Ben turns one in a little over a week, which means that nursing is coming to an end. Since he’s my last baby, I’ve been reflective and emotional about the idea of being done. But I’ve also been hopeful and excited. It’s a new stage in our parenting. Our kids are getting older. As with every stage, there are challenges, but there are so many fun things as well. So it’s very bittersweet.
When I weaned Seth I was very sentimental about it all. I cried. I talked about it all the time. I even wrote about it! It was a hard process for me emotionally and for him. We had such a sweet time together that first year. I loved nursing him so much that I couldn’t wait to nurse another baby.
This time around I am less sentimental. I am emotional, for sure. But the entire experience of Ben’s pregnancy, birth, and first year has been so vastly different than I anticipated that my sadness over weaning him is more about feeling defeated by it all, and less about sentimentality. He’s been the sweetest baby, which has been a gift—a kind reminder of God’s care and favor. But the year has been a doozy. That’s for sure.
When I weaned Seth, I was mostly struck by the passages in scripture that talk about nursing mothers. I was struck by how my being an image bearer plays into my role as a mother. I was struck by how my heart aching for the end of something that I loved was telling me (and my son) something about God.
This time I feel totally different.
This time weaning feels like waving the white flag of defeat after a year of perpetual defeat.
One of my prayers when Ben was taken to the NICU was that I would be able to nurse him. The twins were born too prematurely for nursing to work, so I didn’t get that chance with them. I knew that Ben’s early birth, and NICU stay, could influence his ability to as well. God was kind to answer my prayer in the way I asked and nursing worked. But Ben was (and is) a hungry baby. So not only did nursing work, but he wanted to do it all of the time. My supply would only stay up if I nursed him frequently, and didn’t go too long without a feeding. I got mastitis. He went on a nursing strike. On top of it all, the hormones from nursing (left over from pregnancy) have only made post-partum depression linger longer than I anticipated it would.
God answered my prayer for a good nurser, he just didn’t make it easy. He gave me my heart's desire (and I'm so thankful for that!), he just made me have to work harder for it. He gave me joy in it, but he also showed me my weakness through it.
Sometimes we can talk about nursing (and birth and pregnancy) like it’s just something women are made to do. It should work. We have all the parts for it, so if should work and be a dream. But as I said in a recent article for The Washington Post, life in a broken world, in broken bodies, reminds us that even with all the right parts, things don’t always go the way they were intended. This is something that many mothers know all too painfully well.
If nursing my third son taught me about how I image God, then nursing my fourth has reinforced how much I am not like God. I might bear his image, but I am not him. No amount of work on my part can make my supply increase. Only God can do that. No amount of desire on my part can make my hormones regulate enough to nurse without feeling like a crazy woman. Only God can do that. No amount of effort on my part can give me enough energy and time to care for my family and nurse a baby. Only God can do that. Every single day I have been confronted with my complete inability to do what is required of me. God never has that problem.
Nursing my fourth son reminded me yet again that only God is God. I am not. Only God can get his work done without feeling overwhelmed. Only God can meet needs everyday without missing a mouth to feed. Only God can do it all. I cannot. Sometimes things just have to give, even if they are good things—like nursing.
I’m thankful for the run I had with nursing. It is a gift I prayed for that God saw fit to give me. Nursing two of my sons is something I will treasure forever. Through it all, I learned that God created me to image him to a watching world—even to my sons who depend on me for everything. I learned that even in that image bearing I’m falling short. I am not God. I live in a broken world in a broken body. And as I wean my fourth son I am reminded again that this world is not my home. The ache of the end of an era is an echo of an ache we all feel. Our bodies tell a story of what we were made for and what we will never attain in this life. We were made for life, but we will one day all get death. So we ache with the end of each good thing, longing for the day when all will be made new.