That had become our routine each bedtime, and I expected her question. What surprised me was my answer.
“Yes, sweetie. Mommy has milk for you. But this is the last time the milk will be there. When babies get old enough, the mommies stop making milk. You don’t nurse very much these days, so mommy’s body is almost done making milk. You can have milk and we can talk about how special it is and we will snuggle, but then we will be all done, okay?”
She nodded in response and leaned in for her pre-nap nurse. As we rocked, I pressed my nose into her curly hair, breathing in what I imagined to be the last molecules of baby smell. I traced my fingers down her chubby calves and around her still-tiny feet and she giggled as she mumbled “mommy no tickle me,” without jeopardizing her latch. I meditated on the weight of her head in the crook of my arm, how the curls tickled my skin and how, even at 30 months, she always found a way to curl her body around mine.
“Mommy’s really sad that the milk is going away,” I told her, “It’s been so special and I love you so much.”
She nursed for maybe 3 minutes, unlatched, and that was it. The end of an era.
And I am not okay.
I chose my title not as click-bait, to sensationalize, or to diminish anyone’s loss, but to illustrate the depth of mine, because as I fumble in the dark for words to describe the these past 4 days, I keep finding myself awash in grief.
As we go about our day, the tears return at their pleasure. I move damp laundry from one appliance to another and am transported back to her newborn days when only nursing in the bathroom with the dryer running would soothe her colic. In the shower, I ponder how long my body will continue to live in denial, still leaking as the hot water hits my breast. And as I throw her on my hip to carry her through the yard and her hand grazes my collarbone, I find myself aching so much it hurts to breathe.
I feel like I’m losing her.
As I dig vulnerably to search for the source of this pain, I realize this marks the end of her babyhood for me. And though I expect she and I will fill the void weaning leaves in our relationship in other ways, I wonder if anything will ever really be as intimate as nursing. For 30 months, our bodies were connected even after she left my womb. And what began as a time to fulfill her hunger and need for warmth slowly matured into what I can only describe as a wordless conversation – a ritual that sealed our bond.
I didn’t plan on closing this chapter that afternoon. As I have with my all my daughters’ transitions, I followed my gut, and true to form, Bean is fine. She continues to ask if I have any milk, and tells me she is sad it is gone – but her inquisition lasts only briefly before she is bouncing in my lap and asking for me to “tell a story about princess Rapunzel and princess Cinderella having tea.” We weaned ever-so-slowly, and I couldn’t have wished for her to have a better experience letting go.
Behind my sadness lies a feeling of wonderment and awe at what she and I accomplished. The end was due to come in its time, and when the immediacy of this pain fades into merely bittersweet memories, I expect I will be filled with gratitude, both for our time together and the gentle way in which she grew out of it.
For now, I let the tears fall and try not to wish them away. For they tell the story of a beautiful journey.