Weaning Early

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I didn’t think much about parenting before I became a mom, but when it came to breastfeeding, there was never a question in my mind that we would nurse.

From the moment she latched on, I knew we would be doing this for a long, long time.

And so, on the week of her first birthday, when I found out I needed to have a biopsy for a polyp in my sinuses, I was horrified because the anesthesia would mean we would need to pump and dump my milk for a few hours. Even more alarming was my doctor’s insistence that the medication I would need to help whatever was going on would require me to wean.

On my drive home from that doctor’s visit, all I could think about in the car was having to wean Kaylee. And how that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

When I walked in the door and screamed for my mom, I expected the words out of my mouth to be about weaning Kaylee.

“I may have cancer.” Came crying out as I held my mother tighter than I had before. And I realized that there was much more at stake than nursing.

Two days later, I awoke from surgery and heard the news, suddenly weaning was not in my mind as much as living. And as I watched my daughter open her birthday presents that weekend, I could only hope to see her do the same at Christmas. Just a few short months away.

The next week, I had my first appointment at Sloan Kettering. It was on the 9th floor with the other pediatric patients.

I had Kaylee with me. I had been nursing her frantically. The only time I could maintain any sense of calm was during that beautiful time we shared.

One that I knew was going to end soon.

During the appointment, I was given my options for treatment.

I faced the most difficult decision of my life.

And I chose to give up a year of my life, to save the rest.

But it wasn’t just my life, it was the life of my little girl.

She who would need to go from sleeping by her mothers side and nursing on demand to having a mother who was rarely around.

We had a week to wean before treatment began.

My first thought was to let her nurse as much as possible, even encourage it. Let her enjoy it while it lasted.

But, it just didn’t sit well in my heart. She was only 1. I couldn’t tell her what was happening. It seemed more cruel to go from more than enough to nothing.

I changed tactics. When she came over to nurse, I would offer a hug and a smile. Tell her I love her and act as if that was all I needed as well.

And she was okay with the hugs. She stopped asking to nurse after a day.

Nighttime was a different story.

I didn’t have it in me to try to stop. She was still up every 2 hours and I was not in a place to try to get that to stop with so little time. Sleep was hard enough as it was!

And so, the night weaning was like ripping off a bandaid. Where I was the bandaid, and just like that, I was taken away and it was up to my daughter and her father to get through those first milkless nights.

I was weaning on my own.

Pumped milk is like gold. A precious commodity, you don’t want to lose a drop.

But my pumped milk was poison. With toxicity so great, I felt guilt every time I poured it down the drain.

Unable to fight any infection in my body, I had to be sure to pump milk regularly, because any plugged duct had the capability of endangering my life. At the same time, I had to get my breasts to stop making milk.

And so, it was a delicate balance. A tedious process that was draining physically and mentally.

In time, the milk was gone.

I think back to those first few weeks.

The diagnosis. Leaving home. Being sick.

And out of all the traumas of that year, its this experience.

Of pumping and dumping.

Of being scared to sleep with my child for fear she would start nursing.

Of weaning. Too early and too abruptly. Of having the experience last for weeks with every drop of milk that went down the drain.

And perhaps that is because its just not something anyone spoke about. Everything else seemed so big, weaning was just an aside.

And yet, the pain and heartbreak were tremendous.

Perhaps I will be graced with another child someday. A child that will wean gracefully. A child that will have their mother during their second year of life. A child who has happily married, healthy parents.

And that is a lovely, heartwarming thought. One that brings tears to my eyes.

But thats not what I need. And that life is not any better than Kaylee’s life.

Children don’t need to be protected from experiencing life. They need to be given the tools to help them get through it.

Kaylee is okay.

She is more than okay, she is incredible.

Well spoken, creative and compassionate. She is the walking example that all you need is love.

I wouldn’t take away any of her experiences regardless of how awful they may have been. They are hers to have had.

We spend a lot of time worry about messing up our kids.

Those traumatic experiences they encounter that we could have prevented.

The times we lose our cool and let our anger get the best of us.

We neglect ourselves trying to get it right.

Obsessing about the day to day encounters and experiences.

But its not our job to be perfect. Its not our job to make our children’s lives easy. Nor is it our job to push ourselves beyond healthy limits and boundaries because we are scared.

Its our job to Love. To give compassion. To teach and guide.

To forgive ourselves and others so that our children can too.

Whatever worry you have on your mind. Whatever struggle at the moment. Its going to be okay. Your child is going to be okay. The experiences and traumas we encounter cultivate who we become.

And when we are given love we become love and thats all any of us need.

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Author: Wendy

Wendy is a mom to the most incredible little girl, who has inspired her time and time again get through the greatest challenges of her life. Wendy and her daughter have been through many adventures together including Wendy's bout with cancer, an unhealthy marriage that ended in divorce, and a fairly tale romance remarriage. Wendy is thankful to API for all the support and insights that have helped her hold the space for her daughter through the ups and downs of life.

14 thoughts on “Weaning Early”

  1. Thank you Wendy for sharing so openly. I’m so sorry for what you have gone through and yet, your heart and strength shine through in spite of it. This post truly touched me. Sending love and strength your way.

  2. Such a beautifully written post. Your story moved me to tears. I was especially inspired by the line about not taking away your daughter’s experiences because they were hers to have. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Although my guilt is over different things, your sentiments captured them poignantly and your message is one that I need to remind myself of more often. Thanks for writing this.

  4. I am in tears. You have no idea how much your story has touched me at a time when I needed it the most. I am going through a separation with my husband and we have a beautiful and amazing 2 year old daughter. It pains me so much to think that she is about to have her family and security ripped apart. I cry at the fact that she will have to live with two separate parents and go through the difficulties of having two homes. We still breastfeed and she relies heavily on it at night and for comfort. I can’t bear to think what will happen when it is time for her to start sleeping at her dad’s. I have gone to great lengths to parent her with love, compassion, and respect. I am all about attachment parenting and it kills me that the structure and routines that she is used to and thrives on will be turned upside down very soon.
    I am so sorry you had to go through what you did. I hope you are feeling better.
    Thank you so much for writing that last paragraph and last sentence. I definitely needed to hear it at this moment in my life.

  5. Very powerful. It moved me to tears. Partly because my older son was so attached to nursing and I could imagine having to stop before he was ready. But more because of the message that loving them and doing the best we can is enough. Like many (most?) moms I struggle with guilt, with not parenting the way I think I should, with not doing it “right.” Thank you for these words especially: “But its not our job to be perfect. Its not our job to make our children’s lives easy. Nor is it our job to push ourselves beyond healthy limits and boundaries because we are scared.
    “Its our job to Love. To give compassion. To teach and guide.
    “To forgive ourselves and others so that our children can too.”

  6. Wow. Your story is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. You are so right, in the end, it does not greatly matter if we cannot do everything for our children that we wish to do. What matters is that we care, that we seek to make their transitions gentle, even in the face of such a life-changing circumstance. Wishing you the best!

  7. Wendy, I can relate to your post in many ways. I too was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma while nursing my son. He was 6 months old when a mass was found in my chest wall. Once cancer was confirmed, I knew I would have to stop breastfeeding and switch to bottles and formula. I then had to dry up in the hospital while I cried because the most beautiful thing in my life had ended. I travel 2.5 hours (each way) once a week to receive treatment in addition to long hospital stays. It never gets easier dropping off my son on our way to San Francisco. Reading your post assures me that I am not alone and that my son is gaining close relationships with his caregivers. This is not the way I planned raising my son but he’s going to be just fine and hopefully have his mom around for a long time. Thank you for sharing your story.

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