Before I share today’s post, if I could ask for some prayers today. 4 years ago on March 20 2009, we lost our first baby, Michael John. Please pray for the repose of his soul, and join me in asking is intercession for a sibling for his sister, Maggie. Thank you so much my friends!
Now on with the show! Today’s post is from Laura at Mothering Spirit. Her blog always makes me think about something in a new way, and leaves my spirit nourished, which is why I often read it over my morning coffee. Thank you for sharing and welcome, Laura!
My son turns 18 months old today.
I won’t realize this until two days later. Never one to mark every milestone in the baby book, I miss yet another marker of his steps toward toddlerhood.
Instead, his 18 month “birthday” begins like every other morning. I wake to hear him babbling on the monitor. I go in to greet him as he grins and stretches out his arms to me. I kiss his wild bedhead hair while he wrestles away, insisting, “Up! I need up!”
And then we cuddle into his rocker to nurse.
. . .
The fact that I can write these words about nursing an 18 month-old still seems strange. I never intended to become a “crunchy mama,” the kind who crusade for co-sleeping or campaign against circumcision. While we did use cloth diapers and make homemade baby food, I never identified as an attachment parent. I never honestly understood the need to choose a set philosophy when it came to something as complex and complicated as raising a child.
So I slipped into the world of extended-nursing without really realizing what I was doing.
Before my first baby was born, I wanted to breastfeed. But beyond buying a few nursing bras and checking out a La Leche League group, I didn’t give the decision much thought. I vaguely remember thinking I’d try to nurse till six months and see how it went.
Then my son arrived three weeks early, and with the IVs he needed in the hospital nursery to ward off infection came thrush three weeks later—in all its toe-curling, scream-inducing, shooting pain.
We had thrush for three long months. Friends and family alike suggested I quit nursing. But I dug in my heels and kept going. I remember thinking that just because something was hard didn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing. When the thrush finally cleared up, we settled into a better routine as the months passed.
Nursing wasn’t always smooth sailing: I hated pumping while at work meetings, dealing with clogged ducts, worrying that my milk supply would decrease whenever I had to leave him. But even though it wasn’t always simple, it was an important part of my mothering—a sacrifice of self for this baby I loved.
Suddenly my son was a year old and we were still nursing a few times a day. I was surprised to find we made it so far. But why quit when it was finally getting easy?
We made it to 15 months when I decided I was ready to wean. But I still never thought of myself as an “extended nurser.”
Then my second son arrived. From his speedy birth minutes after we squealed up to the hospital doors, everything about this baby was fast and furious. Nursing was no different: he took to it like a champ and grew steadily and swiftly.
As time flew even faster with baby #2, I found myself at the end of his first year with not a thought of weaning in my mind. Why bother? Suddenly even 15 months seemed too soon; I’d have to start scheduling how I’d drop feedings and figure out how to rearrange his schedule. To keep on going simply seemed like the better option for us both.
So we did. And you think I’d be full of confidence by that point, an experienced mama and a confident nurser.
Instead I found myself hiding the fact that I was still breastfeeding.
When I told a friend that we were still nursing and her eyebrows flew up in surprise, I felt embarrassed. Was it weird? Should I be ashamed? Should we stop?
When I sat with a group of moms at a toddler class and they gossiped about someone who nursed her baby until he was ALMOST TWO and EW THAT WAS TOTALLY MESSED UP, I blushed and mentally noted to never mention breastfeeding in class again.
When my teething toddler went through a fussy phase and everyone assured me he was weaning, I knew they were wrong but I didn’t speak up. I simply went on nursing quietly in private.
Back before I had kids, when I knew the most about parenting (ha), I freely joined in gossip about how weird it was that a mom would keep nursing once the kid could ask for it. How creepy it was to keep breastfeeding a toddler, that it must be more about the mother’s needs than the child.
Of course I cringe when I remember those moments, my surety about a subject I knew nothing about. Because while I fully admit that nursing a toddler is not for every mother, I also freely assert that it’s right for me, for this child, for right now.
. . .
Today he nurses when he wakes up in the morning, and after from nap if I’m not working. I don’t have to worry about pumping when I’m gone for the day, and I can enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Right now is a golden moment: we both still get the benefits of nursing without any of the blood, sweat and tears. Why quit when the going is good?
Oddly enough, it has been through other mother’s stories about deciding to give up breastfeeding that I have felt the deepest resonance with my decision to keep nursing. That grateful moment of deep relief, of trusting that this was the best possible decision for this child – I connect completely with such stories, even if some people would want to put these two parenting decisions at opposite ends of the spectrum.
I feel no need to decide exactly how or when he will wean, especially since this sweet stubborn second son will do it exactly on his own terms. So I savor the slow moments we still share, unhurried to rush on to what’s next. I’m at peace with nursing now, knowing that it’s a good part of our relationship today but knowing that it will likely soon end.
I’m more at peace with myself as a mother, too. I don’t need to defend my decision to anyone, because I’ve made a sound choice that fits the needs of this child. And I don’t need to declare that I’ll make the same decision in the future, either.
Just like I don’t need to judge whether any other mother should do the same.
. . .
Laura Kelly Fanucci is a Catholic wife and mother of two who writes about faith and family life at Mothering Spirit.