I wrote awhile back (“Part 1”) about some attempts at night-weaning my toddler when she was 22 months old. As the New Year begins, I have the next chapter of the story to tell. Here are my main conclusions up front. In regards to the major milestones of babyhood: 1) When both parent and child are ready it’s easy (or easier); 2) It’s impossible to truly believe, “This too shall pass,” until you’ve lived it, but it really is true.
I left off in about March of last year, when unsuccessful attempts to night-wean my toddler instead recommitted me to nursing. Because she still needed it AND because I still needed it.
Fast forward to August, and I got pregnant. (Sidebar: from March until August I had extreme PMS with every cycle. I’d like to learn and write more about that, too. Leave me a note if you’ve had similar experiences post-baby!) When I found out I was pregnant, I was thrilled. The bug had totally hit me, there was nothing rational to it, I just had that urge! But at the very same time, I felt panicky. How was I going to manage two? My daughter still needed me all the time, even at night. She still nursed almost on-demand, slept with me, nursed at night, and barely tolerated being away from me. But more than all that, we shared a special, close, physical relationship. I felt so sad thinking that that would end. Me and my little girl! Things would never be the same.
When I first told my daughter about the baby in my belly, she said, “no no no!” she didn’t want a brother or sister. I continued to do all the physical mothering I had been doing. After a few months, the physical demands began to take a toll. I had worse nausea than I’d ever had the first time (and it lasted until almost 20 weeks!), so much that I could barely function by late afternoon. Nursing became more and more uncomfortable until I dreaded it every time.
Within the first few months I easily got down to nursing only before and after nap and sleep — meaning, rarely at a random time when she just felt like it, and never out in the world. Only at home in bed. That lasted several weeks, but at night it was getting harder and harder. When I was tired it hurt even more. This closeness I had so loved became a dreaded chore! I hung on as long as I could because I just couldn’t believe that anything else was possible. After unsuccessful past experiences, it seemed harder to get over the hump of change than to hobble along.
Finally I reached my breaking point. I couldn’t do nights anymore. So I tried the good old Dr. Jay Gordon method one more time. This time, at age 2 years 7 months, it was totally different. She cried for just a few minutes, rolled over TOWARDS HER PAPI, curled up and went to sleep! Later in the night, she snuggled up to him again! I was amazed. It’s a bit of a blur how long this stage lasted. She would ask to nurse at night, but from bedtime until 5am I would refuse. We nursed at 5am, she would sleep until 7 or so, and then we’d nurse again when she woke up. But before long (a few days, a week?) she was sleeping on her own until 5am. As before, she started the night in her own little bed in the walk-in closet of our room (charming one-bedroom SF bungalow), and climbed into bed with us around 12 or 1am. But now, she climbed in on Papi’s side and slept until 5am. I didn’t even wake up when she got in! What?! If it weren’t for my own need to pee at 3 or 4am (grrr) I would have been getting a full night’s sleep. Or pretty close. This whole thing was a total game-changer. I could do this!
This went on for a month or more, a big big step for all of us. I kept pushing her a little bit and a little bit more, until we were only nursing before nap and sleep and each time she woke up. And each time was barely a couple of minutes. Next, I was able to drop nursing before bedtime, the most uncomfortable for me because I was most fatigued. Each time she woke up, in her baby-needy-huggy state, she wanted it bad. Finally, I felt I was just stringing us both along, giving her a little when I really had nothing left to give. It would feel cleaner and more honest to just stop for good. So I started to refuse those waking up cries for milky. Those were the hardest to let go. She would cry and cling and ask over and over. As I did with the nighttime nurse, I offered her “leche de vaca como un bebé” meaning to give her cow’s milk in a sippy cup in my arms like a baby. After a few days of struggle, she let those times go, too.
It was a Friday in November, and we had been having an especially emotional and draining week. The hospital people were bullying us about prenatal testing and risks and my new age of 35, doing their best to cause us stress (We were already in the process of switching to a homebirth midwife.). My husband had just had reconstructive ACL (knee) surgery and could only walk a little on his brace. I had been totally unprepared for my own reaction — when it took him hours longer than expected to wake up from the anesthesia, I was really shaken seeing him lying there, hooked up to machines and unconscious. My resulting adrenaline rush and hyper-mothering had worn me out, leaving me sick with the cold and cough of the century. That Friday I had driven him to an appointment, my daughter was sleeping in the backseat, and I drove over to a bayside park to look out at the water while I waited. It was raining and gray, a Bay Area winter day.
My daughter woke up crying for mommy and wanting to nurse. I pulled her into my arms and nursed her like a baby, something I hadn’t done for months, since we were always lying on a bed. I held her, nursed her, and she fell back asleep. I let her sleep in my arms like a baby. I watched the raindrops running down the windshield. Some golden sun was peeking out of gray clouds and making the water sparkle just a little, behind the waving marsh grasses. I breathed. I felt all the worry and sadness mixing around and flowing away. I gazed at my baby’s soft eyelashes, peaceful closed eyes that I have watched for so many hours on so many days. So many times when I struggled to get achieve that nap, to get that moment of peace all to myself, when I could let go of the mommy vigilance for even a moment. When I had wondered if I would ever feel like my own person again. Now, I saw my baby was growing up. I realized this would be our last nursing moment together. Our last real baby moment. She was ready, and I was ready. It was time.
So that was our last time nursing. I needed it so much; I had to steel myself and push through to the end. I was driven to do just that because nursing had become so difficult. That day, I rushed home, back into caring for my husband and my daughter and my pregnant self. I barely thought about it, until a week or two later, when the toughness started to dissipate. I felt the sadness that my baby was growing up, that we would never nurse again.
Now, our snuggles fill that need for closeness. She sleeps all night between me and my husband. When she wakes up in the morning, all baby-groggy-snuggly, I can hold her and kiss her without fighting off attempts to nurse. Without that pull of ambivalence about giving or not giving her milky. I can hug her and kiss her anytime during the day without those worries. And I do.
A quick note on “potty-training” and other milestones . . .
I want to mention the other ways she grew, seemingly overnight, from a baby into a little girl. I couldn’t carry or hold her up with all the nausea, and she accepted no longer being carried in my arms or on my back, as I did so often until just last summer. She began turning to her dad for nighttime parenting, which she had totally refused before. She began to eat more adventurously, trying new foods and trying foods mixed together. Since her parents were splayed out on the couch and not taking her anywhere, she began to play by herself for hours on end, conducting complex conversations (often in song) between her many dolls and small figures, over tea sets and assorted baskets and shoes which she used as beds, houses and schools. Her language changed, to more complex sentences and playful experiments, like using Spanish grammar in English or creating new Spanglish words (“Papi, will you busc for Baby Jaguar? Estoy durm-ing”).
One day, she woke up in the morning and said, “Quiero usar mi nuevo calzón,” (“I want to wear my new underwear.”). She started using the potty that day and within about three days had totally potty-trained herself. I had put a small potty in the bathroom, which she had used a handful of times only. I bought underwear with all her favorite colors and characters (usually I am totally against media characters, of course 🙂 ). She knew how it all worked, had seen older girls use the potty at day care and when visiting our house. But she hadn’t been ready, yet. When she was ready, she let me know. I took her to the potty every hour or so those first couple of days, and she had maybe three accidents before she learned to tell us when she needed to go. It took a few more weeks to get comfortable using the potty for poop and using potties in public places. But within a month it was all done. She trained us much more than we trained her.
I know, it’s not this easy for every kid, and people often say it’s easier for girls than boys. For me, the worry was just starting to creep in, that all kinds of parents were talking about potty-training methods, and what were we doing about it? Our pediatrician responded that most children will start on their own between 2 1/2 and 3 years old. And sure enough — when she was ready, it was easy.
So. I can look forward to four months of good sleep, a break from nursing, no diaper changing, and a young daughter who is so easy to be around and entertains herself most of the time. OK, with a few mommy-mommy tantrums thrown in for good measure, but not so much as to overwhelm. Until new baby brother arrives and we start all over again! This time, Happiest Baby on the Block will be our bible :).
More than anything, I have new confidence in my mothering and in my daughter. Each challenge really will pass, when the time is right. Being attuned to both my readiness and my child’s was the most important. How many times I have had to learn this lesson over and over for it to become real! I had to live it for myself, and to see my child make leaps this major. It often feels like jumping of a cliff, to have faith that your child won’t need you this physically forever, and that your close relationship will survive such big changes.
We’ll see what new adventures baby brother brings. I feel like I can do almost anything for him, now that I know it really will end. These days, my daughter wakes up in the morning and says, “I want to see baby brother!” and she hugs and kisses my belly, telling him, “Buenos Días, hermanito bebé!”