Today is Monday July 28th, 2014. Last Tuesday night – July 22nd – Gerry had “muk” to go to sleep on the eve of his 5th birthday. I don’t remember much about it really. You would have thought that I would have paid more attention! After all he had been saying for months that when he was 5 he would stop nursing. I guess I was highly skeptical. Anyway, I do remember wrapping gifts up for him after he fell asleep. I imagine he fell asleep with me on the couch, breastfeeding and watching a show on the Big TV or the iPhone. Then I carefully carried him up the stairs and laid him in the big bed that he shares with me and my husband.
His Birthday came and we were busy, busy – going to the store to pick up his Spiderman cake, meeting friends at the pool, playing with new toys. What a great day! Nighttime rolled around and we were all quite tired. I waited to see what would happen; I didn’t say anything. In the end he cuddled up to me on the couch while watching a show. Right before he drifted off he grabbed my breast, but just as quickly he was asleep. He did it! Wow, I could hardly believe it.
The next day I mentioned to him that he fell asleep without muk. He smiled and nodded shyly. We exchanged a high five and I told him how awesome that was. The following four nights followed a similar pattern – he likes to sit between my legs and have me squeeze him tightly in a blanket. Sometimes he has to move around a bit to get comfy. Our routine hasn’t changed much so I think that helps – he is still falling asleep with me downstairs on the couch. There have been a couple of times over these days that I can tell he really wants to nurse – when he’s really upset about something, or tired, or he gives me a little look, or grabs at my chest. I haven’t said anything, I just hold him and comfort him if he needs it. I doubt I would deny him if he explicitly asked to nurse, but I don’t want to suggest it either. He seems determined to stick to his word and I want to support him. Finally, I asked him yesterday if he was sad because he wanted muk (it felt like the “elephant in the room”, so even though I want to support him, I also want him to know that it is OK to talk about it and that his feelings are nothing to be ashamed of. Such a fine line it is trying to balance this parenting gig!) He said, “No!” emphatically but he also pushed me away, so I think I hit a nerve.
This time there were no tears from me. We were going to a friend’s house the day after his birthday and my mind wandered as it often does while driving. I felt a momentary pang – of sadness? But it was brief and I’m not even sure sadness is the right word. More like a bittersweet feeling that often accompanies watching my children grow up. It certainly wasn’t the grief described by this mama. This change was so slow and gradual, and we were both so ready that grief would be too strong of a word to describe what I feel. I often think that this is a benefit to following a child’s lead and being their partner – there is much less sorrow and regret for the parents. At least that has been my experience and observation.
In total I breastfed my two children for 8 years and 3 weeks (exactly!) I just figured out that this translates to “approximately” 2943 days – I even added 2 days in for leap years. It’s hard to believe. It sounds like such a long time – but in the grand scheme of my whole life (which I hope is nice and long) it really isn’t so much time.
Happy World Breastfeeding Week! So it appears that Gerry is really sticking to his word because it’s been over a week now of no breastfeeding during the day or to sleep at night. However, the night before last we did have one last breastfeeding session in the middle of the night. He was crying in his sleep for a while and very restless – I took him to the bathroom, but it didn’t seem to help. I asked him if he had a bad dream or a stomach ache (he had TONS of sugar that day at his sister’s birthday party) and he said no. I didn’t offer to nurse him for a while, hoping he could get back to sleep, but after what felt like forever I finally asked, “Do you want muk?” and he cried, “Yes!!” So we fell into our most comfortable, familiar positions and I made sure to notice and savor the moment, since this time I knew it REALLY might be the last time. Gerry was able to go back to sleep peacefully (finally!) and in the morning when I asked if he remembered crying in the night, he said no. So I don’t think he even remembers. I felt no guilt or sense of failure for nursing him – and I remember a similar experience with Marisol soon after she “officially” weaned. I think remaining flexible and open is one of the most important things we can do for our kids as we do our best to meet their needs. And this is one of the things that I am going to miss most about breastfeeding – it is such an amazing and easy way to comfort our children, get them to sleep, AND maximize our own sleep.
Gerry has seemed a bit “out of sorts” these past 10 days. He is probably getting a little less sleep as it takes him longer to settle at night. He is learning how to fall asleep without his much loved muk and it is wonderful to observe. I know that this is a transition and am trying to be extra loving and patient when he is tired and more demanding than usual. Last night he lay on top of me, the length of his body stretching over mine, his body heavy with sleep. He turned his head from side to side, finally settling in and eyes drooping. I felt as connected to him as I ever have.
I told Jamie that I feel a kind of parallel connection to her and her page, “I am Not the Babysitter”. It was because of her that I “came out” of my “lactivist closet” when her picture was on the TIME magazine cover. And this past spring, almost exactly 2 years later when she asked for submissions for her series, “Child-led weaning awareness month” I knew it was the right place to share our story.
So a few nights after Gerry (seemed to have) weaned I wrote Jamie to let her know the big news. I told her I was planning to write up some thoughts and offered to have them published on her website if that was something she was interested in. Her response cracked me up, “Would you like to write a follow-up post for World Breastfeeding Week? People will be shocked that he weaned before college. ;-)” I love this woman’s sense of humor! And I also couldn’t believe the synchronous timing – World Breastfeeding Week! Of course I had to answer this call!
I’ve never been so passionate about breastfeeding that I felt it was my “Calling” or “One Purpose” or “The Issue” to hook my writing on like some very successful bloggers have. I really admire those women and I’m glad they do what they do, but I’m kind of an “all over” person so it has always been a small piece of my story. Also, breastfeeding has always been kind of easy for me and my kiddos so I guess I take it for granted. What has changed for me, is that I’ve realized how far we (the COLLECTIVE “we”) still have to go. All you need to do is read some comments on a breastfeeding photo or piece of writing and you will see that the same ignorant opinions are still very prevalent and strong in our culture. It’s at once annoying and amusing, but also offensive to many and even dangerous to nursing moms and children. At first I didn’t know if “dangerous” was the right word to use. But I thought some more, and basically women and children are being discriminated against for something natural and right. And these attitudes are causing shame and suffering to such an extent that many mothers would rather hide that they breastfeed their children, than be “found out” and risk criticism, judgment, or even humiliation and abuse.
Here are a few reasons I know that there is still work to do when it comes to breastfeeding: 1) When Marisol was 6 months old I was asked if she was “still” breastfeeding, 2) When Marisol was 18 months old and I breastfed her at a restaurant my husband and I “joked” that she had just turned 1 year old – because breastfeeding a toddler was so foreign to us and we were uncomfortable, and 18 months seemed so much older than 12 months. 3) But the biggest indication to me that there is still more work to be done, is that even after all this time I still wasn’t comfortable nursing in public or even in front of certain friends and family. Even after 8 years and publicly proclaiming our breastfeeding status online for the World to read about, I still avoided breastfeeding in front of others because I didn’t feel comfortable. And that is not ok – for me or any other breastfeeding woman.
So in a way, keeping up with other “Lactivists” has made me stronger in my resolve to share, even though it’s not necessarily my passion. And now that my children are older I feel more responsibility to share and spread our story so people can learn what can be Normal if we Trust kids to do things in their own time. Because that is probably the most inspiring thing about Gerry’s weaning story – he chose the day and time and he is sticking to it. I don’t really have the words to explain how powerful that is. But I see more every day how little we trust children in our culture. It can be difficult to go against the grain of what “everyone else” is doing. But I’m telling you it is worth it! Every time you see your child choose something themselves, to grow with very little external pushing from you, to thrive in spite of all the naysayers – not only do they gain invaluable self-knowledge but you will become more confident as a parent. And that is priceless.
There is a good chance that my breastfeeding days are over (I haven’t let go of the idea that there may be one more baby in our family’s future… but I’ve also started to believe that our family is complete as it is). But even as our family forges forward into new stages and adventures, I will continue to share my story so that someday a woman breastfeeding her child will no longer be strange, “abusive”, or “news worthy.”
**This post was originally published here on I Am Not the Babysitter's website. And it turns out that there was one more baby in our family's future! Carter weaned about a month before his 5th birthday, following very closely in his big brother's footsteps.
On July 2nd of this year, 2014, I will mark 8 (EIGHT!) straight years of breastfeeding. I’m almost positive (like 99.99% sure) that there was not even a day in that 8 year stretch that went by without at least one session. I know this sounds quite impressive or even unbelievable to many people. Some might think that it is even a “sacrifice” on my part. But honestly I don’t often think of it as “EIGHT YEARS”. From the very beginning it has been one day at a time, and now it is such a natural part of our family life that it is not a big deal at all.
Maybe I should back up, to the very beginning. I knew when I was pregnant with my daughter that I wanted to breastfeed. I did not have too many preconceived ideas about how long I might nurse her. My mom breastfed me and my sister, for about a year and nine months, respectively. My cousin, who is like a big sister to me, also breastfed all 3 of her children, each for about one year I believe. I liken a year to the “perfect” amount of time to breastfeed in our culture – long enough to be a “good” mom, but not so long that you are “weird”.
I don’t even really remember when I came across the idea of “extended” breastfeeding or child-led weaning. I do remember reading Dr. Sear’s book Nighttime Parenting while I was still pregnant. So I know I was exposed to the ideas of Attachment Parenting before my daughter was even born.
Marisol was an awesome little nurser. From the start she and I had no real issues with breastfeeding. I might have been a little sore at first because I remember a month or so in I noticed that it wasn’t hurting and I thought, “Oh! So this is what it should be like!”
I actually can’t find any pictures breastfeeding Marisol. This was her baptism when she was about 3 months old. I imagine I stressed about whether she would need to nurse during the service. No mother should ever stress about it, in my opinion. But the truth is many of us do. I wish I had taken pictures of us breastfeeding.
When Marisol was 6 months old one of my best friend’s mother asked me if I was “still” nursing her. Um, yes! Sometimes I felt funny at other people’s houses when it seemed like I had “just” fed her and she seemed to want to nurse again. Looking back on these things now is almost mind boggling. The perceptions of breastfeeding in our culture are so skewed and wrong. (Read here for a different, AMAZING cultural perspective on breastfeeding.) This is why I have a desire to let other women know that it is fine, even wonderful, to breastfeed an “older child.”
I became pregnant with my son when my daughter was about 2 years and 4 months old. She was still going strong with her nursing habits – in fact we were co-sleeping and she didn’t even sleep through the night yet. When I went to an OB/GYN to confirm my pregnancy the doctor told me I should wean Marisol by the start of my second trimester. By this time I was a bit more of a rebel, so I nodded my head and said, “mmm hmm” and then I went home and Googled breastfeeding while pregnant. (Go ahead, do a search now and you will find things like this.) My search confirmed what I suspected and knew in my heart – for most women and child, breastfeeding through pregnancy is perfectly safe. So I ignored that OB’s advice and switched my care over to midwives at a birth center.
While pregnant I read La Leche’s book “Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding during pregnancy and Beyond.” I felt prepared to continue my breastfeeding relationship with Marisol for as long as she needed and wanted to. However, once her baby brother arrived my feelings changed. I experienced a very strong aversion to nursing Marisol pretty soon after his birth. I struggled with the feeling because I really wanted to keep meeting her needs, whatever they were. For about 2 months after Gerry was born I did continue to tandem nurse. I was especially glad when Marisol came down with a bug. For a couple of days she barely ate and I pretty much nursed her and Gerry around the clock. It was hard but I was glad that I could do it.
Marisol started to go longer in between breastfeeding sessions – her record was 2 days. She was sometimes falling asleep without nursing too. But as we prepared for bed every night she would proclaim in a sing-song voice, “Milky, light, and books – my three favorite things.” Finally, one night when I tried to gently set a boundary (aka Mommy needs you to stop now because I feel like I might throw you off me!) and she cried bitterly on the bed, my husband looked in on me and I silently said, “I’m done!” “You’re done?!?” he mouthed back in surprise. So that week we gave Marisol a day and told her we’d get Three Musketeer Barbie (she came with a horse!) at the end of the week if she didn’t nurse in that stretch of time. My poor girl was never one to be bribed though. She wanted the Barbie – Yes – but she also wanted her “milky”. The hardest part for me about weaning Marisol was the verbal expression of her sadness: “You’re making a BIG mistake” she told me every day for a couple of weeks.
The night I decided it was time (and I knew in my bones IT WAS TIME), I sobbed in the shower. I felt like this was the first time I was really letting my daughter down. But I knew I was ready to stop because I no longer wavered in my decision. Besides the one or two times that I nursed her when she sleepily nuzzled me in bed (she didn’t seem to remember in the morning), we never again had “milky time.” With lots of love and cuddles and distraction we pulled through. In hindsight, it wasn’t that traumatic. Marisol received the benefits of my breast milk, and that very particular loving bond between us for 3 years and almost 3 months of her life. That winter, just a few short months later, I asked if she remembered nursing. Her response amused me: “Yes, I did that when I was a baby.”
This picture is from moments after Gerry’s birth and I am in love with it. I find it ironic that I cannot find one picture of his big sister breastfeeding, and I have one of him nursing at my breast with his umbilical cord still attached to me. I think it is a great symbol of the changes in me as a mother and how much Marisol helped me grow as a person.
And so, with the end of her “extended” breastfeeding stint, her brother’s began. At first I thought Gerry was “different” than Marisol was as a baby – “easier” or more “laidback”. It soon became clear, and especially now looking back, that *he* was not different – *I* was. Instead of trying to get him to sleep in a crib, he co-slept with me from the start. Instead of worrying about when and where he napped, I just went with it. While he was an infant I thought surely he would wean sooner than Marisol did. He just seemed like a happy, content little guy, so I thought he wouldn’t “need” to nurse as long. Ha! That is so funny to me now. Maybe he was so happy and content BECAUSE of the breastfeeding. (Duh!) Besides, why “happy and content” would mean earlier weaning I’m not exactly sure (especially since his sister was generally happy and content too). Sometimes we are just blind to the obvious I guess!
Interestingly enough, Gerry and I did have some challenges in his first few weeks. I always like to share this with my students (I teach Hypnobabies childbirth classes). Just because *I* had been nursing his sister for 3 years, my “expert” status didn’t mean we wouldn’t have our own obstacles to overcome. I believe the problem was that I had too much milk. He would cry and fuss, and I would try to nurse him. He would latch and unlatch and cry more – it just was hard. Luckily, I believed that perseverance was the answer and sure enough within a couple of months my milk supply synced with his needs, and he became a pro – just like big sis.
As with Marisol, I had no set time in mind for how long Gerry and I would continue our breastfeeding relationship. Before having children I never imagined breastfeeding one child for 3 years, much less 5 years! I think this is a common experience for many mothers who practice “extended” breastfeeding or child-led weaning. Yes I keep putting it in quotations because to me it makes more sense to call it *normal* or just plain ol’ *breastfeeding*. We take it one day at a time, and the days quickly melt into weeks and months. Before you know it years have passed. I have to admit that weaning my daughter was a tough experience. I was just talking to her about it today as I wrote this piece and she assured me that she is fine. I knew that. But still it feels good to take an even gentler approach with my son. We’ve started to talk about when he might stop having “muk”. Right now his 5th birthday is on the table as a possibility. That is only 3 short months from now. To him “100 days” sounds like a long time, but I know better. His birthday is going to be here in the blink of an eye. And if he is ready to give up “muk” then I’m 100% behind him. But if he rethinks this deadline I’m sure we will find a solution that works for both of us. Either way, it seems that the end of our breastfeeding relationship is drawing nearer.
Most people would have no idea that my almost-5-year old still breastfeeds. It almost always happens at home. He nurses to sleep (with shows on an iPhone!) almost every night. It would be easy to keep it a “secret.” The thing is I don’t want to keep it a secret. Even though it pushes my comfort levels, I want to share our story. I want people to know that it is not weird or unhealthy. I know some people may want more “proof,” like meeting my son when he is an adult or something like that. I guess that for now skeptics will need to trust me. So even though I feel uncomfortable nursing Gerry in front of some people, I’m willing to share with the whole world via the internet that YES my boy loves his “muk,” and I will not be shamed into silence.
**This post was originally published here on I Am Not the Babysitter's website.