It has taken me months to write this post despite many Magpie reader requests for it, as I was at first too raw and emotional to write about it, and then life moved on and now when I think about nursing Hill, I get the warm and fuzzies rather than the sharp stabs of guilt and grief I experienced while weaning him. Frankly, I can barely conjure what I was feeling as I tried desperately to persist in breastfeeding him. This is in part because I think mothers are hard-wired to forget the difficult bits of birthing and caring for newborns and in part because so much of parenting is intensely emotional in-the-moment, only to evaporate into thin air hours later, forgotten between precious bedtime feedings and scraping broccoli buds out of the high chair.
But I wanted to write this nonetheless because when I was weaning Hill, I felt horribly alone and horribly sad and — well, like I was floundering. Despite my bright-eyed declarations that fed was best and that I would go with the flow and that I wouldn’t put myself or the baby through the extremes I went through trying to feed mini in the face of a chronic undersupply — I found myself in anguish as I attempted to breastfeed micro. I was devastated but accommodating in the face of yet another undersupply after he was born. I’d had visions of being one of those EBF-ers, but the old breastfeed-then-supplement routine was familiar to me given that I’d done it for eight months with mini, and so I leaned into it with something like confidence. Though I wouldn’t have said it out loud, I was determined to breastfeed him until at least as long as I’d gone with my daughter — but ideally until a year, I inwardly estimated.
So many of you lovely readers wrote with encouraging messages: “Keep at it!” “Babies don’t wean themselves; you can do this if you have patience!” And there was a bounty of practical advice, too: “Switch the bottle nipples to the lowest speed!” “Nurse in the dark!” “Do a lay-in!” “Maybe he’s teething!”
I felt lifted by these sentiments, spirited. I got to work. I tested most of the advice, with the exception of switching the bottle nipple speeds — and more on that later. And so I felt ashamed and frustrated as I found myself continuously giving micro the bottle after he’d fuss in fury at the breast upon each nursing session. I cried a lot. For awhile, we managed to hang on to the evening nursing sessions, which were always quiet and drowsy anyhow, but then he refused those as well, arching his back and angling his face away from me. Even though I knew it wasn’t personal, it felt like a rejection.
Oh, how I cried, often on Mr. Magpie’s shoulder, much to his bafflement. He was kind and loving, but equally perplexed by the seemingly endless fount of emotions on this subject.
For a month, I pumped and fed him what I could from a bottle. And I hate — HATE — the pump. And then I slowly started dropping pumping sessions until I was pumping once every day, then once every other day, and then nothing at all.
I can’t quite put into words the acidity of my emotions at this time. I was wrecked and determined to find a way, and yet I found myself going through the motions of weaning him, and judging myself for it. I kept remembering the once-encouraging phrase “babies don’t wean themselves” and feeling the creeping sense that I had given up, or given in, or not tried my hardest. Why hadn’t I switched the bottle nipples back to the zero speed, for example? And yet I hadn’t, and I wouldn’t — because I also possessed a powerful, silent intuition that Hill was happy with the speed of the bottle and was hungry and that it was the right thing for him at that moment, even if I didn’t want it to be.
It took me several months — and two fairly happenstance encounters — to make peace with all of this. The first happened while trotting around Instagram late at night and stumbling upon a description of the parenting philosophy “intuitive parenting.” Let me first state that I can’t bear the term “intuitive parenting,” implicative as it is that other types of parenting are not intuitive? Arg! Now, I don’t know a lot about this school of thought and I forbid myself from going too deep into it, but the basic gist is that parents in this camp prioritize being adaptable to the child’s needs above all else. From what I gathered, they spurn schedules and milestones and remediation-type approaches (i.e., “he’s not doing x by the anticipated y months — we have to introduce xyz strategies to get him there”). From my limited reading on the topic, “intuitive parenting” means maybe you co-sleep with your child until a year and a half. Or maybe you breastfeed for two years. Or maybe you don’t drop a middle-of-the-night feed until nine months. Or what have you. It’s more about listening and observing and doing what seems natural at that time versus, for example, aiming to have the baby out of the bedroom by month twelve, or on a strict feeding schedule by month three, or sleeping through the night by month six.
Basically, I read the description, and I thought: “I am not alone!”
I have written this countless times before, and I will write this countless times in the future, but let me again underscore that I have zero judgment for any other parenting approach or philosophy that empowers a mom to be her best self. In fact, I feel that most of my dearest mom friends are at the exact opposite end of the spectrum; many are devotees of Moms on Call and other more structured approaches to caring for newborns. I deeply respect them for their dedication and lean on their insights frequently. But I have found those models feel so uncomfortable to me that I feel like the worst version of myself as a mom when I attempt to deploy them. And it wasn’t until I read the Instagram description that I thought: “Oh my God! There are other moms like me, who have a totally different approach to this!” It was the first time that I realized I’d been inwardly criticizing myself for being “too soft” or “not determined enough.” Now, I am able to believe that I was being a good listener, observing his cues and attempting to do what he was telling me he wanted to do.
The second instance that helped me make peace with weaning was a therapeutic conversation with my sister, also a mother of two. I was telling her about micro’s sleep habits, and how most of the time, he sleeps through the night, but maybe once or twice a week, he’ll wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll go to him. Sometimes he just needs a burp or some consolation and goes back down. Most of the time, I give a him a bottle. I told her this, chagrined, being almost elliptical about whether I fed him a bottle or not, and adding, quickly: “I know I’m enabling him, but…” And she said: “But why is that a bad thing? You’re doing what feels right and good right now. Maybe in another month, you’ll change your mind and decide to go a different route. Trust your instincts!” Her comment made me realize how much I was judging myself for doing something that works for us right now, and it has nothing to do with being “too soft” or “unwilling to do what needs to be done” — things I had been telling myself without even acknowledging it. When I took a minute to reflect on this, I discovered that I had been clinging to the notions that having my child sleep through the night by three months and breastfed for a full year were engrained in me as markers for maternal success. I’d absorbed them from friends, family, doctors, innumerable marketing messages from baby products, social media, and the like.
It took me until that chance encounter with “intuitive parenting” and that conversation with my sister to begin to shrug those expectations off. Like, who cares? Who is measuring? I mean — let me be clear — everyone is measuring and I have gotten my fair share of backhanded commentary as a mom. But if people are judging me, it tends to stem from their own insecurity or out of a genuine desire to share what has worked for them. In both cases, I reckoned, I shouldn’t measure myself using their yardsticks.
All this to say.
When I startled myself with the depths of my emotions around breastfeeding, it wasn’t just the hormones. It wasn’t just weepy nostalgia. It wasn’t just the desire to cling onto a powerful bond with my son. Well — it was all of those things, but it was also the soul-rending process of measuring myself as a mother and determining I’d failed. I was distraught at the thought that I was not a good mom, and weaning at five months felt an awful lot like it.
And all that to say.
If you are struggling, silently, with something as a mom — I am right there with you. Even though I am blessed with an incredible support system, I still find myself waking at odd hours, lost in waves of lonesome self-reproach. Let this post serve as a proxy for my much-needed heartshare with my sister: “You’re doing what feels right and good right now. Trust your instincts.”
And onward we go…
+Hill is going through a major drool period. Just ordered him these adorable teething bibs.
+These daisy print leggings are so chic!
+About to place a huge order at Cecil & Lou — they have so many adorable items right now! Love this rosebud swimsuit for mini, this sunsuit for micro (monogrammed!), and this seersucker dress for mini (also monogrammed).
+FURTHER speaking of sunshine and yellow: this personalized, waterproof pool bag is so cute with the “Trade Gothic” monogram on the side! (Under $100!)
+We use these Asian soup spoons all the time in our house — we order ramen and/or pho once a week chez Shoop.
+My favorite Etsy sources — including loads of great spots to find amazing childrens’ gear, decor, and clothing.
+This looks like the Sleeper dress everyone wore last summer! Pair with huge black shades and Hermes Orans (these new sandals from J. Crew have a similar ethos but aren’t dead-on dupes, which I kind of like)…
+Speaking of similar-but-not-dupes: remember my beloved Newbark satin bow sandals from last year? (You can still find some at a great price on TRR!) . J. Crew has a similar style out right now! Love a big bow.
+Love this prim plaid shirtdress.
+Was moved and stirred by all of the comments on this post.