Seventeen months. Teething. Up every 90 minutes like clockwork wanting to nurse. Nose running. Congested. Feverish. Gentle whispers “Yes, babygirl you want to nurse. We’ll nurse for a minute then you can roll over and try to go back to sleep.” And we nurse. After a little bit I pop you off, you roll over, try to sleep. And often you succeed. Sometimes you hold my finger in a tight little grip. Sometimes you turn your back to me and pull my hand onto your belly. Sometimes you cry out in frustration and pain and roll back towards me. “Okay, not done yet. We’ll nurse a little more. Do you want some water?” Sometimes you’ll take a sip of water. Sometimes you’ll nurse again. But here at seventeen months you’re mostly able to just relax and fall asleep again. You just need to know that if you really need to nurse it’s there. And I need to make sure that I keep that promise to you. If you need to? You can.
This is what night weaning looks like for us right now. Like a step backwards from where we were at 11 months when you slept almost through the night. Like a step forwards in that you’re moving away from needing to nurse to sleep even if you’re waking up more often. (Who wouldn’t wake up with a congested nose, a cough, and molars so brutal that they’re making your mouth bleed as they come in?)
Talking to you about it is SO important. I talked to you for a few weeks about how you need to nurse and bounce right now, but that as you get bigger you won’t need to anymore and you’ll be able to just roll over and close your eyes and snuggle down and fall asleep. And now I tell you that you can try and see if you’re able to do just that. You understand when I say that we will nurse if you need to nurse. That we are going to pop you off. That you can roll over and snuggle down and fall asleep safe tucked in beside me.
If I didn’t use my words and tell you what we were doing you’d just feel pushed away. You can’t read my mind. And if I tried this before you were able to understand then the effect would be just that. Pushing you away. If your daddy pushed me away wordlessly when I was trying to snuggle then I would feel rejected. If he spoke to me calmly and just said he was really tired, then it would feel very different.
We are taught to control children, to wordlessly wield magical power over them where they can guess exactly what we want and need. We are taught to train them up using conditioning techniques used for the training of pets and circus animals. To be strong, to push through, to out-stubborn.
You have a cold, a stuffy nose, your molars are ripping through your gums leaving them bloody and sore. Of course you are waking up. Of course you want help soothing back to sleep.
I understand this. So I will not try and train you. I will not simply say “no” and listen to your screams while I tough it out.
I’ll try this instead. Whispering in a gentle voice full of love. And if you’re not quite ready yet, that’s okay. Learning doesn’t look like leaping suddenly from a cliff, or slamming on the brakes.
It looks like slow and peaceful stretching.
It looks like you last night in the darkness. Like one minute of nursing before you rolled away from me with your tiny hand wrapped tightly around my finger. It looks like the five minutes passing as your hand slowly fell away and you went to sleep nestled up to my side.