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Weaning

By Sarah Everitt

When I was pregnant, I thought I would nurse my baby six months. A year tops. I was living in Nelson, a tourist town, with a population mixture of red neck tree loggers, tourists and hippies nursing their three year olds in slings. I thought the hippie mommies were weird.

When I was pregnant we were tight for cash and couldn’t afford a thousand bucks to hire a midwife so I gave birth in Kootenay Lake General Hospital. There was no question that I was going to breastfeed; I knew the benefits, my partner Dave and my friends all hoped I would nurse him, and my mom was totally supportive. Then there was the bliss. There was something comforting and soothing to me and the baby. It was like we were both getting high when we cuddled up to nurse.

I remember he was like a little wild animal, kicking and flailing his arms, so excited to be latched on that Dave had to hold him still so I could get him attached. It gave me a buzz, feeling the let-down and watching him fill up so contentedly. I felt really relaxed and a little euphoric, and glad I was going to do this for the next six months.

When he was three weeks old, Dave’s parents flew out from Ontario. His mom tried to help, doing laundry and household chores, but she told me she never breastfed and she seemed morbidly curious and oddly repulsed by my nursing of baby Ev. She asked me to go to my bedroom, and no nurse in front of her husband. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own house, and I must say I could hardly wait for them to leave, three weeks later.

She wanted to babysit for me and tried to make me feel guilty for not using formula. Instead I pumped my breasts with a hand pump that kept breaking down.

She asked me, when Ev was four weeks old, when I was going to get a job, and what daycare centre I would put him in. Oddly enough, she had stayed home with her four bottlefed children all her life.

I thought I would wean him after another four months. He was really into it though; it made him happy. It was comfort, security, and he never got sick. He was chunky. There were no problems,

the sore nipples were long gone, and he would let me know he needed to nurse by tugging at my shirt. He called it Aboo. I have no idea where that came from, but it stuck.

When he was 5 1/2 months old a friend gave us a white and blue plastic walker. He wasn’t crawling or walking, but suddenly I had a mobile child, and in a matter of seconds he wheeled across the kitchen and pulled a percolator of boiling hot coffee onto his lap.

He was trapped in the walker. I pulled it off immediately, screamed to David, and we drove to the hospital he was born in. Baby Ev latched onto my breast, to ease his horrible pain. We were all in shock, but at least my breasts could give him some comfort. He was given morphine, and we were flown in a Cessna plane, to Vancouver’s Children’s Hospital. I couldn’t nurse him then; he was too groggy. He had two skin graft operations; one on his thigh and one on his tummy, using skin grafted from his other thigh.

Burn victims need triple the intake of calories and my own milk wouldn’t be enough. I asked for donated breastmilk and had to fight for it. The surgeon, the nutritionist, and the nurses, different ones every day, all wanted Ev to get formula and told me my son could die if he didn’t get it.

Picture this: he had wires and tubes, a catheter in his penis, bandages and an oxygen tube in his nose. I climbed over the crib walls, which seemed just like jail bars, and curled up beside him, and nursed him. I gave him bliss again.

Nobody said, “Don’t do that,” but I did get odd looks. Clearly they didn’t approve.

He was in the hospital five weeks. Please don’t ever use a walker or give on to anyone. They are dangerous beyond words.

I kept pumping my milk so I didn’t dry up. I would wake in the middle of the night, breasts rock hard, and use the hospital’s electric milker. Only the lactation consultant encouraged me and promised me that if I kept at it, I wouldn’t dry up.

I slept in our van in the free parking area beside the hospital, and on cold nights, in the cot beside his bed. I kept crawling into his crib jail, to let him suck. It made us both feel good, and it made me feel like I was doing something useful. I also think it helped his recovery tremendously.

Baby Ev was seven months old when we left, and he latched onto my breasts as though we had never been interrupted by gallons of formula and donated milk going into a tube to his belly. Breastmilk was so important for his healing that my perspective on weaning at half a year’s time changed; I thought we should continue for a year. Suddenly he was a twelve-month old child, giving no indication he wanted to stop having his beloved Aboo. He could say Mamma, and Dadda and Tasha the dog, and I began to think he would let me know when he no longer needed my breasts for comfort from a fall, a fright, to fill him up or just for fun. I thought he would wean, probably by the time he was two.

People were embarrassed seeing Ev and I nursing. I noticed no-one would sit beside us, or make eye contact when we had Aboo on the bus. I realized that was the problem of a bottle feeding culture, and not our problem. Still, it made me feel isolated, though very much in love with my year and a half old son, and in love with breastfeeding.

Young mothers would encourage me, and this countered the strange looks from shop keepers and strangers. Restaurants were the worst; the staff made you understand it was unacceptable to engage in breastfeeding under their roof. Everywhere, moms of big babies would have bottles of formula on the tables, and that was totally acceptable. Sick, hacking, wheezing, obese formula fed babes could suck on rubber and plastic with their blessings, but my Ev, glowing with health and perfectly content because his mood fix was always just a hug and nurse away, was the odd one and I was considered strange.

Even my mom would ask with milk curiosity if 18 months old Ev was weaned yet, and when I said no, then how long it was going to be. Never condemned it, but found it odd.

We moved to a new community in Ontario and new neighbours asked how long I had breastfed my boy. “Ummmmm, we’re just in the process of weaning,” I said and I meant it. We no longer had marathon half hour nursing sessions on the couch; now it was more like a few minutes then I would

read a children’s book to him. We were weaning slowly. I put Ev in playschool twice a week, and he loved playing with other little kids. But they were constantly coughing, and running fevers, and Ev would bring it home. It was a godsend to be able to nurse him through sore throats and stuffy nose, and he seemed to get over even a nasty virus in record time.

Dave’s mom constantly asked, “He’s not still nursing is he?” and when Ev was three, she would roll her eyes and shudder.

We took a trip to Mexico that winter, and it was such a travel convenience to have my portable medicine bag/lunch dispenser/security blanket that is another breastfeeding perk. When the pressure on the plane hurt his ears, I gave Aboo, and he was fine. I always gave him a hat and sunscreen, and he tans well, but if he had gotten sunburned, a spray o my breastmilk would have helped. Once a goopy eye infection cleared up within a day with a few drops of my milk. One day we all got Montezuma’s revenge from restaurant food, and Aboo made it better for Ev by the next morning. Back home, a truck-driving neighbour told Dave I should put my foot down and wean the boy. His own son was weaned at three months, and now at seven sucks his thumb, and is having trouble reading. Knowing that information made it easier to ignore his bad advice.

I just take it for granted. When he gets a diarrhea or flu or a cough, it is marvelous to pull him to my breast and give him instant contentment. Baby Ev has grown in to a happy, innocent, independent, and secure child. I see other kids his age, fearful or angry with a chip on their shoulders, and I’m sure it’s because they were denied the mother’s milk of human kindness. Nowadays we only have Aboo in the morning and at night, and it only lasts a few minutes. I never have hard breasts anymore, and I wonder if I have much volume of milk. My son is truly weaning.

Ev will be four in October. He’s still going to be nursing isn’t he?

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