I placed purple cabbage on both breasts. The thin leaves stuck to my skin like a soothing paraffin poultice. I’m glad my husband wasn’t home, he might think I was attempting to recreate a Little Mermaid costume. In actuality, the cabbage represented the last step of weaning my daughter.
Our transition had been slow. Over several weeks, I made micro-movements toward changing my daughter’s nursing schedule. I wanted my body to adjust to my milk supply decreasing naturally. That way, my daughter wouldn’t notice anything was amiss.
We went from nursing five times per day to only breastfeeding during the evenings and mornings. Then we transitioned to one feeding per day. I maintained a reserve of breastmilk in the freezer to help my daughter transition to a bottle. Even though she wasn’t nursing any longer, my breasts continued to produce milk. My chest was sore. So every few hours, I would peel back the wilted, wrinkled cabbage petals and start the process over again.
Weaning took six weeks. When it was over, It felt like the end of an era. Having two daughters meant that I had breastfeed for two and a half years. I was grateful for the way breastfeeding nurtured my relationships with each of my girls, but I was also excited to get my boobs back. Even though my breasts resembled wrinkled gym socks, I could finally reclaim my body as my own.
What I didn’t expect was the tears. Sadness washed over me on a blustery day in March when I was standing in my backyard with my girls. Suddenly, I was overcome with a deep sadness I couldn’t shake. An acorn appeared beneath my boot. I kicked it and began crying. Grief never fails to astonish me. As the perennial philosopher, Winnie the Pooh, once said: “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
Each time I’ve said goodbye to breastfeeding, I thought I had fully prepared my daughters and my breasts for those physical separations. What I hadn’t taken into account was the time and space needed to prepare myself emotionally. When I stopped breastfeeding each of my daughters, I felt lost as though in a thick fog. I struggled to identify who I was as a mother, woman, and wife. For weeks I felt I might burst into tears at any moment. My heart was so tender that even if someone had offered me a free vacation to the French Riviera, I would have found something sad about the invite.
A few weeks later, the fog lifted as unexpectedly as it had arrived. I woke up feeling rested and at peace. I was back in my body and it was mine.
If you’re struggling to manage emotional separation post-breastfeeding, let yourself own that you’re doing a great job. If you need help, find a lactation consultant who can guide you. And remember, that it’s natural to feel both excited and sad. Ease those feelings by allowing yourself extra one-on-one time with your little one to nurture your natural connection.