Tag Archives: full term breastfeeding

The Love Song of a Mom as Her Baby Turns Four (and is finally weaned)

Standard

  

 After a full day of birthday excitement, Emily fell asleep almost instantly.

I leaned over her where she lay, nestled in the Hello Kitty pillows and blankets of her new, big-girl bed.

Much as I had, four years ago to the day, I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her downy forehead, kissing her repeatedly, nuzzling her curled fist.

Her fingers smelled like birthday cake.  Vanilla and cream.

Tears prickled in my eyes and nose as I forced myself to stand, collect my dignity and I left the room of my little-big-girl.

We had a great day–  all the highs and lows you would expect of life with a four-year-old.

She’s actually been a little mean to me lately.  I don’t take it personally, really.  Except, it’s just, when she opened her new Frozen umbrella in the house and held it up between us saying, “I don’t want to look at your grubby old face, Mama,” well, it stung a bit.

I was also wounded by her rejection of the birthday bouquet I bought her.  Last year her heart’s desire was a bouquet of flowers on her birthday.  Thinking I would make it a tradition, I got her another big bouquet this year only to be screamed at because she didn’t want flowers.

Of course, in both instances, three minutes later she was telling me she loves me as big as the sky, a giraffe, the dinosaur at the science museum, and the whole world.

  
I wonder if that is what the relationship between a mother and daughter is like, that push and pull, the love and loathing, the devotion and distance?

I also wonder if the fact she is now completely weaned from nursing has anything to do with her grumpiness towards me.

It probably doesn’t.

I’m probably just protecting the sense of rejection  because my onset of tears at her bedside had a lot to do with the fact that she has not asked to nurse in over a week, and the fact that we have talked about her fourth birthday as being the weaning Rubicon.  My words.  Not hers.

It is a natural progression.

My gratitude runs plenty deep for how gradual and mutual our weaning has been.  While I never, ever thought I would be “that mom” nursing a preschooler, I also very much wanted Emily to feel like she was totally ready to move on from nursing.  I didn’t want it to be sad, scary, or traumatic for either of us.

There were some moments where is was sad.  Moments when I thought she would ask to nurse and she didn’t.  Moments where she really wanted to nurse and I just didn’t have it in me and she cried because I set a boundary with her and refused.

And the exceptionally rare moments when she was truly exhausted and fell asleep at my breast–  this big doll of a child who grows lankier by the day–  and my heart filled to bursting and then broke because it doesn’t last.

None of it.

I remember those early days of nursing my kids through the nights and how perpetual it seemed, how there was no perspective to know that it was all really just a fleeting gift, how the never-ending sense was illusory.

I’m really proud Emily and I made it through nipple trauma, being touched out, my return to work, lack of societal support, and the general social stigma of a full term nursing relationship.

I really will treasure it.  And I hope somewhere in her exponentially exploding brain she will remember a little snippet of how much she loved nursing.  I pray she will feel it is something normal and natural, and that she will pay it forward with a little nursling of her own someday.

I think of how patient she was, even as a newborn at my breast waiting for my milk to come in.  I think of the adoration she lavished on me, her cheek nuzzled into my chest.  I think of how she would stop nursing to smile up at me with a big, milky grin.  I think of how she would refuse her bottles at daycare all day and then stay up all night nursing because she wanted mama and just mama.

I don’t know if I’ve ever known a love so gratifying, or a feeling as powerful as nourishing a child from my own body.  Maybe that is selfish.  Maybe it is.

But I will let this be.

I will let it go.

And after the tears run dry and my vision clears, I’ll be just fine with it.  It is a very natural progression after all.

When my son turned four, I was expecting his sister.  His birthday was a major milestone, and a major holiday for us.  We had a huge party and we celebrated him with all the glory due a firstborn turning four.

But there must have been a part of me that was distracted, and didn’t really realize the significance of a three-year-old-toddler morphing before my eyes into a four-year-old-preschooler.

Emily is my last baby.

The significance is palpable.

In many ways, but most of all, in the damp salt of my tears as I walked out of her room after putting her to bed on her fourth birthday.

  
***author’s note:  the very next morning, emily came to me as soon as she got up and asked to nurse.  just goes to show how utterly unpredictable this parenting gig really is.  of course i allowed it, because even though she is four now, i prefer to be guided by her needs and by my heart as a mom, rather than a date on a calendar.  xo.  

“M” is for. . .

Standard

"M" is for memories. . .

“M” is for memories. . .

All summer, we have been saying Emily is three and a half.  But the truth hit me the other day that she is really and truly almost four.

My baby will be four-years-old in two months.

Put that in your pipe, and so forth.

It really seems like four years is so much different than three.  Like when a kid turns four, they turn a corner and are no longer Mama’s baby.  Or toddler.  They fall into a totally new category–  “preschooler.”

I’m just not ready for that.

“M” is for “more”.  More time.  

Emily is a beautiful child.  She is wild and vivacious.  She has curly hair that gets all tangled.  She is so proud of how long it is finally growing, and many days she wants to just leave it be.  “I just want it all frowsy,” she will say when I offer braids of pony tails or a little bun for ballet.  She is strong-willed, carrying a big ball of fire in that Hello-Kitty purse with her ballet slippers.

Emily is also sensitive and sweet and she has a huge heart.  She worries about other people and is eager to please.

She is equal parts sweetness and strength.

“M” is for “magnificent”.

Over the summer, she has gone from nursing a solid two times per day, to maybe asking to nurse twice per week.

It is a really big change for us.

She will go an entire week, before noticing she has not had mama-milk, then she’ll ask for it either at bedtime or in the morning.  Sometimes she will simply rest her face in my chest and sniff me, or pat my breasts in a casually fond way, as if to say, Hey there, I remember you.

“M” is for “mama” and “milk”.

For the most part, people including my husband, extended family and friends have been supportive and understanding about my nursing relationship with Emily.  Since we’ve only been nursing in the morning and at night for the past two years, give or take, I have never had occasion to nurse her as an older toddler in public.  I know it would raise some eyebrows.  Part of me wishes I could have this experience as a lactavist.  Another part of me shudders at the judgement I would garner, and knows I would never have the tits for it.

I do not, however, shy away about talking about my full-term breastfeeding.

Recently, I had a physical.  During the triage, the medical assistant asked me where I had my mammogram done.  I told her I’d not yet had one.  Then I mentioned that I was actually lactating and didn’t even know if they do mammograms while a woman is lactating.  She asked me how old my baby was.  I told her Em is three and a half (almost four, almost four…  I know!).

She looked at me in horror as if I had just told her there was a rancid, green discharge seeping out of my navel.  “You’re nursing a three and a half year old?”  She asked in obvious disgust.

There were a number of places I could have gone in that moment, but I chose to smile as sweetly as possible at her and say, “Yes.  We are proponents of full-term nursing in my house.”  She said nothing more.  I did mention to my doc that the assistant had been rather judgey-wudgey, and told her about nursing Emily.  My doc is awesome.  She said her sister had nursed her baby well into the toddler years, and if a family is happy with it than so be it.

So.  Be.  It.

Turns out I still have to have to mammogram, lactating or not, but that is another post for another day.

“M” is for “mammogram”.

We’ve been working on this weaning thing as a team, Emily and I.  I wanted for us both to be ready, and I wanted us both to be comfortable with either nursing or not nursing as the case may be.  But I had firmly decided that at four years of age, I would tell her the milk-center was closed for good.

But like most parenting decisions I’ve made never to do (e.g., pacifiers, co-sleeping, hotdogs), I knew if she wanted to nurse on or after her fourth birthday, I would probably cave, especially if it was important to her.  More than anything, I do not want weaning to be traumatic for either of us.  And so far, for the most part, it has not been.  There have been times where I refused to nurse her because I was too hot or tired, and while she miffed for a moment or two, it was okay.

But it is a loss of sorts, this whole weaning thing.

I’ve really enjoyed my nursing relationship with Emily.  I have so many memories of her plump, round face gazing up at me as she nursed as a baby.  I even enjoyed pumping for her when I went back to work.  It sounds crazy, because pumping–  UGH!  But I did.  I liked it because it made me feel connected to her.  I even kept a two ounce vial of milk I pumped for her in the freezer.  I have it still.  It’s probably three years old, but I can’t bring myself to throw it away…

Last night she asked to nurse for the first time in about a week.  I told her okay, but I didn’t know if there would be a lot of milk there, because she is a bigger girl now and she isn’t needing it as much.  She didn’t care and nestled in.  But after about 15 seconds, she let me know there was only a tiny bit of milk.  She tried the other side.  Same deal.  Only a little bit.

My milk supply is finally catching up, or letting go as it were, with the decreasing demand for it’s product.

This is a really big change for us.

“M” is for “mourning”.

As a nursing mom, you cultivate and protect your milk supply at all costs in those early days of nursing.  You obsess over it.  Schedule time for extra pumping sessions.  You talk about it non stop.  You compare it with other people.  I can remember feeling actual jealousy over photos of freezer-milk-stashes that some moms would share on Facebook (yeah, it’s a thing nursing moms do online in breastfeeding groups, in case you weren’t aware…  we used to get jealous over someone else’s huge ring or handbag, now we get jealous over how many baggies and ounces of boobie juice are in the freezer…).

While I’ve gotten comfortable with my body’s ability to produce, and haven’t needed to obsess or stress about my milk supply in ages, the realization that my body has recognized it no longer needs to make milk is new territory.  It is a territory in which I am sitting in a quiet discomfort, knowing there is not anything I can do to change it.

Emily will wean.  I can not have any more babies, so this means my breastfeeding journey of this lifetime is coming to an end.

I guess I can’t really explain why this is such a poignant turning point for me.  I struggled to nurse my babies, and it was an important victory.  So there’s that.  It is also the tangible connection to my children, a physical nurturance that I will never again get to give them.

In a way, I can be fine with all of this.  I nursed Jack until he was about to be two, and Emily is nearly four, so that makes a total of six years of my life spent nursing my children.  I’m proud of that, not because it makes me any better than anyone else who did it longer or shorter than me, but because it is just something special to me.  Something I did.  Kind of like going to Toronto by myself when I was in grad school.

Strange as it may sound, breastfeeding is also a really important part of who I am as a person.  It is something in which I believe.  It is something about which I am passionate, and something I seek to promote, normalize, and provide education to those willing to listen or ask.

And I’m sure it will continue to be an interest and a passion of mine.  My goal for my next life (when Emily is in school full day) is to become a La Leche League leader and to eventually get my IBCLC.  I would love to help other women fulfill their nursing goals, whether it is for a day, a month, a year, or four years.

So, “M” is for “metamorphosis”.

Things change and it has to be okay, because there isn’t really anything we can do, other than acknowledge, breathe, and accept.

Here’s the good news:  Emily and I are still as close as ever.  We chat and cuddle and play and drive around listening to princess music.  Even though weaning will alter our relationship, it will not weaken or break it in any way.  Just as I trusted in my body to make milk for my babies, so will I trust in my relationship with Emily and our ability to be close to one another no matter what.

“M” is for “Momaste”.  The mom in me bows to the mom in you.

Musing on Aching Ovaries, Weaning, and the End of the School Year

Standard

It helped more than you can imagine that you took the time to read my incredibly neurotic last post about wacky mid-life hormones.  And to those of you who commented to let me know you are in a similar boat–  well, you just rock.  Sometimes I guess bemoaning my aching ovaries has its place.

So thanks for that love and support.

I had another thought that made me wonder. . .

. . .  as my journey towards weaning continues with Emily, how is that affecting my hormones, and how is that affect on my hormones affecting my emotional/physical state?  My three and a half year old daughter continues to nurse one or two times per day, usually.  Sometimes she goes a couple days without nursing, and I’ve been practicing the whole “don’t ask, don’t refuse” thing.

Breastfeeding is all about hormones.  I’ve noticed that there are times when the oxytocin rush from breastfeeding is more effective than a dose of Zoloft.  But then there are other times when it makes me want to claw off my skin.  So, I wonder if my hormones could be additionally out of whack, not so much because I am going into perimenopause (which I don’t really think I am yet), but because my body is just confused from this whole march towards weaning?

Do any of you know anything about that?

Today was also Jack’s last day of second grade.  He’s had a great year, mainly because he had a phenomenal teacher who really supported and inspired him.  We have had no tantrums about school or homework, and more importantly none of the somatic complaints that he was voicing last year.  I’ve felt so blessed that he’s had this safe space to be in during the day, and I really think it has allowed him to grow and learn emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally.

That said, I sort of dread the summer.

Jack and I both have a hard time with change.  It really rocks our boat in a big way and can lead to anxiety and anger.  I totally understand where he is coming from in this regard because I am really right there with him.  This year, he is doing some summer day camp about which none of us are particularly thrilled.  I’m praying there will be nice kids there, attentive staff, and that Jack will not be miserable all summer because of it.

This morning I sort of broke down and cried.  I was just so overwhelmed and sad about not being there for my kids as much as I want to be, as much as they NEED me to be.  It is really, really hard.

My husband took this job in February with the expectation I would be able to cut my hours at work.  This has not come to pass as I cannot leave my program in the lurch with no staff, and financially we are still digging out of a pretty deep hole.  So, we are both at our limits and have not really been available to each other.

So, this morning when my daughter wanted to look at books instead of put on her shoes, everything just crashed around me and out came the tears.  I pulled it together pretty quickly, and Emily’s hug was like magic.  I got the kids out the door and felt a surge of pride watching my little-big-boy march into the playground for his last day of school.

So, it’s not all bad.

And you all are still here.

So, it’s not all bad.

One random final thought:

When Jack was a newborn and I was struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, my husband would take our colicky little son and walk him around the house.  The Spouse would sing this chant that I believe is from Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.

It went, “I have arrived, I am home, in the here and in the now.  I am solid, I am free.  In the infinite I dwell.”

This little chant came to me today and gave me comfort.

So, yeah, I am home with my achey, breaky ovaries, my mommy guilt, and my anticipatory anxiety about the summer.

In the infinite we dwell.

Momaste.  xoxoxo.

When Breastfeeding IS All About Me

Standard

Many of you who have been blogging with me for a while now know I have continued breastfeeding my daughter, Emily, who is now three and a half.

Yes. You heard me right. I’m nursing a toddler who is really now more of a preschooler.

I always thought she would self wean around age two, like her older brother did. But two years came and went and we were still nursing quite a bit. Three years passed and she had gotten down to two nursing sessions per day– once first thing in the morning and then right before bed.

To be honest with you, I don’t mind it. To be really honest with you, I love it.

I love the stillness and connection we share during those times, which is really only a few minutes now, before she is off and running or sound asleep. I love knowing her diet is being supplemented with the best stuff nature can offer. I love that it continues to reduce my risks of feminine cancers. I love that we are continuing to share a biological connection, that I continue to nourish her as I did when she was floating inside me.  I love the way she strokes my face and looks at me with total contentment.

Don’t get me wrong–  I have been talking with her about weaning for the better part of a year, but it has been a laid back conversation between us. For example, one night we had this conversation:

“Someday, Em, you won’t need milk-kee-kees,” I said, using her special code word for booby time. “You can have milk in a cup. And you can have milk from a cow, or milk from a goat, or even milk from a coconut!”

“I sink I will have milk fwom a cow,” she said decisively and then paused to think.  I could see the wheels turning.

“What are you thinking, Emily?”

She started to laugh, “I sinkin’ about a cow dwinkin’ milk fwom a cow in a cup!”  We both cracked up over that one and then she decided she wanted her nighttime nursies so I whipped out the boob.

I never planned to be nursing this long, and I keep thinking she will wean any time now, and it will be okay.  I don’t offer her my breast any more, but I don’t refuse it if she asks, either.  She has very nice nursing manners, and she doesn’t bite.  We also had such a hard time nursing in the beginning, that I feel it is our karma to be enjoying a wonderful companionship at the breast now.

It is a nursing relationship that works for us.

For a lot of people, weaning happens naturally at a year or two.  Other women have to wean prematurely due to complications, health issues, or separations from their babies.  Then there are women like me who chose to allow the child to self wean when they are ready.  Whatever the reason, weaning is a personal choice and process that happens between mother and baby.   There should be no judgement or hard and fast rules about how a mom goes about weaning her child.

A lot of people don’t really understand “full-term” nursing.  I think part of this misunderstanding is do to lack of education on breastfeeding in general, and also to lack of exposure.  Many women who do nurse past a year, or gasp! two years, are criticized by friends and family.  I’ve heard moms say even their pediatricians have been critical and negative about nursing an older baby.  So, many women are not open about it when the breastfeed past the times that society thinks is “acceptable.”

Another stumbling block is the overtly sexual connotations breasts have in our highly sexualized culture.  Many find it weird, kinky, or disgusting if a mom choses to nurse past infancy.  This view, IMHO, is totally unfortunate.

Still others believe a child will become clingy, dependent, and socially ostracized if they breastfeed longer than a year.  This is usually not the case.  In fact, there are studies that have shown children who nurse longer are actually more independent, confident, and do just fine socially.  I can tell you for a fact this is the case with my super-strong-willed daughter.

Finally, there is the camp that states it is “all about the mother” when a woman and child nurse into toddlerhood, that it is satisfying some bizarre need the mother has to infantilize their child.  While I can see how this assumption might seem logical, I don’t think it is necessarily the truth.  A child has to be willing to nurse; it isn’t something that can be forced.  Nursing is a relationship.  It takes two to tango.

This doesn’t mean a woman won’t have pangs of mixed emotions when her child weans.  Some women are thrilled to “get their body back.”  Other women feel a sense of loss and sorrow.

For example, I submit the following for your consideration:

Tonight, for the first time ever, Emily responded to my offer to have milk in a cup instead of milk-kee-kees by choosing the cup.  I’ve been offering her this choice for months, and she never once has taken me up on it.  I was surprised when I poured out her milk, but there was a part of me that figured she would still ask for nursing once we got into her room for bedtime.

She didn’t.

And that kind of shocked me.

And it hurt.

I sat down in the rocking chair that I always sit in to nurse her, and then stay in as she falls off to sleep.  She started to climb into her bed and then she came over and hugged me, said goodnight, and covered my face with kisses.

Is this really happening?  I asked myself.  I hugged on her for an extra moment, in a state disbelief, certain she would change her mind and climb up into my lap.

She didn’t.

And then I realized I was feeling a little clingy and uncomfortable, so I let her trot off to her bed.  I knew if I offered, she would climb up on my lap and tuck in, but I also knew if I did that it would be satisfying my own need to be her mom, as opposed to her need to assert herself.

I figured I had to let her go, so as not to give her mixed messages about her ability to wean when she is ready.  Because to give her mixed messages like that would be unfair and confusing for both of us.

None of this means she won’t want to nurse tomorrow first thing in the morning, or be off the boob wagon by tomorrow night, and that’s okay.  But it does kind of make me feel we are a step closer to that weaning stop on our journey.

It took her longer than usual to fall asleep, and I sat there in the rocking chair with my feeling of sadness because three and a half years may seem like a really long time to you, but it has gone by in the blink of an eye, and change is hard.  I feel so blessed that ultimately this has been a wonderful experience, and I have given her a really positive view of breastfeeding that I pray she will carry with her throughout life.

Hopefully, as my daughter and I grow, both as individuals, and together in our relationship, we will find new and wonderful ways to feel connected and safe and special with one another.

What was weaning like for you?