Sunday, April 18, 2010

When in nature...

As many of my regular readers are aware, I've breastfed my little bear well into pre-school-hood. We've had a lovely nursing relationship, not without bumps, but as much as I worried he wouldn't take to the breast, he absolutely adores them.

We've wound down nursing sessions to only naptime. He had nary a problem giving up his early morning "snack." Although this also meant that instead of latching on at 5:30 am and drifting back to blissful slumber until 8:00 am or so, he's now wide awake at 6:30 am (sign, groan, yawn). But, naptime he's holding onto a little while longer.

Despite an overwhelming amount of support from my family when the little bear was first born, as we sailed past one....then two....then three (gasp!), the support has turned into obvious silence and occassional suggestions that it really might be "time." Past time, in fact.

And as much as I have loved breastfeeding my child, I will admit, I'm ready for the nursing relationship to come to a natural end. But, as parents (and especially as mothers) we tend to put our own wants and needs aside for the sake of our children. And he just doesn't seem to be on the same page as I.

Then, the other day we were enjoying the lovely spring weather, and the little bear said something that made me really reflect on breastfeeding and societal "norms." The sun was sparkling golden through the branches of our maple, the grass was whispering the warm breeze and the birds were trilling a happy tune. And it was nap time. We had a blanket laid on the grass and a tee-pee of branches and an old sheet for playing and I asked the little bear if he wanted to take a nap outside.

His eyes lit up and he shook his head enthusiastically. Then he said, "Can I have ba-ba's too?" (His slang for nursing.) My knee jerk answer was "No, honey. Let's go inside and take a nap if you want to nurse." My heart sank before the words were completely out of my mouth. As did his sweet little face.

"But, why mommy?" he said. And I had no answer. At least no answer I was proud to share. Why, really? Other people think it's weird for a three-year-old to still be nursing? I was horrified at how I had allowed what other people might think to affect how I was mothering my child. And, boy, was I sad when I thought about the fact that it really was the disapproval of my immediate family that had me acting ashamed of breastfeeding my pre-schooler.

How had this happened? How had I lost the bold and proud attitude that I was doing what was right and best for my child, and that I would do so no matter what anyone thought? And what kind of message was I sending to my little bear?

I tried to back-pedal and tell him we could certainly stay outside if he wanted, but he was already onto the next thought and headed happily inside. I, on the other hand, am still wrestling with what happened. I always pictured myself as that mother who nurses her child whenever and wherever he/she needs. (And when I say "needs," I don't just mean for nutritional purposes.) Of course, I guess I never pictured myself nursing a three-year-old either.

A recent BabyCenter newsletter just tackled the "blankie" issue, concluding that three- and four-year-olds often still need their blankie or stuffie for emotional comfort and that parent's shouldn't concern themselves with trying to take them away just yet. My question is what if your child's "blankie" is actually your breast? Why is a child's attachment to an inanimate object okay, but a child's attachment to the very source of physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment taboo?

My heart is still hollow when I think about it. Maybe it is time to give up on child-led weaning and do what I've seen so many animal mamas do. Or, stop agonizing and just let our nursing relationship run it's course with confidence and pride.


debbiedas said...

Beautiful post. My son will be four at July's end and we still nurse. He usually only asks at bedtime, (or if I'm changing, in which case he chases me around the house and it becomes a big game.)
I feel your pain with regards to family. Mine will often say, "Is he still nursing?" or "Aren't you weaning him?" But of course he's weaning himself. He isn't nursing nearly as much as he was a year ago...or even 6 months ago. He'll know when that time is right to let go. But there are days when I'm ready for it to be over as well; and days when I just love the connection.
It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. Your last sentence sums it all up. And, if it's hard for you to deal with family who don't understand...then just don't tell them. It's none of their business anyway. :) Sending lots of love your way. xo

Mon said...

I'm sorry for that hollow feeling, I understand it.

There is no right or wrong answer... people can argue for and against extended breastfeeding. Emotional, physical, biological, and evolutionary reasons.

So, all that's left, is your intuition. Which absolutely includes your own needs as well as your child's. Believe in it.

Two Tuesdays said...

I feel for you. It sounds like such a tough thing to wrangle. I wonder at the lack of support for breastfeeding - especially as no one bats an eye at the toddler with a bottle full of fluro green liquid (as we saw at the park today).

Cave Mother said...

I can under stand where you're coming from. I was just talking to someone recently about how pleased I feel when we have a day when my daughter only nurses every few hours. But then I have to wonder why I am pleased about that? Why do I automatically think she should be cutting down? I'm fully committed to long term breastfeeding aren't I?

I think the societal norms are so deeply embedded within us that it is often hard to separate them out from our personal beliefs and instincts. I don't think there is anything wrong with refusing your son's request to nurse outside, but I understand why your response surprised you.

Juliana Crespo said...

Your post is so thoughtful. My daughter, Luna, is eight months old and nurses often. I love nursing her and am actually saddened by the thought that someday she'll wean herself. Of course, it must happen at some point, but I really don't feel the need to rush it (though I might feel differently a couple of years from now :)). The thing is, it's such a source of comfort and safety for her. When she cries or is feeling vulnerable, I know that I can comfort her through breastfeeding, and there's something quite precious about this.

It seems as though your intuition is telling you one thing, and society another. I say go with your intuition. It rarely proves one wrong. That way, you won't feel guilty later on in life, and you will feel that you did the right thing for you and your son.

Aden Meyler said...

Amanda, I've been there too, having breastfed by two girls until they were 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 years old. I only breast fed by oldest son until he was nine months because I followed what I assumed was a child led process with him. I really regretted letting him go so soon.

But I also never thought I would be breastfeeding a pre-schooler either, much to the chagrin of my mother who was my role model in the lonely world of breastfeeding which she encountered in the 60s. Even she didn't think that children should be breastfed past the age of 1.

Keep going as long as you both want.

P.S. I still wished I had bought my son the Pocahontas sandals at Target when he asked for them.

Amanda said...

Thank you, ladies, for all your wise words!

Josie said...

Hi Amanda,
I know exactly where you are. I am about 6 days in to weaning my 2.5 yr old from his last feed. It isn't easy knowing whats right, but in the end i realised that though i loved our feeding relaitionship and he certainley wanted to carry on, i wanted to not be breastfeeding any more. he wasnt thrilled the first time i said no, but i offered him 'special warm juice' and made some for his brothers as well, and he was fine.
Two things have really helpes us. The first is replacing it with something special and treaty like warm juice and cuddles, and the second is letting him 'hold it' whenever he wants. This does mean i spend half my life with his hand down my top! but its really comforting to him so I can cope!and he is doing it less and less! i have notice dthat he is less clingy and whiney now though, and has also started sleeping really well so maybe it was the right time for him as well.
I hope you find a way to be comfortable with your own nursing choices, it is a minefield!

Jill said...

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I came over from Maria's Kitchen and read back a ways. I nursed my three kids to age three, and the first two were ready to be done by then. This last one, my last one, was harder. It did get to the point, though, that she was asking pro forma, and it was exceedingly physically uncomfortable for me. I sit with her while she falls asleep still (she'll be 3 1/2 soon); she's not ready to negotiate the transition to sleep alone. That helps us both. I think it was super hard knowing I'd never nurse another baby. But, a time for everything, and I loves my big kids.