to take better care of myself.
Breastfeeding had taken over my life for two and a half years. Although on one hand I loved it, I knew I couldn’t keep doing it indefinitely. Not only I was drained and getting fed up with it, but weaning my son had become a procrastination. I dreaded weaning because I wasn’t sure I knew how to mother without nursing. It was integral to my relationship with my son. It seemed my son was completely dependent on it for his emotional well-being, but I was worried that maybe I was, too. It almost felt as though we were both addicted, and it worried me and made me feel a little angry towards breastfeeding and the trap I felt I had us both in. I was also annoyed by the nursing acrobatics, of having my boobs out in the open all the time, and of all the extra calories I felt I needed to produce milk. Most of all, I didn’t want to end our milk marathon on a sour note since I had mostly loved this adventure we shared. I knew I had to make some hard decisions. First, I decided to night wean.
The decision to take that first step felt awful at the time, and I cried pretty hard about it. However, had some terrible fairy booby troll appeared and told me it wasn’t time to start the process, I would have punched the troll/fairy in the face and probably die of exhaustion on the spot. I didn’t really want to wean him, but I didn’t not want to. I also felt, instinctively, that it was just time.
I had made that first step, and somehow it felt a little easier. I was resolved to do this thing. No more boobie at night. I felt a great weight lift off my…boobs. That was true self care: making a hard decision, and being firm about it.
Despite having talked to my toddler about what to expect at night form now on, the first two nights were awful. He screamed. He hit me a couple times. My attempts to soothe him weren’t appreciated. “No sing, mama!! NO! SING! And no cuddles!” At three o’clock in the morning I cried as I laid on my stomach, beside my wailing child, afraid of exposing my chest to his grabby hands, exhausted, feeling like an awful mom because I wasn’t going to backslide on this decision. My husband stepped in and calmed the little milk-deprived beast by promising him a snack in the kitchen. The novelty of a midnight snack with papa immediately calmed my son. He came back to bed, rolled over and actually fell asleep just holding my hand…which had never happened before.
From there, it got easier in some ways. The reality of the decision was set in my mind and my son’s. There was a new boundary, and it was as real as a steel fence. He understood that boobie would be back with the sunrise, and he accepted this. He was able to adapt, and so would I. “We are resilient,” I reminded myself. Restoring the faith in our resilience was the first benefit of this self-care process.
Seeing that some degree of weaning was indeed possible (it frankly didn’t seem so just a few months prior), I chose a full weaning date about 7 weeks in the future: my birthday, October 22. We got a calendar with a countdown to the big day, and he decorated it with race cars and butterflies as we chanted “Yay! No More Boobie Day!!!”
We counted down each day and discussed the implications at length, until the night of the 21st, where I quietly nursed him to sleep for the last time. I thought I would have bawled my eyes out, but I had already cried over it and said goodbye to this stage of mothering my son over the weeks. Z was blissfully calm that last day of nursing, playfully patting my boobs and casually saying “Bye boobie! Bye other boobie!”
I had to be strong for him, and my motto on the big day was “we can do hard things, Z!”. I told him that by learning how to do hard things, life becomes an interesting and happy adventure. I also told him that it’s ok to feel sad about it, and it’s ok to miss it. I will miss it too. He asked me “Why no mo’ boobie, mama?” many times, and that did break my heart. “It’s just time for the milk to leave mama, Z. I am tired now and boobies are tired now and need to rest. I love you very much.” Then he’d poke me playfully and say “Oh! This boobie is weally ti-ud! Westerday, there was lots of milk. No milk today!”
We celebrated No More Boobie Day/my birthday with treats, gifts and spending the day as a family followed by a little impromptu gathering of friends later that evening. We congratulated him on being a big boy, on being brave and trying to do hard things (trying is half the battle!). I held him when he cried for boobie…but he understood it was over. I held him and told him how much I love him and that I was so, so proud of him. He was trying really hard, and mama and papa knew it. We all went to bed late that night, and he passed out from total exhaustion without asking me for anything or waking up in the night once.
The first week or so was hard, especially in the mornings when he used to really loved to nurse (for like, an hour). But we got through it. To my relief, weaning felt right to me. Not overly easy, but it went smoothly and it did feel like taking care of myself. It felt like reclaiming my body after a long hiatus, it felt like a reminder that nursing isn’t all I have to offer as a mother and it felt like I too, could do those hard things and get through it. It also, to my great surprise, felt like I had given my son an amazing gift (as opposed to taking something away, which I had feared). It taught this once boob-dependent child, who couldn’t fall asleep or be consoled without my breasts, that he is resilient, flexible and strong.
I knew that my son had really learned from this experience when, one morning as my husband was fretting about a talk he’s giving in San Francisco, Z said “It’s ok papa, we can do hard things.”
I loved nursing and it was such an important part of my learning how to become a mother. It was a deeply personal bonding experience with my son, and I’m so happy it worked out for us. I never pumped as he never took a bottle, and so had to breastfeed whenever and wherever we were… and did so in some pretty crazy places! I created a list, because I am proud of the funny and exotic places Z got his boobie time. Here it is:
- On buses, subways, trains, backseat of cars, drivers seat of cars (not while driving, of course), airplanes, ferries and pretty much any means of transportation you can imagine.
- In parks, museums, malls and restaurants on three continents.
- At historical sites around Rome such as the Sistine Chapel, St-Peter’s basilica (even at the domed rooftop!) as well as various places at the Vatican, including in the museum under some of Raphael’s work! Also at the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps and pretty much any landmark in that historic city you can think of. If it had history, it had my boobs on it.
- Just outside of Rome, I nursed him along with world’s oldest road and inside San Sebastiano, the oldest crypt. I also nursed him within the ruins of an ancient village.
- At three weddings (two in Kuwait and one in Montreal).
- In the desert just outside of Iraq. (Literally, in the sand!)
- In the dairy section of Costco. (For the irony of it.)
- At a traditional souk in Kuwait (and other random places in Kuwait…where you’d be surprised how accepted it was…I don’t use one of those breastfeeding covers!).
- While renewing my driver’s licence.
- While my husband received his Canadian citizenship.
- Standing in a river.
- While walking around a food truck festival.
- Various places in nature…you name it!
- Benches along a sidewalk on busy streets in Montreal.
- In an old growth forest.
- At A Night For Green Beauty.
- And many lazy, blissful hours snuggled at home.