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I am about to head into battle. I'll be taking on my 2 1/2-year-old son. My only defence is the word "no." My mission is clear: I must cut him off from the breast.
I have been either nursing or pregnant since the spring of 2008, and that is actually starting to feel like a long time ago. Back then, Barack Obama was still viewed as a hot and hopeful presidential candidate. It was a time when Americans were saying, "Yes we can." Now I need to say, "No I won't."
I approach this milestone with ambivalence: I look forward to not being expected to fish my breasts out of my shirt in the nonchalant way that most people check their cellphones. But I also know that the end of nursing will be an end to a certain kind of maternal intimacy that will never return to my life.
I also hesitate to give up an activity I am really good at.
There are many thing I do not do well. Like a lot of people who have too many books as best friends, I'm slightly socially awkward and don't make friends easily. I am also crap at cooking. Raised in a home where the library was more valued than the kitchen, I learned to write poems, play piano and identify the most important works of Western art – at the Louvre or as fridge magnets. But learning how to roast a chicken and make a birthday cake never came up as a necessary life skill. In fact, until I had children, I fed myself mostly on store-bought chicken pies and sausage rolls from the local cafe.
One of the scariest aspects of being pregnant was the knowledge that I was going to have to cook a so-called meal for my offspring one day.
But if cooking is not my strength, nursing certainly is. In the weeks after my first child was born, I was soaked in milk on a nightly basis. I was like a fountain in some small Italian village from which the peasants gather their life-sustaining water. I admit that in the beginning there were a couple of mind-numbingly painful weeks in which I could be found weeping at 2 a.m., grimacing each time my daughter took a gulp. But after that period of purgatory passed, I was a madonna of milky motherhood.
When my second child was born, my supply was just as abundant. I even gave my newborn niece a bottle a day of pumped breast milk because her mom was a little short. In my entire life, it is the best gift I have given my sister – even better than the faux fur coat she still wears on rare sexy-mommy nights out. My milk was a sort of return on all the cooking my sister did for me when we shared an apartment during our 1990s nightclub phase. Sustenance for sustenance.
I am what the media refer to as an "older mom," the selfish cohort that either reflects or causes all the social ills of today. I gave birth to my son at the ripe old age of 42, so I have a sense that when I give up nursing, menopause is lurking around the corner like a very patient mugger, ready to rob my hair of colour and steal my waistline.
I also know that once I bring an end to nursing, my breasts are going to shrink back to the starving-ballerina proportions of my youth. And, I have to say, one of the most delightful side effects of pregnancy and childbirth is the ability to fill out a bra from the sexy section of the department store; a bra that comes in optional colours, with lace, rather than the white and grandma-beige of AA-size bras with their hospital-gown-style elastic straps.
Admittedly, nursing a child for almost three years may be considered excessive by people who make a sport out of judging mothers. But here in Victoria, the west coast of the West Coast, it is not uncommon to see a mother nursing an older child. In addition, my children are allergic to dairy products, so giving them cow's milk in a bottle was never an option.
Nursing also put my children to sleep in less time than it takes Mary Poppins to sing a song praising pharmaceuticals laced with sucrose.
But the years insist on passing, and I need to be able to sleep for more than four hours without interruption for the first time since Obama promised change. I know that ending the night nursing is going to be like visiting the seventh circle of hell, with my son's demanding screams as a soundtrack. However, I am determined to celebrate my 45th birthday by keeping my shirt on.
Ending nursing is an acknow-ledgment that I am aging, and – even more upsetting – that my children are getting older. For me, the years of early childhood are the most brutal and most thrilling, an intense, no-sleeping, poop-on-the-walls, beautiful-smelling-baby-hair time of life.
Now, the moment has arrived to let it become a memory instead of an early-morning reality.
Jean Paetkau lives in Victoria.