Now that Gabe is two, I am quite aware that I am nursing a “big kid.” He’s been a toddler for a year now, but suddenly he feels like a kid and it seems everyone else thinks so too. A month ago I was doing something normal; now I’m doing something radical: I’m nursing a two-year-old. He asks for “nee-ness” and cookies alike, and he likes to play games at the breast as much as he likes to suckle.
People just assume Gabe is weaned. His age seems to be all the information people need to draw this conclusion. I got questions about weaning from people I haven’t seen in ten years at my high school reunion. “When did Gabe wean?” “How did you go about weaning?” It was a little awkward when I told them he still nurses. Like, a lot.
I find myself much more hesitant to nurse Gabe in public now than I once was. Granted he doesn’t ask in public very often, given that he’s an easily distractible and highly social child, but it does happen. And I’m trying to do it more on the sly than I used to. Just a few suckles then you’re done, ok? Part of it is my own desire to teach him delayed gratification and my preference to nurse not-exactly-on-demand as we did when he was an infant. But part of it is, admittedly, the worry that I will be judged. The worry that this is no longer okay. The worry that I am a weirdo.
You know, I don’t really think of myself as an “extended nurser,” as our culture does. My own mother nursed me until I was 3 and 1/2 years old. She nursed my two sisters until they were 21 months and nearly 5 years old, respectively (isn’t it interesting how the needs and desires of children are so varied!). I grew up around breastfeeding. “Toddler breastfeeding” has been normal to me my entire life. It’s adjusting to the discomfort of others that has been my challenge.
My husband did not grow up around a culture of breastfeeding as I did. He and I held very different views regarding the normalcy of nursing duration, not to mention nursing discretion, when we started our parenting journey. Truth be told, we’re still bumping up against these differences and trying to work them out. There are days when he has expressed to me his sadness that he cannot share the same bond with Gabe that I have, seeing how tender and beautiful it is and wishing he too could experience the depth of the breastfeeding relationship. There are other days when he becomes understandably frustrated that our son is a pretty horrible eater, and wants nee-nees all the time, and is quite attached to his mother to the point of bruising my husband’s sweet daddy soul. We’re working on it. I’ll admit that I rarely respond well to our differences of opinion and experience. I am forever passionate and stubborn as hell and prone to cry profusely, which is a wicked combination. We have different perspectives. Marriage is hard. I love my husband and I love my baby. God seems to think we need lots of opportunities to practice graciousness and submission to one another. And here I am with a heart that still loves to nurse and nurses to love.
I’ve been trying to think more intentionally about WHY I am still nursing, WHY I want to continue nursing. Why I even want to tandem nurse (newborn and toddler simultaneously). It’s not all roses. That stinker still bites me on occasion. Thanks to Gabe’s food sensitivities, it means I can’t have any dairy or gluten myself, which is really, totally, completely, no fun at all. (I seriously have dreams about pizza). So WHY am I putting myself through this? WHY don’t I just quit? Well…I don’t want to. Not yet. My heart needs it. My child is grounded by it. It’s hard to explain, but I’m hoping pictures (and some words) will help.
“Possibly the most important aspect of breastfeeding a toddler is not the nutritional or immunologic benefits, important as they are. I believe the most important aspect of breastfeeding a toddler is the special relationship between child and his mother. Breastfeeding is a life-affirming act of love that repeats itself every time the child goes to the breast. This continues when the baby becomes a toddler. Anyone without prejudices, who has ever observed an older baby or toddler breastfeeding can testify that there is something special, something far beyond food, going on. A toddler will sometimes spontaneously, for no obvious reason, break into laughter while he is breastfeeding. His delight in the breast goes far beyond a source of food. And if the mother allows herself, breastfeeding becomes a source of delight for her as well, far beyond the pleasure of providing food. Of course, it’s not always great, but what is? And when it is, it makes it all so worthwhile.
And if the child does become ill or gets hurt (and they do as they meet other children and become more daring), what easier way to comfort the child than breastfeeding? I remember nights in the emergency department when mothers would walk their ill, non-breastfeeding babies or toddlers up and down the halls trying, often unsuccessfully, to console them, while the breastfeeding mothers were sitting quietly with their comforted, if not necessarily happy, babies at the breast. The mother comforts the [sick] child with breastfeeding and the child comforts the mother by breastfeeding.” ~Dr. Jack Newman, MD (emphases mine, article here)
I’m still nursing because despite his 26lbs and nearly 35 inches, I still see my newborn baby when I latch Gabe on and he lovingly paws at my chest.
I’m still nursing because it gets me some peace and quiet when I want to talk to another adult.
I’m still nursing because sometimes it makes it simpler for me to get ready in the morning.
I’m still nursing because this view never gets old.
I’m still nursing because I’m crazy and I want to nurse two at one time and have them hold hands and do other precious things.
I’m still nursing because Maria Lactans (early church depictions of Mary nursing Jesus) are awesome.
I’m still nursing because it’s good for my kid! Yay, a mommy thing I can get right every time!
I’m still nursing because it helps me multitask like a boss.
I’m still nursing because I’m pregnant and I like to lie down sometimes.
I’m still nursing because history tells me that children have been “asking for it” for a very long time. And that’s more than okay.
I’m still nursing because I’m in no hurry to find out what happens when you can’t rely on nee-nees to comfort sick children.
I’m still nursing because there’s no feeling in the world like being ONE with your child.
I’m still nursing because the “blessings of the breasts” (Genesis 49:25) are many.
You want to know the real reason, the core reason, I am still nursing? It’s because it is the best thing I have ever done for another human being, and in many ways the best thing I have ever done for myself, and I love it. It waters my soul. It gives me mama-strength. It communicates love when nothing else can. It covers a multitude of sins. It’s the one thing that always says YES and JOY and SAFE when my words sometimes don’t. It’s like hot chocolate for the heart. I’m still nursing because it’s still wonderful.
“Breastfeeding is an unsentimental metaphor for how love works, in a way. You don’t decide how much and how deeply to love — you respond to the beloved, and give with joy exactly as much as they want.” — Marni Jackson