2:30 a.m.: I climbed out from underneath my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who must be touching me at all times, so that I could literally tip-toe to the bathroom to pee as silently as possible. It didn’t work. As I pointed my toes in preparation for my journey to urinary bliss, every joint in my body decided to snap, crackle, and pop. And, as everyone who has ever been a child knows, only Mama’s body cracks like that, so it must have been Mama getting out of bed. I’m still nursing my two-year-old, and it is wrecking my body, ever so slightly.
Nursing hurts. I just want to cuddle with her. I want her to want me for more than my milk.
“Mmm-ilk!” she demands.
“Mama’s just going pee-pee, Baby, I’ll be right back.” I beg.
Her eyes burst open in terror.
“NO! MILK! I want milk! MMM-ILK!” The emphasis is always on the latter half of the word, with an inflection something like, “Forwarrrd MARCH!”
I hobble back to bed, defeated, bladder still full. I know I shouldn’t. I know I should tell her that I’m going to go pee first, she will have to wait, and I’ll nurse her when I get back to bed, but only if she stops screaming. End of story.
But I don’t. I can’t. The toddler is too powerful.
Nursing hurts me because she has a broken incisor. I tell her this and her face softens. She opens her mouth and says, “Ahhhh,” waiting for me to re-latch her. I do, grateful for her concern. But it still hurts.
I don’t want to nurse anymore.
We both drift back to sleep.
Never a deep sleeper, I wake as I feel her body begin to stir. I look at the curtain and see light begin to poke in through the edges of the window.
No. Please. Not yet.
I’m tired. My entire being is tired. My neck is stiff. My thoughts are stiff. I want to wean her. I’m not ready to wean her. She’s not ready to be weaned. I try to push the morning fog out of my brain and remember what my mama-friends told me about weaning. I wrestle with a memory, something about vinegar on the nipples and sleeping in another room, until she calls for me and the memory disappears with the dark.
“Mmm-ilk!” she demands.
I lay motionless, pretending to sleep. She calls louder and grabs my shoulder with her little hand. I can’t help but smile as I think about how strong she is for her size. I know my milk had something to do with that, and that’s pretty cool. But right now, I just don’t want to nurse.
“Mama! Milk now! I want milk!”
“That’s not how you ask me for something, Baby.” Even though she obviously has the upper hand, I’ll be damned if I don’t teach her some semblance of manners.
“Milk, pleeeeease, Mama.” She knows the drill.
I roll over to face her and whip out her reward. She’s happy. I’m trying not to cry. I’m too exhausted to deal with my own sadness this morning. Crying hurts. Nursing hurts. I just want to cuddle with her. I want her to want me for more than my milk.
I don’t want to nurse anymore.
She drains the first breast, then the second, and then asks for the first one again. This time, she looks at me with a raised eyebrow, knowing that this, finally, is one battle she can’t win. No way am I letting your broken tooth touch my empty breast, kid.
“C’mon, baby, let’s get up.” I want nothing more than to stay in bed. But she’s done nursing, so there is no incentive. Besides, I still have to pee.
We’ve been up for over an hour now. Big sister is up now, too. The three of us are happily making smoothies in the kitchen. It’s like a scene from a popular parenting magazine: the girls are smiling as they peel bananas to put in the blender, and I’m giggling as I sneak chia seeds and green powder in under the bananas. The kids are naked, I’m in the same tank top and underwear I slept in, and none of us have brushed our teeth, but hey, it’s still early. At least there’s no fighting.
I've jinxed myself.
My six-year-old can turn on tears faster than a pressurized shower faucet, and she’s sobbing now, dozens of tiny water droplets rolling down her pink cheeks.
This time, I fight it. It’s too early. She’s already nursed too many times.
“Ellie is taking ALL the bananas and I want to help, too!” She’s hysterical.
I resist the urge to shout back, “Oh my GOD, WHO CARES?! They are BANANAS, baby! F*cking BANANAS!” Or, wait, did I resist that urge? Crap, I don’t think I did. I think I actually said that.
I’m a horrible mother.
The six-year-old decides to take matters into her own hand, literally, as she snatches the banana back from her little sister. Her sister, never one to be forced to do anything, grabs the banana back, stares defiantly at her taller sibling, and throws the banana onto the floor.
The banana is squished and covered in cat hair. The six-year-old is aghast and screaming at her little sister. The two-and-a-half-year-old starts to turn toward me. Everything is happening in slow motion. Time is warped, her voice is deep and warbled in my ears. I watch her little lips purse as she forms the word “milk” with her mouth.
But I don’t want to nurse anymore.
This time, I fight it. It’s too early. She’s already nursed too many times. Let’s have breakfast instead, I say. Mmm, look, smoothie! Mama doesn’t have enough milk, yet, baby. Mama has to eat first.
It’s no use. She’s too upset. I sit on the couch and nurse her while her sister sobs in the background.
I think about a phone conversation I had with my mother yesterday. Her words are now ringing in my ears.
“Missy, you need to wean her.”
Homeschooling is taking too long. Ellie is getting restless. We are sitting on the floor after reading about Mr. Benjamin Bunny, and my six-year-old wants to color forever with her overpriced Waldorf block crayons. Ellie is done drawing her fish and now wants to “take a nap.” This is code for “I’m bored, and I want milk in bed, but I’m not going to actually take a nap.” I’m not sure what to do because we’re supposed to have a math lesson today, too. I tell her this and she begins to whine. My heart beats faster, feeling dread as she crawls over to me and slides into my lap.
I feel a lump in my throat as I think about our breastfeeding struggles. I wish I liked nursing more. I don’t understand why it’s so hard.
“Mmm-ilk!” she commands.
“No.” I keep my voice steady and continue teaching my older daughter why the leaves don’t fall off the trees here in Florida’s warm winter.
“Mmm-ilk, Mama!” She begins pulling at the neck of my shirt. She knows how much I hate that.
“No, Ellie. We will have milk later. We’re doing school now.” I gently move her off my lap.
Bad idea. She shoots into the air like a little exploding popcorn kernel and lets out a howl.
I have two choices: stay strong — refuse to nurse her and listen to her cry for upwards of an hour which will, by default, postpone our math lesson and throw off the rest of our day’s schedule by at least an hour — or give in, nurse her in my lap and finish school with no further issues.
Sometimes I have the strength to make the more difficult choice. Sometimes I actually say no. Sometimes I can distract her with activities, games, or food.
This is not one of those times.
But I just don’t want to nurse anymore!
I give in. She nurses. Damn that broken tooth.
Nap time. Thank the Goddess!
“Ellie,” I say, excited for my upcoming two hours of boob freedom. “It’s nap time. Let’s go lay down and have milkies in bed.”
A surprised grin spreads across her face. “You nurse me?” she asks.
“Yes, baby. I nurse you.”
I snuggle her little body up against mine and bury my nose in her hair as she nurses herself to sleep. I love her so much, it’s indescribable. I feel a lump in my throat as I think about our breastfeeding struggles. I wish I liked nursing more. I don’t understand why it’s so hard. I notice then that her hair is damp and I’m crying. I had not realized just how sad I’ve been.
I try to use Ellie’s nap time to get some writing done, but my older daughter is bored without her baby sister, and she wants my attention. I give her project after project, and I realize that most of my work time has been spent setting up and cleaning up art supplies. Now I’m out of ideas, and she begins to talk louder and louder in order to wake her sister up.
I look at my computer screen and the same lonely paragraph that was there an hour ago stares back at me. Ellie’s crying is escalating in the bedroom and I wonder how I’m ever going to launch my writing career.
“I’m coming, Ellie!” I yell down the hallway.
“Mmm-ilk!” she yells back.
Dinner is a giant salad with a homemade blended almond dressing. These kinds of salads take ages to make. I am proud of the good food I’m feeding my family. I even decorate the plate with orange slices to make it pretty.
We all sit at the table and give thanks for the abundance. Even Daddy comes home from work early and gets to enjoy dinner with us. I sigh as I look at my food. It’s been one of those days.
Without another word, I leave the table, put my jacket and shoes on, and walk right out the front door.
We start eating, and the food is pretty darn good, if you ask me. But not if you ask Ellie. She takes one bite, chews it up, and promptly spits it right back out.
“Ellie! Please don’t spit into your food!” I plead.
“No like it!” She pushes her plate away, climbs down off her chair, and runs into the living room.
“Mmm-ilk!” she says, as she sits on the couch.
I just can’t do it. I’m done. Every cell in my body is completely spent. Without another word, I leave the table, put my jacket and shoes on, and walk right out the front door.
Screw this. I’m out.
But I only make it a quarter of the way around the block before regretting my decision. Yes, I need space. Yes, I need time to gather my thoughts. Yes, I need to calm down and breathe.
But not like this.
I turn around and head back home. As I get closer to the door, I can hear Ellie crying hysterically as Nick tries to calm her down with soothing words.
“Mommy just needs a little time, sweetie. She’ll be right back. She loves you very much,” he says.
I swallow my pride and open the door. Ellie’s face is bright red and streaked with tears as she stretches her arms out towards me.
“I sorry, Mama! I sorry!” she sobs.
My God, what is wrong with me?
I take her into my arms and sit down on the couch. I bring out my breast… the only thing that has ever been able to comfort her… and nurse her. She hiccups from sobbing and her eyelids become heavy. I look at the clock and see that it’s only 7 p.m. If she falls asleep now, she’ll be up at 5 a.m. But it doesn’t matter now. She is safe in my arms and finally at peace.
I relax into the couch and watch her fall asleep. I notice that her brow is still furrowed, and I press my thumb between her eyebrows, gently trying to massage the sadness away. Her breathing slows and her mouth falls open, a drop of milk leaking out of one corner. She is so beautiful. So new. I want nothing more than to make her happy.
And yet, my own happiness seems worlds away. My emotions are spinning in circles through my mind, one after the other, like dobby horses on a carousel. Guilt. Anger. Sadness. Anxiety. Fear. Longing. Love. Guilt again. I wonder if our relationship would improve if I weaned her. I really think that it would.
I don’t want to nurse her anymore.
But I’m just not ready to let her go.
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