A few weeks ago, Majella was told by doctors that she had to start a new treatment. The medication isn’t compatible with breastfeeding which meant she had to suddenly wean Finn after nursing him for a year. We arranged for an “emergency” breastfeeding photo session to capture one of Majella and Finn’s last feed, six months after the first session we did together.
She has kindly accepted to answer a few questions about this emotional experience in case it helps a mother somewhere going through something similar. Feel free to tell us your own story in the comments.
Majella, even though it had been in the back of your head for a long time, I know it was difficult for you to hear from the doctors that you had to stop nursing Finn as soon as possible. Was the medical staff understanding of your reaction? Did they offer any support?
Honestly… not really!!! Sadly the initial reaction from most of them was ‘You’re still feeding?!’ I was even told by one medical professional that after a year it was really only for the mother! Needless to say I corrected that statement!
I think the majority of them were really only considering the physical act of feeding, not appreciating that really breastfeeding is as much about physical sustenance as emotional connection.
One year is a beautiful breastfeeding journey but I know you wanted to let him self-wean in his own time. How did you come to terms with the decision in such a short time?
I don’t know if I have come to terms with our journey finishing so abruptly. I was so determined to get to two years that the removal of that choice has been difficult to manage. I completely understand that I am of no benefit to Finn if I became even more seriously unwell, so from a practical point of view I know it had to be done, I had to be pragmatic about it, I had no choice but to leave emotion aside. I think it’s still something I deal with on a daily basis though.
Did you implement steps over a period of time to make it easier on both of you and Finn or did you stop all at once?
Initially I had been told that they could give me two weeks in which to wean him, so I felt like we could achieve that. I spoke with a wonderful Cuidiu counsellor who gave me excellent advice and practical tips on how to wean in a short period of time, such as reducing length of feeds and sleeping in a different bedroom, so I implemented them straight away. Daddy and Finn had one or two really unsettled nights with me not being there but then he adapted really quickly and settled really well.
However, one week into this, I was told I had to start treatment ASAP or risk a serious impact to my health, so I had to make the decision to stop pretty much within the next 24-36 hours and commence treatment. This was really difficult and I cried a lot!! However, Finn adapted really well and accepted that boo boo was gone.
I know it was very emotional for you but what about Finn? How was the transition? How did you “replace” the breast when it came to comfort and sleep habits?
I replaced feeding with an enormous amount of cuddles!!! He was so good, I think I was very blessed with how he responded to not breastfeeding any longer. He did have a few moments when he looked for it, but I would say to him ‘no boo boo anymore darling’ and give him a cuddle instead. I am also very lucky that my partner was very supportive. I think he didn’t really understand the emotional aspect of breastfeeding over the last year but he could see how important it was to me, how it shaped who I was as a mother and he allowed me my moments to cry!!!
What are the moments you keep in mind now when thinking about your breastfeeding journey with Finn?
I remember all the wonderful sleepy feeds we had, the cuddles in bed and how amazing breast milk is during times of illness. How it allowed me to feel confident as a woman and as a mother, amazed at how my body, which has been a source of worry and pain for so long could be so amazing and sustain a wonderful baby. I will remember the difficult days at the beginning too, but it only serves as a reminder that I am stronger than I imagined.
Any tips for other mothers who need to wean their little one for medical reasons?
Gosh that’s a hard one… I think breastfeeding is such a personal journey it would be hard to advise someone who has to give it up, particularly before they are ready. I think just relish each feed, hold your babies close and remember that whether you have fed for a month or a year, it has been a wonderful achievement, and you should be very proud of yourself, but you cannot be of any benefit to your baby if your own body is failing. They need you to be more than just feeding, they need you for the rest of their lives.
And finally, can you tell us what your breastfeeding photos now mean to you? Did it help in the weaning process at all?
The photos mean the world to me, honestly, I look at them on a daily basis. They make my heart swell with love and pride – they represent the love that I have for Finn. They make me incredibly sad too, but I know that that feeling will wane as time goes by and will be replaced with joy. I remember looking at the photos for the first time with Johanna, and she showed me a photo from the first session we did at 6 months and I just realised ‘wow!!!! You fed a baby and then you helped him grow into a healthy little boy!!!’ He had turned from a baby to a toddler in those photos and it made me very proud of what I had achieved, so yes I think they have helped.
Like I said, they remind me that my body isn’t just failing me, it has the ability to grow and sustain life also, and it eases the dislike I have for my body. The photos will be something I cherish forever.
Thank you Majella for sharing all this with me (us!) <3
Breastfeeding photo sessions around Dublin
If breastfeeding is an important part of your relationship with your child, consider getting a professional photographer to capture it forever.