A FEW months ago, filled with raw emotion, eyes heavy and burning from accumulated sleep residue, and holding a fighting 13-month-old baby girl, I sat on my bed in the middle of the night, refusing with my milk, refusing with my breast.
My Diaspora Diary with Rumbi Munochiveyi
It was time to wean and she was not ready, neither was I.
I remember so well the day my oldest son was born. I was so groggy and full of drugs I spent the day coming in and out of consciousness.
The little thing in the bassinet next to my bed in that West End Hospital room was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I fell in love immediately and spent the afternoon enjoying him from his bassinet when I was conscious. I could hardly get up.
It was only when a nurse asked what time I had last fed Baby that I realised that in my grogginess it had not occurred to me that baby would need another feed.
The drugs pumped into me during the emergency Caesarian Section had me confused and a little out of sorts.
I felt horrible, as I told her, no. And as was the habit of some of the old nurses in our hospitals back then, I got a little scolding.
I took the baby and pulled him up to my chest, positioned him for breastfeeding.
The baby opened his mouth and tried to feed. He couldn’t. I pointed the breast at his mouth and he tried again, but he still couldn’t. The nurse, seeing this, came to my side to help.
“Pinch it a little for him. Squeeze out the milk a bit,” she said squeezing it directly into baby’s mouth. The baby hungrily swallowed the little milk and moved his mouth in every direction, trying to feed, looking for the milk anywhere it could be.
We spent the next 15 minutes, trying to help the baby feed, doing anything and everything the nurse thought would help, but baby just did not know how to nurse, neither did the mother. We let baby sleep, hoping for success in our next round.
By the next day, baby had not mastered the art of breastfeeding and my breasts were engorged full of milk. It hurt so much I did not want to try and feed anymore.
The nurses came around me suggesting all sorts of things to help and we tried it all, but to no avail.
We squeezed out some milk, hand–pumping to reduce the amount of milk in the breast, for baby to latch on well. I took a hot shower which only encouraged a heavy let-down that made the breasts heavier and much more difficult for baby to latch onto.
It was a nightmare!
But as with all things with mothering, I eventually learned the technique and when I went home my mother and my aunts kept encouraging good nursing habits.
I enjoyed nursing till I weaned him at 13 months, with my mother’s help. We were leaving the country and everyone worried that weaning would be too difficult for me alone, in a place with no relatives to help.
So my mother took him away for a few days. The next time I saw him he was so happy to see me, but I could see the look of frustration in his eyes.
He had refused most of his meals and the liquids offered to him especially at night. I found it to be a cruel method of weaning, but I had not known any other way of doing it.
When my second would come, it would be a totally different story in every respect. Not only did the boy latch on and feed like a pro soon after delivery, but I would also wean him alone when the time came.
He breast-fed way more than his older brother and obsessed about his feeds.
I dreaded weaning him, but when the time came, I did what I had to do. I reduced his daytime feedings gradually, over days, for about a week.
On the day he turned 13 months, I gave him his last feed at night and on the morrow there was nothing. When he woke, a few hours after sleeping, I went to his crib with a little container full of orange slices, a cup of pudding and another of yoghurt.
I fed him whatever he preferred from the lot and topped it with some water. He was so mad the next day when he realised what was going on, but I was not budging.
As with the first one, it was a very emotional week for both of us, but I found this to be a much better way of doing it.
The gradual lessening of feeds prepared the baby better for complete stoppage. It also did not feel as mean to me.
And I wish that had been the last time I fought with a baby begging to breastfeed forever. Two more would be added to this story.
….(to be continued)