Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Make Milk, What's Your Superpower?

Yep, Sadie and I are still breastfeeding. Mostly happily.
As soon as I decided that I would be a breastfeeding mama, I knew that I would be very committed to it. I believe so strongly in the benefits of this relationship for both mamas and babies. I believe that this is the single most important gift I have given my child, to date.

And it certainly hasn't always been easy. As a full-time working mother, it was a serious commitment and sacrifice to maintain my milk supply in those early days. I laugh when I think about some of the ridiculous situations in which I pumped. (covered in mud, hunched down in my truck, while an all-male drill crew worked just out of sight comes to mind...).

I think I always intended to nurse until Sadie turned two. That's the recommendation of the World Health Organization, other respected pediatric groups, Sadie's pediatrician, and some other nursing mamas I know. But I never really thought about what that meant. I guess I just thought we would magically be done when Sadie turned two. Then when Sadie started to near her second birthday, it became clear that if I was really determined to be done, it wasn't going to be easy. At all. I reached out to the very few women I know who nursed past their child's first birthday. And I started paying more attention to Sadie and what her needs/wants are when it comes to nursing. I told Sadie's pediatrician (who is very breastfeeding supportive) that I was "in no hurry" but that I was interested in moving in the direction of weaning. His advice to me was a common saying when it comes to gently weaning toddlers, "Don't Offer, Don't Refuse". Sounds reasonable, right?

Well, let me just tell you that I never offer. Never. I don't get the chance to really. The minute I walk in the door after work, before a hug and kiss, Sadie asks to nurse. And she's VERY insistent about it. She will not take no for an answer.

It's true that Sadie does not NEED to nurse anymore, from a nutritional standpoint. But that doesn't mean she doesn't need to nurse anymore. What I know in my heart is that this is her best way to reconnect with me after missing each other all day. I don't see Sadie before I go to work in the morning...so when I get home from work, we've been apart for 22 hours :(. And she knows that when we are nursing, I am 100% focused on her and it is a special time for us to be physically and emotionally close.

Sadie is also a sensitive little one who is very attached to her mama, and I believe that she benefits greatly from the comfort and security that nursing brings. I also know that it is my very best (and easiest) tool to help her calm down when she is upset, angry, or hurt. It is a very important part of our bedtime routine, and although she has no problem going to sleep for her dad or her grandparents, if I'm the one putting her to sleep, we both love having that time to snuggle in close and quiet down from the business of the day.

But there are also times that I am ready, READY, to be done. It's not always sweet and comforting for me. There are times that my body and its particular hormonal state that day are not in the mood to nurse. There are times, like last week, when I came home from a long after-work run, sweatier than I've ever been in my life, and all Sadie wanted to do was nurse. I literally had to peel my sports bra off of me and get in the shower while listening to her scream for 20 minutes because I absolutely just couldn't bring myself to nurse until I'd washed all the sweat and grime off my body. And then there are times when I find myself feeling self-conscious about nursing Sadie.

When Sadie was younger, I had absolutely no qualms about nursing in public. I nursed her discreetly while eating with friends in a busy restaurant, at concerts and festivals, in front of her great-grandparents at the dinner table, on the airplane, and while walking around my neighborhood. I'm so thankful that unlike many, many women in this country, I was never chided for it or asked to leave a public place. I also like to think that through these actions I've made some formerly squeamish friends and family members more comfortable with breastfeeding and helped them to realize that it's a perfectly natural way to nourish your baby and is absolutely not something that must be done in private.

But....now that Sadie's a bit older and I'm the only person in my immediate group of family and friends who has nursed to this age, I'm more aware of when and where I nurse Sadie. Unlike some toddlers, Sadie doesn't often insist on nursing when we're in public. She tends to get distracted and excited about whatever activity we're engaged in and it doesn't cross her mind. If we are in someone's home, I can usually say, o.k., it's time to go have some quiet time, and we'll find a quiet place to nurse.

A couple weekends ago, though, we were camping with several other couples. A couple of the mamas, their kids, and Sadie and I were sitting around the campfire when Sadie asked to nurse. I mostly felt comfortable nursing in front of these women, but they are relatively new friends and I don't really know how they feel about breastfeeding. I wasn't sure how I felt about nursing in front of these womens' husbands, but could have talked myself into getting over that. The thing that gave me the most pause, was that I was nervous about the reaction of Sadie's three-year old playmate and the other kiddos. I've never seen it as my job to "teach" other people, through example, about breastfeeding. But I do know that when I nurse in front of people who are not familiar or comfortable, that it can be a good learning experience. I guess I just didn't feel up to it that day.

I ended up finding a beautiful, quiet spot in the woods where Sadie and I nursed and then spent some more time listening to the birds and talking about what we saw in the trees. And that was a more relaxing, special moment anyway, than if we were trying to nurse in the midst of the whole group. But I've found myself mulling over the feelings I experienced in that situation.

Later during that same camping trip, when the entire group was sitting around camp, somehow Brian got around to telling a story about Sadie asking to nurse. The gist of it was describing what I mentioned before, how when I walk in the door that's the only thing she wants to do. Like I said, these were somewhat new friends, and I wasn't sure if they were all aware that Sadie still nurses at the age of 2 1/2. In a way, it was nice that Brian was just getting that information out there in the open. At the same time, I felt a bit shy about him telling everyone this so casually. But I know that was just my natural instinct to be private about something that is not that common in our society.

But as I've thought about that moment several times over the past couple weeks, the overall feeling I end up with is pride in my husband. I'm so proud and thankful that he feels no shame or embarrassment about this (he shouldn't!). In a way, I think he's proud of the fact that our family still has a nursing toddler. I think he likes that it makes us a bit different from other friends in this regard. That attitude from him helps remind me to snap out of it when I'm feeling self-conscious or shy about our nursing.

And after all, this parenting thing is teamwork. Although my nursing relationship with Sadie is mostly about the two of us, Brian is and always has been a part of the relationship too. I absolutely could not have made it this far without Brian's support and encouragement.

So, now what? Well, that I can't answer yet. I've clearly flown right past the two year mark and see no end in sight. I have started talking to Sadie about nursing in a way she can understand. While she screamed at me when I was in the shower last week I continued to explain to her that when she acts that way it doesn't make me want to nurse. I try to limit our nursing to when I get home from work and before bed (and in the morning when I'm there). I enforce and insist upon nursing "manners". And I'm taking it day by day.

I'm also educating myself about the concepts of child-led weaning. Child-led weaning means trusting your child and having confidence that your child knows what she needs. It means trusting yourself enough to ignore a society that claims to know your child better than you do. I'm reminding myself about the benefits of nursing past infancy. I'm rereading this great book. And I'm taking a deep breath, relaxing, looking into my daughters beautiful blue eyes, and reveling in the joy and beauty of this relationship.

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