In the end, it was easier for him than it was for me. Three weeks after his first birthday, my second son, Owen, went to sleep without nursing and without a fuss.
The weaning process had been gradual. For the last week before its completion, Owen had nursed only at bedtime. No more early morning "snacks," as I had dubbed my method of bribing him with a dawn nursing in an often futile effort to convince him to sleep just an hour or so more.
The night before the final weaning had been full of rituals I took for granted. I smiled as I looked into Owen's drowsy, satisfied eyes fluttering into sleep against my breast. His small fingers reached first toward my eyes, then my mouth, and finally, a big grab at my eyelashes before he gurgled a happy laugh - sweet memories that will fade all too soon.
I have spent the better part of the past four years either expecting or nursing, a practice I never
thought much about until I first became pregnant. I'd known friends who breastfed, and knew I wanted to give it a try, maybe for a few weeks.
Weeks turned into months, and I admit it, I was hooked. Nursing, especially in the late months of toddlerhood, goes beyond physical nourishment. No matter where Owen wandered, he always returned to me. It was an intense and gratifying feeling. In the end, I was the one clinging to the closeness that nursing brings.
Motherhood will still include nourishment, I know - of the mind, soul, and heart. But now it will also include setting loving limits, enforcing new rules, and helping as Owen builds new skills toward ultimate independence.
Already his first haircut has taken the baby softness from his profile and replaced it with the sharp, straight lines of a rough-and-tumble boy.
That evening, after saying goodnight without nursing, I gave Owen an extra kiss as he leaned toward his crib. A hollowness in my stomach caught me off guard. Maybe it was knowing that no other baby will share the secret of nursing with me, and worrying that the last time Owen nursed was the last time I would feel so much like a mother.
All night long, he didn't stir. In the morning, he awoke happy, and I breathed a sigh as I heard his contented coos. I let him play alone, fighting my urge to rush to him at his first murmur, knowing that, like the rest of us, he will spend some time on his own.
When I went to get him, he looked up at me with a smile that stretched clear to his eyes, past dimpled cheeks and absurdly long, thick lashes. When I picked him up, he rested his head neatly into the nape of my neck, facing away from me, still warm and soft and smelling of baby shampoo.
I took him to the mirror, where I could see his face reflected without disturbing our closeness. He saw himself, too, and looked up with a smile nothing short of brilliant in the early morning light. Then, he laid his head back onto my shoulder, smiling sleepily, and content, for the moment at least, to be my baby once more.
* Elissa Sonnenberg, mother of two sons, lives in Cincinnati.
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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society