They say one woman's sigh is another woman's yawn, but I say one woman's cabbage leaves and ibuprofen is another woman's cramps, nausea, fatigue, pregnancy scare and every other symptom on her Most Wanted List of female-related ailments.
It all started bittersweetly enough. I decided after much deliberation that on the morning of Friday, August 10th at approximately 6:38 a.m. that I would officially nurse my daughter for the last time. I was sad about it — Transitions! Growing up! Change! Reality! — but we'd been building up to this moment for a year, when we'd reduced all feedings down to one morning and one night. (Technically you begin weaning when you first introduce solid foods, which for us was at 6 months old.)
She'd been hanging on stubbornly for that year, though, and I, too, had found enormous convenience in nursing her through illness and whipping ‘em out when she was otherwise hard to calm down. But something in me said it was time to move on after 2.5 years. For one, I'd never make the cover of Time — that one is taken for the ages. Plus, I'd been saying things like, "When I finally wean I'll be able to…" insert stiff drinks I can have, long nights I can pull, trips away I can take. Moreover, it just felt right — like I had magically gathered the courage of the ancients, or at least the strength to tell a 2-year-old "no" — so I decided to roll with it.
What's more, I'd read all about weaning, or so I'd thought — stories of abrupt weaning, baby-led weaning, gradual weaning, easy weaning and hard weaning, not to mention countless websites offering remedies for engorgement, and ways to distract (rubbing lemons on your nipples?!?!) and nurture your baby during the transition. I had my Weaning Survival Kit of cabbage, ibuprofen, peppermint tea, Sudafed, Joni Mitchell's Blue and episodes of My-So Called Life to get me through it. What could possibly go wrong? Uh, stuff.
Nausea: Within 24 hours of the last feeding, the world (in my stomach) began closing in on me. We found ourselves on our way home from a nearby park, and, upon passing a French market (craft your own Sartre joke!) at which I would normally salivate at the mere passing, one whiff of heavy greasy cooking smells tinged with sugar and I suddenly felt like I was going to hurl.
Cramps: I would have bet money on Aunt Flo busting down the door with a machete within three days; bitch never showed. Ovaries remain sore like they were paid to protest.
Sore boobs: They never swelled; they barely tingled. I had weaned so gradually that the chance of mastitis or plugged ducts was pretty much off the table. But they did hurt like hell if anything so much as got near them, just like when I was knocked up.
Feelings: I was sad in the aforementioned sense about weaning for good, but having felt like I'd done my kid a solid overall on the nursing front, that feeling was manageable. I knew she was OK; I knew we could bond in other ways going forward. It was getting bum rushed by the feelings under those feelings if that makes any sense - the fact that I'm willing to describe them openly here as "little earthquakes" of cranky, irritable, weird sadness - fully cognizant of both the Tori Amos reference and the implications therein - is only proof of where I'm still at here, people.
Fatigue: For. The. Love. Of. God. Do. You. Just. Have. To. Keep. Feeling. Like. You. Have. Mono. Every. Time. Anything. Is. Hard. Forever. Just. Because. You. Got. It. Once?
Husband Who Only Wants One Kid: "So, uh, exactly how nauseous are you?" And: "So, got that period yet?" Later: "But really, are you still nauseous?"
Toddler, being weaned: The kid was a doll about it, even though she asked to nurse five times a day at first. Not that I blame her! We had a lot of playtime and engagement in its stead, and I made sure to assuage my guilt and her unease by buying her all of the American Girl dolls in one go. Now she is down to asking one day, which I can probably endure for another five whole minutes before breaking down and giving in.
Sleep: I'm sleeping for shit, which is great because now that we aren't feeding in the mornings anymore, the kid is waking up bright 'n' early at 6 a.m. with no incentive to fall back asleep. Le sigh.
Verdict: In the end, I wasn't pregnant or PMSing, it was all just withdrawing from prolactin. You know, the hormone that stimulates lactation but is also called "mommy valium"? Mommy got kicked off the P-train, and it was a harsh crash back into the real world or, you know, where shit gets to you and you care and stuff. It's been over a week, and things are starting to feel better, though I've read it can endure for a few more weeks.
It's funny how relative experience is, though. The whole time I was nursing, I often lamented having to give up all my boozy, occasional painkiller vices, when in reality, I had them all along. It reminds me of something a woman with a teenager recently joked to me and another mother, who also has kids under the age of 5.
"Oh you're both ‘still in prison,'" she told us.
It was obvious she meant it lightheartedly, and I took no offense. Motherhood is in many ways an exercise in varying degrees of freedom being granted or taken away. Occasionally you get offered what looks like a jailbreak — some magical new milestone in your child's life, like walking, or eating solids, or starting daycare that you imagine is going to free up x amount of time and let you regain some of your old autonomy. So you jump to take it — who wouldn't? — only to find yourself not celebrating, not rejoicing, but sitting around missing what you just gave up.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. She will take suggestions for best album to listen to while weaning on Twitter @iusedtobepoor.
Image via Marcel Jancovic/Shutterstock.