Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Grief of Weaning Before You're Ready

John Carl, Anna and I at a La Leche League meeting in Lima, Peru.
He was already weaned by the time this was taken.
by Glenni Lorick, IBCLC
When I awakened throwing up at 4:00 in the morning on Friday, I assumed that the hamburger I had eaten the night before must have been bad. I spent the next several hours in the bathroom with increasing abdominal pain. We were headed to Atlanta for a missions conference with a church that we hoped would sign on as one of our supporting churches. My college friend Diane attended the church, and I was looking forward to catching up with her. Although this happened 13 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday!

Around noon on Saturday we connected with Diane to check into the hotel the church had reserved for us. I told Diane about the pain I was having, and she took me to a walk-in clinic where the doctor said he thought it was viral, but it could be appendicitis. He told me to head to the ER if it got any worse.

That evening my husband headed off to a dinner at the church while I lay on the sofa in ever-increasing pain. My last baby who was 2 1/2 lay beside me much of the evening. He has always had a very sensitive nature, and he knew Mama didn't feel well. He nursed off and on that night. I don't think I had the presence of mind at the time to realize that would be our final time to nurse.

When Keith got back to the hotel later that night, I was feverish and felt like I was dying, so Diane said she would take care of the kids while Keith got me to the hospital. I did indeed have appendicitis, and after waiting several hours in the ER waiting room where I couldn't even sit up any more, I begged them to let me lie down and to do something for the pain. They got me on a gurney in the hall, and by 5:00 in the morning I was in surgery. Because of the delay, my appendix was about to rupture, so they couldn't remove it laparoscopically. I awoke some time on Sunday, but don't remember much about that day.

Monday morning came, and they discovered I had pneumonia. Keith brought the kids to see me, and we made the decision that since no one knew how long I would be in the hospital, the smartest thing for him to do was head back to Florida where he would have his mom available to help with the kids. My sweet John Carl crawled up in my bed and snuggled me, then I hugged everybody and they left. Even now 13 years later the sense of emptiness and loss I felt at that moment brings fresh tears to my eyes.

I knew that I would never nurse John Carl again. I realized that by the time I got home, what little milk I still had would be gone, and I also instinctively knew that recovering would take all my energy, so it really was the right time for us to wean. But I also knew that John Carl was my last baby. I had spent the last 13 years of my life pregnant and/or breastfeeding. I LOVED nursing my babies.

I picked up the hospital phone to call the IBCLC on duty, but didn't get an answer. Even though I was an IBCLC myself, I just wanted to talk to somebody who might understand how I was feeling. I ached inside as I grieved this abrupt and unexpected weaning.

Tuck a letter into baby's book. Someday your baby
will read it when he or she gives you a grandbaby!
Since then I have had the privilege of working with other mothers in similar situations who for one reason or another are faced with an untimely weaning. I have found that usually they just need to talk about it. They need someone to listen, to tear up with them, and to show compassionate understanding. However, I have also discovered the cathartic effect of writing, so I have a suggestion that I make to every mama who finds herself in this situation.

Write Baby a Letter

Write a letter to your child talking about your reasons for nursing, how you felt when you nursed him or her and why this was such a special relationship for you. Then write about the weaning and how you feel about that. You might even include nursing pictures of you and baby if you have them. Put the letter in an envelope addressed to your child, then tuck it in the baby book or memory box. When your child becomes a parent, you will be able to give that letter to him or her. It will be a treasure for both of you as your child is reminded of your incredible love and begins the journey of passing that love on to your grandbaby.

You will probably cry as your write the letter. That's okay. Weaning, especially when it is unplanned, can be emotionally devastating. But after the tears, you will be able to see that your life with your baby is entering a wonderful new phase. It just helps to get a little perspective, to allow yourself to feel the emotions, and to recognize that both you and baby will learn and grow together in new and different ways.
Each new stage of their lives brings new joys!

A Series of Weanings

Parenting really is nothing more than a series of weanings. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has as one of its definitions for weaning "to detach from a source of dependence."  As your child grows through various phases, your goal is to help him become increasingly independent in the healthiest way possible. You and your child will experience multiple "weanings" from going to school or going to a friend's home to spending the night with grandparents, to going away for a week to camp, to getting a driver's license, to leaving for college. With each successive separation, you may feel a twinge of grief, but if you have given your child a firm foundation and lots of love, you can trust that it's going to be just fine, and you can allow each new parenting adventure to bring a whole new set of joys into your life!

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