Weaning Matilda

     Thanks to my son Colin, Iíve finally plucked up the courage to come out of the closet about breastfeeding. At 15 years old, Colin is the epitome of cool. In the way of first-born children, heís always been my wisest teacher.


     Last month was no different. I took Colin to his music lesson at the local high school. I had been waiting for him on the bench outside, but when he finished, he found me inside the car instead. When he asked me why I wasnít still sitting on the bench, I explained that Matilda wanted to breastfeed.


     He said, "Well, Mom, wouldnít it have been better to  stay outside on the park bench? Wouldnít that have been good role-modelling for some of the girls that go to my school?"


     Iíve always felt that breastfeeding in public should be every womanís right. But why I thought I was pushing the limits of respectability and opening myself up to the chastisement of disapproving strangers had to do with the age of my breastfed child. You see Matilda is almost five years old.


     Iím nearly as surprised as anyone about the length of time Iíve done this, but itís not like I embarked on this long-term mission without any sort of end point in sight. I just thought Iíd leave it up to Matilda to decide when she should stop. And then I was pleasantly surprised at the volume of research that supports both the medical and psychological value of extended breastfeeding.


     Occasionally, I find out that Iím not alone. One woman came out of the closet and into the cloak bay of a Montessori school to breastfeed her toddler. She was told to leave and not come back until her child was weaned. Stories like that are enough to keep people like me from coming out of their cars and onto the park benches of high schools. Perhaps weíre too worried about what other people think. For whatever reason, we donít breastfeed with either the frequency or the duration we could or even should. The age of weaning should be nobodyís business but the individual partners of the breastfeeding couple.


     The day will soon come when Matilda decides to be weaned. I recognise the signs. Matildaís not the first child Iíve breastfed. But she will be my last.


     Iím waiting, conscious that time is running out. Iím aware of all the other mothers out there, or not out there, the ones secreted away in closets and cloak bays. Iím aware of the other mothers yet to beÖ some are the very girls in my sonís high school, and some are my daughters and yours. I donít want them to be to feel embarrassed or discriminated against by anyone for breastfeeding.


     And Iím aware that when that last breastfeed happens, Iím going to be sad. Just like every one of those milestones, firsts and lasts Ė that bittersweet aftertaste of endings Ė no more child of mine at my breast, shining eyes to look up at me, chubby fingers reaching up to stroke my face, heavy eyelashes falling on cheeks, and pretty pink lips falling open, both of uscontent. How will I not miss it?


Alison Barrett is a Canadian obstetrician and gynaecologist working in New Zealand.



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