Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Divine Sorrow

Divine Sorrow
Jara Ahrabi

It is with a heavy heart that I write that I am in the process of weaning my child. It is the last thing I thought I’d be doing at 14 and ½ months. Of course, I never thought I’d be nursing at all at this age. When I attended my first (and only) LLL meeting when my son was three months, I was fairly shocked at the way the mothers nursed their two and three year olds. Not THAT they nursed them, just at the WAY in which they went about it: child playing on the floor, runs over, lifts mom’s shirt, sips a bit, runs off to play again, mother never even seeming to notice. I thought that I might nurse a good long time, but probably one year (my then definition of a long time to nurse)—not two or three—and in a much more private way. Basically, I would nurse the way I wanted to. What I have learned since then, is that 1) I love nursing much more than I ever thought I would; and 2) with my son, at his age, there is no such thing as nursing MY way. It’s his way or the highway, as they say, and so to the highway it is. Goodbye Mama’s milk, goodbye “ba.”

But I should not sound so cavalier, because I am not. My heart is heavy, I feel an ache, a melancholy, and a tightness in my chest that makes me waver, makes me want to rush into his room, pick him up out of the bed, and hold him to my breast all night. Once, when he was just four months, I began feeling sad for him alone in his crib and picked him up at 10 pm and put him in bed with me. (Yes, I woke a sleeping baby.) Within 15 minutes I had satisfied my urgent need to hold him, but it took over an hour for him to fall back to sleep.

Here’s the thing about nursing for one year: when do you quit? My guess is that the women who are still nursing at one year really love it. And so do their babies. They are settled into a nice little routine, a favorite chair, a pattern of two or three or four nursings a day. Mom’s breasts don’t leak, they don’t swell and hurt, the nipples aren’t sensitive or sore, she has found the perfect easy-access clothes and everything is going well—at least that is how it was for me. Nursing was hard when I did it twelve times a day when he was five months old. By a year, it was easy. Why stop now, I thought. My child never has any health problems aside from an occasional runny nose, I can read a couple hours a day while nursing, I don’t have to worry so much about the exact nutritional content of all his meals, why stop now? It seemed like we could go on indefinitely.

As with everything else with children, nothing stays the same for long, and during the 13th month nursing became a whole different ballgame. I could no longer read while nursing because my son grabbed the book. He also grabbed my other nipple and twisted it unless I restrained his hand. He squirmed and tugged, and most of all, he wanted to nurse WHEN HE WANTED TO NURSE. He let me know by telling me, “BA! BA! BA!” in a sometimes loud and annoying and rather pathetic voice. If it were only at our “scheduled” times, fine, but he had discovered that he could ask to nurse anytime day or night, and he did. Mildly put, this bugged me.

I have read the books and I know that 14 and ½ months is probably not the optimal time to wean a child. I lie awake at night (something I can not afford to do) and worry if I am somehow compromising my son’s sense of security or if he will forever have an emotional deficit due to weaning at this supposedly critical juncture. Then my more rational side, thinking for itself for a moment, asks: when is a child (or any person) NOT at a critical juncture? Maybe there comes a time when the amount of comfort my son needs is simply not an amount that I can give. Maybe this time is now. Maybe he has to learn to comfort himself a little. Maybe this is an important thing to let him learn.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I do not know if I should wean him or how to go about it. I don’t know if it is better to continue nursing “for his sake” despite my mounting feelings of resentment about it (although these are interspersed with moments so tender that I sit nursing and crying at the same time trying to memorize everything about the feeling, the way he looks, the pucker of his mouth, the warmth, his perfect little feet crossed at the ankles), or to quit nursing and help him get over it and on with it and try to do the same myself. Why do I think I will miss it more than he does?

To everything a season, you know? No matter how long I nurse my baby, there will always be some who think I could have done it longer and some who will think I should have stopped long ago. And no matter what happens with the nursing and the weaning, I know this is only the beginning of everything about being a mother. I can sense that there will be many days and nights that I feel some tender, melancholy, tight ache in my chest as I think of my child off at school for the first time or in love for the first time or in some kind of trouble. What about the day he goes to college and the day he gets married and the day he phones me to say his first baby has been born? Will I know what to do, what to say, how to stop the mother feelings then? No. I must remind myself not to stop the feelings now. Just as joy is divine, so is sorrow. (I read that somewhere.) How divine to be a nursing mother. How divine to wean.

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