Last night, exactly three years and one month to the day she was born, Effie stopped breastfeeding.
I never thought I’d be the kind of mum who would be breastfeeding a three year old, it just worked out that way. “Boobie” was always such a huge source of comfort for my tactile youngest child that, a couple of weeks ago when we tried to force her to go cold turkey, it was so distressing for everyone that I gave in. I couldn’t sit by and watch my three year old get hysterical to the point of vomiting when there was something so easy I could give her to stop it all in seconds.
Yet here we are, surprisingly, just a fortnight after that horrendous episode, having apparently stopped. Without any tears or drama, just as I’d always hoped it would end: peacefully, happily and quietly.
I feel like I should be upset, or at least a bit sentimental about it. I mean, that’s the natural reaction isn’t it? But the truth is, I feel kind of ambivalent. Perhaps it just hasn’t sunk in yet – or perhaps, as I suspect, the ending was long overdue.
From the day she was born the boob was Effie’s comfort blanket, her security, her sleep-maker. Anything could be solved with a quick breastfeed, from tantrums to exhaustion, it was her happy place and, as she learned to talk, she’d tell me “Boobie is nice and fresh! It makes me feel sleepy and happy”. Far from thinking it weird my kid could tell me this, I thought it was sweet. Still do, actually.
The turning point came a few weeks ago when my periods were getting so bad I decided to see a doctor. The past three years have been the longest in my adult life that I’ve not been on the pill so my body’s finally had a chance to experience a “true” cycle. Turns out my “true” cycle is truly dire. (By the way – I’d wondered about writing this so publicly, thinking talking about periods was a massive over-share and a bit gross but, actually, at least half the people in the world experience them and staying quiet about something that effects so many seems daft. Anyway, tangent, sorry.)
Back to the periods, then. The doctor told me I could immediately stop the mood swings, anxiety, low confidence and general angst that comes two days before my period is due – not to mention the crippling cramps that see me doubled up on all fours hugging two hot-water bottles. She told me a quick and easy way to ease the symptoms which have knocked me out for a good few days every month would be to go back on the combined contraceptive pill. As she wrote my prescription she told me I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed while using it, something I already knew. I took a deep breath and resolved to give myself three weeks to stop breastfeeding, seeing the first day of my next cycle as the marker at the end of the race.
The next couple of days I researched my options, just in case I couldn’t go through with weaning a three year old and it all got too much. People told me about the Mirena coil, various supplements I could take, potential problems with my uterus which might be causing the pain. I took it all in, researched a bit more, and came to a conclusion. I was ready to stop breastfeeding. But if it all went wrong then I wouldn’t go on the pill after all. I gave myself three weeks before my cycle was due to return. Three weeks to give up breastfeeding.
It turns out I didn’t need three weeks, because that appointment was just six days ago. In those six days we’ve gently discussed the end of breastfeeding with Effie. We’ve talked about the other things we could do at bedtime instead, like snuggling up reading stories. We’ve reassured her it doesn’t mean the end of cuddles or that she won’t be allowed to come into bed with us if she has a bad dream. But it all seemed to fall on deaf ears until last night.
Weirdly, I’d not planned for last night to be the end. It was just that as she was pottering about playing with her dolls after bath-time she seemed content and calm. There were no screaming over-tired tears or exasperated parents. The mood was quiet and happy. I asked her if she wanted milk in her bottle and she said no. So I asked her if she wanted to read stories in bed instead and she said yes.
After a couple of stories, snuggled up under the covers on the bottom bunk, she said “I don’t need boobie now. I sleepy. I read some stories instead.” So we read another story. Then she asked if I could stay and sleep in the bed with her. I explained I had to go downstairs to do some work and she just carried on reading for a bit, before turning to me and saying, “OK, you can go now. I go to sleep.”
As I walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs I felt like I was treading on eggshells. In fact, I didn’t even dare mention the whole boob thing to Simon until both girls were fast asleep half an hour later. “I didn’t breastfeed her tonight,” I told him. “No way! I don’t believe you!” He said. We were both so surprised that it had been that easy, it didn’t seem real.
Of course it might just be a fluke. She might ask for it tonight. We might think we’ve got off more lightly than we have. But, for now, it looks like we’ve reached the end of breastfeeding. The boobs are retiring. And, if I’m honest, I think they’re more than ready for a rest.