The inmense sadness of weaning

Following with the topic of breastfeeding toddlers, I want to talk about another difficulty that these negative views around extended breastfeeding brings: the silencing of the emotions involved in weaning.

As I described in my earlier post, the main critique seems to be that women who breastfeed more than average are arresting the development of their child in terms of social and emotional development. This is total crap in my view.

This view is fed and comes from different normativities:

  • one of the bad legacies of Freud in terms of the oral phase being over – and thus breastfeeding – and I think, so what about the majority of children in the world who wean at 4,5, 6, 8? (Before I get a load of comments on this, I do think he was amazing in other ways, but boy did he get it wrong with some stuff…and the ways it was popularised do not help, especially in stuff related to women)
  • the weird and wonderful – and uncomfortable  – feelings that breastfeeding seems to bring out 
  • the importance given to independence, and thus, to separation
  • the notion of modernity as getting over our animal selves, other stuff as ‘she already has all her teeth’ – why do you think they are called milk teeth anyway?
  • And the relative lack of examples in developed countries of this practise in public spaces. It is strange to see because it is not common to see. This happens with breastfeeding at any point in time, but especially so after the ‘magic number’ where something good transforms itself into something perverse, seems to have passed –be it 9 months, or a year.  

All in all, a great cocktail. I encountered all this stuff through different comments and commendations. And it makes me turn into medusa, a silent medusa, because I diffuse it as many other women do, through humour, acting as if I don’t care, ‘pass the bean dip’, stating facts, just doing it with a smile on my face, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, these are excellent tactics which have served me well.  But it avoids the issue I want to raise here: it is not ok for this to happen, and I do care. It enrages me in fact.

Other practices fall under the same umbrella – carrying your child, not leaving them to cry, not leaving them with other people, co-sleeping, for instance. Though for some reason, I feel this incences more.  I know there are studies now that show that co-sleeping actually makes children, and (later) adults, more independent and confident. Even though women who breastfeed probably know this already, could we have some science to show that extended breastfeeding does not emotionally damage children? Not that this is a magic pill, as women who breastfeed know –since the health benefits have been shown already, but maybe it would help. Along with a whole load of other measures.

Feeling emotional about weaning would seem to confirm the statement that women continue to feed out of their own needs. But really, I feel this is completely normal, and healthy. And that breastfeeding is about a relationship, about us, so of course it affects me. And luckily I find it joyful for me too, it is kind of designed to be so (well, not so much at the beggining, at least for me!). But there is an issue there. As if this was not allowed. I realised that I have felt the need to act as if I didn’t care too much. But I do. It is hard. It is as if you were told you could not hug your child any longer, yes, you can kiss, and hold hands, but slowly, you have to stop hugging. Wouldn’t anybody find it sad?  It is one of the ways in which you connect, in which you nourish your child – not only in terms of nutrition. And it is also one of your tools as a mother, such as singing, doing something together, or whatever calms and makes your child stop being upset. And it works really well.  

In any case, I totally understand why women go and find their pack. You need to find people who think this is normal, who went through the same, and who understand. But I feel this rage, or more accurately, this outrage at the stupidity of it all also needs to find other channels. I will keep you posted.



8 responses to “The inmense sadness of weaning

  1. Oh, I concur with every point you`ve made and I share your rage. It`s part of our maddening culture that every schlub and chump around believes he or she knows more about breastfeeding than a breastfeeding mom does, regardless of whether this person has ever been breastfed, breastfed, owns breasts or has even ever held a newborn, changed a diaper, or helped a toddler to the other side of a tantrum.

    And I totally buy that Freudian paradigms are what make people so nervous that mother`s have innate urges to completely mess up their children that have to be continually suppressed.

    Also, nice to meet you.

    • Thanks for your comment Betsy, very much appreciated!
      The psychoanalysis stuff is quite prevalent in Argentina at least, but it obviously travels…
      Nice to meet you too!

  2. Lucila,

    Nice to be reading your thoughts. They echo how I felt when weaning my 26 months old. I was sad too although I didn’t like the breastfeeding itself any longer (I got pregnant and really didn’t like my breasts to be touched then).

    Now I am much more relaxed when i hear comments on me breastfeeding my 14 month old and always tell that we’ll go at least till the age of two. Hah! 🙂

  3. Thanks Natalia, we are there, both accomodating to this business of not breastfeeding much. I think it is probably easier second time around, and you can enjoy the shock factor!

  4. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any studies which show that extended breastfeeding will harm your child – and I’m sure someone somewhere will have tried to come up with one! As with everything else to do with motherhood, extended breastfeeding is talked about in such black and white terms; it’s either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – mainly ‘wrong’ in our culture for all the reasons you pointed out (although I think you missed out the increased sexualisation of women’s bodies where breasts are playthings for lovers and nothing else and which definitely influences attitudes to extended breastfeeding – people can just about cope with an obvious ‘baby’ suckling a woman’s breast – but a toddler??! ‘Eeeuw! Like, they’re almost grown-ups and that’s, like, sick’). Of course, as with everything else to do with motherhood, it’s not black and white at all, or it shouldn’t be – it should simply be about what your individual child needs. I had no thoughts on how long I would breastfeed for each time I started, but my children self-weaned at 10 and 12 months respectively, in such a short space of time that I was amazed both times. And whilst I was giddy with the new-found freedom that gave me, I was also incredibly sad that those special times were to be no more – it seems bizarre to me that anybody could be surprised that weaning is a sad business for a mother; not because she’s over-emotional, but simply because breastfeeding represents a bond with your baby the simple joyful closeness of which will, you know, be incredibly hard to get near to again as your child grows and gains increasing independence. If you believe in parenting your child according to her own, individual needs and your child continues to want to breastfeed, then extended breastfeeding is as natural as it could be – don’t be put off by other people’s stupid opinions!

  5. Thanks mistress of boogie (love that name by the way!). It’s nice to get support like this. Totally agree with the sexualisation of breasts, should have made it clearer than to point out the emotions that breasts bring out, because as you say, it is a different thing.
    The thing for me is that I did and do what worked for me and r., and it ended up being this, not what I expected or thought innocently at some point (‘they start eating at six months, so probbaly she will start self-weaning…’), but I cannot but be surprised and angry at the sheer majority of this anti-extended breastfeeding sentiments and judgments that I encountered and asking myself what can be done about it…

  6. Pingback: Mothering as a site of struggle | maternalselves

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