Kylie’s Story Of Postweaning Depression: Still Growing Together

Kylie nursing her son while her daughter nurses her doll sitting on couchKylie Powell, Lorton, Virginia

I never really pictured myself as a parent before I became one. I had no picture in my head of how it would look. “Mom” is a role I am still growing into all the time.

When I was expecting my first, I decided to breastfeed. But I truly underestimated how the experience would change me. I never thought about how hard it would be to picture life beyond breastfeeding. Nursing had bonded us in a remarkable way. Even while still snuggling her close, I wondered if that would all go away with the milk and if we’d grow apart.

Every step toward weaning made me anxious and unsure. I wondered if she still needed me when she had her first bite of a banana. I saw her walking, talking, exploring her world, and growing, and wondered if I’d be left behind. When I was expecting my son and I had her draped across my big, pregnant belly, still nursing into her toddler years, I couldn’t picture a time not nursing her.

I attended La Leche League meetings where parents shared their experiences with tandem nursing, toddler weaning, and all of the possibilities that were ahead of me. I still couldn’t picture what it would look like for my family and almost dreaded having to make a decision – so I didn’t. I followed her lead, and she made one for us. Just a few weeks before her baby brother was born, at some point, she just stopped asking for “milkies.” I never knew it was the last time. My then very pregnant body was exhausted, and physically I wanted a break. But I was not mentally prepared for how I’d really feel once that time came.

I was very sad, to say the least. I am no stranger to mental health struggles, but this felt different. I didn’t know at the time, but it was post-weaning depression. Before I had time to process, I had another baby in my arms and nursing (or trying to, anyway). When nursing was significantly more difficult with my son than with my daughter, it only made me sadder to not be nursing her anymore. Nursing her, for most of our journey, was a peaceful and powerful experience; nursing my son was chaotic and uncoordinated for a long while. And then, I felt upset for comparing the two. But I missed nursing her. I looked at her suddenly very large-seeming toddler self across the couch while attempting to nurse my tiny son, and I missed her. I feared that our bond was fizzling out the further away she got from my milk. It was a dark time for me.

Once things improved logistically with nursing my son, several months later, I was finally able to reflect on those hard feelings. Looking back at photos, I realized that the distance on the couch, between the three of us, was never as big as I felt it was then. My girl was right there. We were close physically and emotionally – bonded – even without the milk! She danced while my son nursed, and we laughed together. I watched her do new things and watched myself settle into this next phase of my journey. Our family of four was growing together.

Kylie with her babyI think once I realized that weaning was a part of a continued growth process with my children rather than apart from them, I was able to make peace with moving on. And then I had a more peaceful experience with weaning my son, who also nursed well into his toddler years. I gave myself time to reflect on the years I spent nurturing my children in such a special way. I made a scrapbook of our nursing selfies and journaled our stories. It was very cathartic and healing to look back.

I still feel like I am learning and growing as a person. I get to do this alongside my children while they grow and learn as people. We are growing together and sharing experiences.

As I get ready to send that first baby to kindergarten, I still feel very bonded to her. What a relief that didn’t go away with the milk. I now feel another form of weaning as she goes to school for the first time. Of course, there is some uncertainty and bittersweetness that goes along with that, too. But just like before, I am reminding myself to watch in awe as she does new things and, at the same time, settle myself into the next chapter of parenthood. I still don’t have a clear picture of what lies ahead, but for now, I cling to the fact that we are together. We are still growing together.

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