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.