Tag Archives: nursing

My Boobs Are Sad

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A while back, I mused about what would become of my breasts  when I was done nursing my youngest of my two children, Emily.

Emily weaned completely about six months ago, shortly after her fourth birthday.

I had written so many posts about how we were “almost there” with our weaning, that I haven’t really bothered to write anything about the fact that we actually did “get there.”

Weaning had been a very long process for us that took close to two years, as Emily slowed her nursing sessions to twice per day, and then only to once per day either in the morning or before bed.

I had wanted weaning to be a gradual and mutual decision.  I didn’t want it to be traumatic for either of us.  The beginning of my nursing relationship with Emily had been very traumatic as I suffered extreme nipple damage and had to really fight to keep my supply and the nursing relationship between my baby and myself.

Initially, I felt robbed of the “perfect” nursing experience with my daughter.  I’d had tons of struggles and antenatal depression with my first child, and had ended up needing to supplement with formula with him.

Although I am beyond thankful that all was well that ended well with my son, when I was pregnant with Em, I was really committed to the idea of exclusively nursing.  I felt certain that I had been better educated on breastfeeding due to the trial and error with my son, and that everything would go off without a hitch.

My confidence was shattered shortly after Emily’s birth when my nipples became mangled as a result of her tongue tie.  For 11 weeks, I battled a nipple wound that would not heal.  Finally we got things sorted out, but my supply never got back to what it needed to be to be able to pump milk for her to have upon my return to my job at 12 weeks after her birth.

I took a huge amount of comfort in the fact that she continued to nurse whenever she was with me, and that she almost always refused the bottle at daycare and then would reverse cycle all night with me.  Sure I was tired, but I was thrilled that we were not having to supplement with very much formula, and that Emily was such a champion nurser.

Eventually, I accepted that while our relationship was not what I could label “perfect” from the get go, it ended up being pretty amazing and sweet.

And it endured much longer than I thought it would.

My son had weaned completely at 23 months.  Like I said, we’d had to supplement him with formula, but he continued to nurse first thing in the morning with me until one morning he woke up, asked for milk in a cup and that was that.

I don’t remember having any truly intense feelings related to this weaning.  Sure it was bittersweet, but it was not devastating in any way.  And as a first-time mom, I was thrilled I’d been able to milk it out to nearly two years (pun intended!).

I had figured Em would wean around the same time.  But she didn’t.  She turned two and then three and still loved her milky cuddles with mama.  Around the time she turned three, we started talking about what it would be like for her to not nurse anymore.  Long story longer, she went another whole year and was still occasionally nursing when she turned four.

Then she stopped.

It was so gradual.  It was almost unnoticeable.

To be honest with you, I don’t really think about it all that often.

Until I do think about it and then it is difficult to stop thinking about it.

A client came to my office with her toddler a while back.  The child grew fussy, and she surprised me by offering him her breast, which he eagerly took and settled right down.  It was absolutely the most natural and graceful thing to watch.  I told her how thrilled I was that she was nursing her toddler, but the image stayed with me throughout the day and into the night along with a feeling of deep sorrow.

It had been the first time I’d seen a mom nursing since I weaned Emily.

And this is going to sound crazy, but I felt an actual physical sensation in my breasts like I used to feel when my milk let down.  But it was different.  It was like the shadow of that let down sensation, and I felt bereft.  It was like my boobs actually felt sad.

When you are bonding and nursing with a new baby, your body creates oxytocin which is the chemical that signals the need to produce milk.  It also creates a drowsy, sweet, loving feeling between you and your baby, which for me also extended to the world at large.

So, when I saw this mom nursing, it was like I got a surge of oxytocin but there was no milk and no baby to nurse.  I went home and felt the need to give Emily and Jack extra cuddles.

I think about how I am no longer nursing at other weird times too.  Like when I went to the pharmacy and was browsing the antacids and realized that I could take alka-seltzer again.  It used to be my go-to remedy before pregnancy and nursing, but it has aspirin in it so you can’t use it during the aforementioned times.  So I purchased it with a mix of hey-this-is-awesome and hey-this-is-super-sad.

I’m bummed about weaning in a lot of ways.  It makes me sad to not have that connection with another human any longer.  It is a reminder that children grow so quickly and things change faster than you can ever imagine.  I also blame the ten pound weight gain on weaning, as well as some of my hormonal shifts and mood swings. . . although I realize those should be well regulated by now.

There is no going backwards in life.

And as I continue marching forward, I am having trouble trying to figure out what to do with these floppy appendages that seem to be a permanent DDD cup size now and give me back and neck pain.  They are like an accessory that has gone out of style, only I can’t pack them away into the back of my closet or toss them in the junk drawer.

Once upon a time, they were pert and pretty.  They attracted people and were objects of potential sexual pleasure.  Then I had kids and they became vehicles of nurturance and nutrition.

About a week after I had Jack, I developed a urinary tract infection and went to a doctor.  She was excited to hear that I was breastfeeding and shared that she had nursed her kids and it had been a great experience for her.

“But your breasts are ruined for sex forever,” She had mused.  “They become like these tube socks with golf balls at the end.”

Well. . .

I guess mine are more like balloons with permanently erect, frozen peas at the end, so her very lucid description was a bit off there.  But she was right about one thing–  my boobs are of no use for my sex life anymore.  There is a cognitive dissonance that these soft things that Emily still likes to pat and rub her face on could be used for anything other than bringing comfort to my babies.

So, I guess it is a blessing my husband is an ass man.  Anyway, I digress. . .

Six months after weaning Emily, and I am still wondering what will become of my breasts now that I am done nursing.  I’m trying to figure out how I feel about them, and what to do about the sense of sadness and loss.

At the end of the day I am very proud and content with the nursing relationships I had with both Emily and Jack.  They were conflicted and diverse, but they were filled with love. Even as my boobs feel sad that it isn’t something I’ll ever share again with another human, I am grateful for the experiences I did have breastfeeding.

What was your weaning experience like?  Did you experience any hormonal shifts or depression with weaning?  Talk to me in the comments below.  I love to hear from you!  And please feel free to share my post on social media, or with other nursing/weaning moms in your life.  xoxo and momaste!  

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

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 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. . .

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"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.

When Will We Wean?

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It seems like I’ve been writing posts for the past two years about weaning my daughter, Emily.

It seems this way, because I HAVE been writing posts for the past two years about weaning Emily, who will turn four in November.

While there were several nursing strikes and times where we have skipped sessions, Emily, for the most part, has insisted on having her milkies first thing in the morning, and then right before bed.  I really thought she would wean at two.  Then, when she didn’t, I really thought she would wean at two and a half.  And then three years came and went.

I’ve been talking to her about how she is a bigger girl now, and how it is okay for her to have milk from a cow, or milk from a coconut, or milk from a goat.  She seems intrigued by the idea of all these different milks, but has been fairly insistent on her mama milk.

Since she turned three (and I inwardly thought enough is enough about nursing), I’ve been operating on the “don’t ask/don’t refuse” policy.

Until recently, she always asked.  Until recently, I never refused.

But over this summer, there has been a gentle shift in our breastfeeding relationship.

There were some nights where I was way too hot and sweaty to have her on me, and I gently refused to nurse with her.  During these times she got upset and cried and it was hard for me to tolerate.  Instead, I would offer her a cuddle, or a song, or a story, or to watch “Baby Mine” on Youtube seven times.  She would eventually settle down, and I would maintain my sanity.

The major difference was we were both okay with it.

For me, weaning is an emotional topic.  Emily is my last baby.  I fought so hard to nurse both my children, so the ending of this very special and intimate relationship is a bittersweet for both of us.  To feel I am finally in a place where I am ready, willing, and able to wean Emily completely is a major milestone.

Don’t get me wrong, had Emily been ready to wean at two or three, it would have happened.  I would have felt sad, but would have gone gracefully following her lead.  I’ve certainly never forced Emily to nurse.

I believe a child and mother come full circle with their nursing connection when both are ready.

I know some find nursing a toddler to be crazy or creepy, that I should have set a limit way back when, and that it is just plain weird for a child to be able to ask for what they need/want.

Someone I am “friends” with on Facebook just posted a really judgmental statement about full-term nursing along with an article about a mom nursing her three-year-old.  Out of morbid curiosity, I scrolled down the comments her friends had posted, and was saddened to see so many people who found it to be a negative and icky thing to nurse an older toddler.

I personally cannot fathom why someone would NOT want to nurse a child beyond infancy, but that’s just the point–  I don’t understand it.  It isn’t my brain, or my situation, or my story to tell.  So, I try not to be judgmental about their judgment, or to take it as a personal affront on my beliefs or relationship with my child.  Everyone’s relationship is different.  If you aren’t one of the people in the relationship, then yeah, you’re not going to get it.  But to rush to calling something mean names because you don’t understand it is not nice, IMHO.

What I’m rambling around to A.) is that despite the fact it has lasted longer than I expected, my nursing relationship with Emily feels like it has been right for us.  And now it feels right that I am pushing the weaning a little bit more assertively than I have in the past. And B.) Don’t judge what you don’t know/understand.  Please.  We moms already take enough crap and make enough second guesses for every move we make in this society.

I have let Emily know that it is my body and if I don’t want her to nurse she will have to respect my boundaries.  Because like any other relationship, breastfeeding is a two way street, and boundaries need to be respected and attended to.

Over this summer, there have been other times where Emily forgot to ask for nursing.  And I left it at that.  There have also been a few occasions where Emily slept over at a grandparents’ house and went without nursing and was totally find.

As I write this, it has currently been two and a half days since she last snuggled into me to nurse.

It feels like we are getting there, and I’m so glad we are both okay with it.

I’ve let her know that when she turns four, we will no longer do milkies.  Her three year old brain is processing this information, but it feels like it will be time, and we will both be read, willing, and able.

When Breastfeeding IS All About Me

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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?  

Taken Aback Looking Back

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Hi.  I’m Charlotte.  

I always joke that I am going to do an interpretive dance when I have to get up and speak in front of people, because that’s where I started out.  Dancing.    

Don’t worry, I won’t really start dancing and make you all uncomfortable, but it’s true; I was a dance and creative writing major in college.  So, you can imagine how highly marketable I was upon graduation.  

I didn’t actually “get the joke” about college being meant for learning some sort of skill with which to support myself.  In fact, while I was in college, I was with a man twice my age.  He was an Afro-Cuban percussionist, and he owned a hippie shop, and I kind of figured I could just ride on his coattails.  So, when we broke up, I was forced to find some way to support myself.  

For a year after college, I worked as a receptionist for a church.  I even led a pilgrimage to Italy at the request of the Bishop, which was a pretty rad thing, me being like, sort of a non-practicing Buddhist, atheist Jew and all.  

I knew that wasn’t the job I wanted to do forever because it was kind of stuffy and conservative, and I just needed to be a bit more, well, you know.  Free?  

So I quit.  

I got a job doing home based therapy with children with autism, and I loved it, but it was not a viable option for the long run because you make peanuts.  

So, I went back to school.  I got my MSW.  I spent a year working in the foster care system and I hated it.  I interviewed here, and I got a job.  That was ten and a half years ago, and I’ve been here ever since.  I started out working in the homes, and eventually after getting my license, I was able to do more office-based therapy.  About two years ago, I was promoted to manager of my department, such as it is.  

I’m excited by my work.  I’m passionate about it.  I believe in it.  

Many of you don’t know this about me, but I was a welfare kid.  My parents divorced when I was three, and for some years, we lived in poverty.  I remember not knowing where our food was coming from.  I remember the humiliation in my mom’s eyes while she stood in the welfare line.  When I was quite small, I had very poor vision and had what we called “welfare glasses.”  They were ugly but they were all we could afford.  

So, I feel like there are parts of me that get where the families we work with are coming from.  

Another huge part of my life is that I’m a mom.  If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I was little, I would have told you I wanted to be a mom.  I’m the oldest in my family, and my first job at 15 was working at a Montessori school.  I had all this experience with kids, so when I had my own I thought, I’ve got this.  This will be easy because I made them and stuff.  

That could not have been farther from the truth.  

Being a mom is the hardest thing I have ever done.  It can be so redonkulously impossible sometimes, so I feel like I connect with my clients on that level too.  Like, I get how challenging kids can be.  

In my spare time, I write.  It keeps me sane.  I’m incredibly passionate about educating, normalizing, and advocating for breastfeeding and in my next life I want to be a La Leche League consultant.  Ummm. . .  I make jewelry?  

Yeah, so anyway, I’m excited to be here.  Thanks.

And I curtsied.

It was an all day managers’ “retreat” that was mandatory for my job.  I hadn’t wanted to go.  My last words to a colleague as I groused out of my office was that I was not going to “share.”

But that was the first thing we had to do.  There were about 25 of us there and we all had to take 5-8 minutes to tell our story, share about our lives and give the narrative of what got us “into the field.”  I waited to go pretty squarely in the middle.  I didn’t want to follow the first lady who spoke about being a former junkie, or the guy who had an amazing story about being in the middle of a civil war.  My story didn’t have that much luster I figured, so I waited until a few less fancy stories.

I was nervous as all hell standing up.  I was shaking, so I stuffed my hands in my pockets.  But I got through it and a couple of my colleagues commented after about things they learned about me.

The rest of the day passed quickly enough, and then I was on my way home.

I thought about the random assortment of factoids I chose to share about myself.

Then I thought about the things I had forgotten.  Or purposely left out.

Like my schizophrenic brother.

Or the four year affair I had with that married guy who was an autism expert and really the only reason I was interested in the field in the first place.

Or the decades of eating disorder that came part and parcel with dancing.

What about the years following hippie jam bands or my time doing yoga on the ashram?

Or my almost compulsive need for order and control which I am sure came as a result of early life anxiety from living the way I did.

Or how I would like to loudly and publicly apologize for anyone who knew me when I was in my twenties because I was such a horrendous train-wreck of a human.

Or that I have an almost unhealthy obsession with James Spader, Himalayan mountain disasters, and Hawaii.

Then of course there is the feeling of being totally ineffective, frustrated, burnt out, and miserable as a social worker.  The feeling of pain and drama everyday when I leave my own children to go and provide solace for someone else’s.

Yeah, I left that shit out of that edition of my life story.  They, of course, were some rather key details, but I’m certain there were similar details committed all over the room, or maybe stuff we forgot due to nerves and apprehension.

It feels I’ve lived a dozen different lives in my forty years on the planet.

My life doesn’t have a linear narrative, which is likely the case for most, but sometimes it makes me especially uncomfortable.

The many chunks of my story run counter to my need for order and symmetry.  There is a raw vulnerability when I take them out and spread them before me like a collection of glass and pebbles picked up on a beach walk.

My solution to this discomfort is to try to stay focused on the present moment, be mindfully nonjudgmental of what is happening, be here now, yadda, yadda.  I don’t think too much (or at least try not to) about what exactly got me to this space in time, so when I do, it sometimes takes me aback.

Someone once described me as a cobb salad–  a mixture of all this stuff, and you’re never quite sure what you are going to get in one bite, but it all blends together into something good and tasty.  I didn’t really understand it at the time, but thinking on it now, it is a pretty apt description of me.

Mindfulness has helped me mind my anxiety and depression.  It has helped me be more aware and accepting of myself, but it has also made me more aware and accepting of others, and has heightened my awareness of how others might perceive me.  Sometimes this has the adverse effect of increasing my anxiety because it is like all my channels of reception are open, and I can feel flooded.  It is a constant cycle of feeling and acceptance.

At the end of the day, I could not go back and revise, edit, add, or delete any of the stuff I shared at that retreat, any more than I could reroute a cosmic GPS for the journey that got me there.  And that’s fine, but it gave me pause.

Then I opened up the little, velvet pouch of memory, put all the bits and pieces back inside, and pulled the strings around it.

Ooops. I Forgot To Wean My Child

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The international logo for nursing a toddler. . .

The international logo for nursing a toddler. . .

In the company of an old friend, I happened to mention I am still breastfeeding.  My daughter, Emily, is nearly three years old, and she still enjoys nursing twice a day- first thing in the morning, and right before bed.

It’s just something we do; the cozy and quiet bookends of days which are otherwise noisy, busy, and hectic.

Nursing a toddler is not a matter I give much thought, until it comes up, and then it usually makes others go “hmmmm,” which is what happened in this case.  The subject came up with my childless pal, and she looked at me with wide eyes, her jaw hanging, and gasped, “Why?!”

Nonplussed, I smiled and shrugged.  “I dunno.  She still likes it, I guess.”

“But don’t you have to wean?” my friend asked.  In some circles this sort of response might make me uncomfortable, or even annoyed, but because she never bore or breastfed children, and had no knowledge on the subject, it didn’t really bother me.

“Moms and babies don’t ‘have’ to wean until they are both ready,” I explained.  “At this point, if I just stopped cold-turkey, it would be traumatic for both of us.”

“But your boobs are still enormous!” My friend exclaimed,” Are you saying they are still full of momma-milk?”

I laughed and explained a.) the science behind the supply-and-demand nature of breastfeeding, and b.) that my boobs have always been big, have gotten even bigger with nursing my children, and are likely to stay big beyond weaning.  That’s just my anatomy.

We left it at that.  My friends accept me for being a rather crunchy gal, and I’m sure they chalk my “extended” breastfeeding relationship with Emily up to that.  It isn’t something about which I am ashamed, and I don’t really care if it raises an eyebrow or causes chatter behind my back.  I’m always happy to add a few lines of knowledge to someone’s understanding of breastfeeding, or to normalize it in our society.

While I wasn’t hurt or offended, it did make me question why I was still nursing this toddler.  I nursed my son, Jack, until he was 23 months, and figured Emily would follow suit and wean herself around the same time.  I never really expected to be breastfeeding for this long, yet, here we are.

I sorta’ just forgot to wean her, or more accurately, I just never got around to it.

I’ve written before about nursing a toddler, and usually, somewhere within those posts, I write, “I know our nursing days are numbered. . .”  A few times when Emily didn’t seem interested in nursing, and I thought we were naturally at the end of our nursing relationship.  Well, it has been nearly three years and now I am wondering if our nursing days will ever end.

According to the page about weaning on Kellymom.com, the traditional definition of “weaning” is when your baby begins to eat any food other than breast milk.  In American society, however, “weaning” means packing away the boobs for good and not nursing anymore.  It seems there may be other parts of the world where extended breastfeeding, or nursing beyond one or two years of age, are more accepted.  But it seems like it is generally misunderstood.

Many think breast milk loses its nutritional benefits after a certain point.  This is simply not true.  According to Kellymom.com:  It’s a myth that the benefits of breastmilk stop at a certain point. Instead, they continue and are more significant and longer-lasting for both you and your child the longer breastfeeding continues. In fact, the antibodies in human milk are more concentrated the lesser the frequency of breastfeeding is (say with a toddler or older child). If you nurse on into your child’s toddler years he won’t even need cow’s milk as long as he receives other foods rich in protein, calcium, and fats, and nurses at least a couple of times a day.

In other words, there is still a nutritional benefit to Emily tanking up on mama juice a couple times a day, which may be why she is rarely sick, and why when she does get sick she is usually over it quickly.

It isn’t something we are just doing to be weird, alternative, or because there is a secondary gain of mutual enjoyment from it.

And how about that mutual enjoyment?  I’m not going to lie, I like nursing Emily.  There are times when I feel like maybe I am ready to get my body back, but most of the time I love that my daughter is bonding with me in such a special way, and that she is getting a daily dose of health straight from the tap.  It has not impaired either of us socially.  She is not clingy or dependent on me, in fact, she is a confident youngster with an fiery independent spirit.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer. . . There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child.”  It has been noted that the natural age for weaning among humans is between two and seven years.

Wait, SEVEN years old?!  Ok, I’m not that girl who will nurse a child big enough to take up an entire couch.  I’m confident Emily will wean when she doesn’t feel the need for nursing any more.

I have set boundaries around our nursing relationship.  For example, she does not have an unlimited-around-the-clock-milk-buffet at her disposal.  Toddlers are naturally distractible creatures, and for a while, Emily was wanting to nurse, get up, wander around, play, and then nurse again.  It was driving me crazy.  So, I made a rule that if she gets up, “the milk center is closed.”  It works for us, although there are times I’ve had to be firm about it.

Emily has always had impeccable nursing manners.  She doesn’t grab at me or beg for boobs when we are out in public.  She doesn’t bite.  Every once in a while she will ask to nurse in the middle of the day, but she is understanding and accepts it when I tell her there is no milk in there at those times.  Her proper nursing etiquette is one reason I’ve been able to tolerate nursing this long.

With my son, who was our first child, I was eager to meet all milestones early.  I couldn’t wait for him to walk, talk, eat solids, use the potty.  He was a quick study, but stubborn.  He taught me that it would all eventually fall into place, but it might not be on my timeline, and that was okay.  As a society, we tend to be very fast paced, to rush things, and to focus on the product or the destination, rather than the process or the journey.

This time around, with Emily, I’ve taken a more relaxed approach to parenting.  In some ways, I am still a huge, stressy mess, but in other ways, I’ve been able to savor a bit more of the journey.  Even when it seems like it is taking forever, when I look behind me, I am always amazed at what a rapid blur it’s all been.

I’ve started talking to her about weaning, letting her know that eventually, she will be a bigger girl who won’t want to nurse.

Her reply:  “No.  I yittle.  I do milk with mama.  It taste yike stwabewee tot take.  It dee best in dee whooole wold.”

Sigh.

It looks like for now we will continue our twice a day pattern, oblivious to the big social clock that is ticking away, and judging us on not doing things quicker.

I know for a fact she will not go to kindergarten wanting to nurse.  I have confidence in this fact in the same way I am confident ALL children learn to use the potty and sleep through the night eventually.  Some kids are swifter than others with their developmental milestones, and others take their sweet time, but they all get there sooner or later.

Are there any milestones you forgot to “do” with your child?  When did you wean?  What factors influenced your decision to wean?