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Different Needs

By Erika Lange
Bet Shemesh Israel
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 4, July-August 2005, pp. 148-149

I suppose I was born yearning to become a mother. My mother likes to tell a story about how, as a toddler, I would nurse each of my dolls and line them up to sleep. I remember continuing to play with dolls late into my childhood, imagining so intensely that they were my real little babies. As the oldest and only girl in the family, I was privileged to participate in the joys of nurturing real babies starting with my first brother, 18 months younger than me, down to my fifth brother, 17 years my junior. In our family, breastfeeding was the only way to feed a baby. My mother tandem nursed my brother and me side by side, I observed my mother breastfeeding my twin brothers past their second birthdays, and, in my teen years, I had a more mature view as my youngest brothers, born 16 months apart, were breastfed. My mother had a natural attitude and manner about breastfeeding. Her availability to each of her children was pronounced in so many ways, beginning at the breast when we were young and developing into so much more as we grew.

For 25 years, I dreamt of becoming a mother. The moment finally arrived when my husband and I welcomed our daughter, Atara, into the world in October 2001. My first encounter with her was on the birthing bed. After a long and tedious labor she latched on with vigor and only stopped suckling when the midwives took her to be examined. Our breastfeeding relationship continued strong. I knew very little of the technicalities of breastfeeding; I knew nothing of hours and feeding intervals or measurements. I had learned all that I knew from my mother and it seemed the most natural to respond to my baby's cues, nursing her when she needed to for whatever interval her appetite required. Though my husband and I set up a crib for Atara in her bedroom, her primary sleeping place was in either of our arms or nestled safely between the mesh bedrail on my bed and me. Becoming a mother and learning the ropes of motherhood remain the best memories of my life.

When Atara was eight months old I became pregnant again. There was never a doubt in my mind that Atara and I would continue our nursing relationship through the pregnancy and she and her baby sibling would nurse side by side. How wrong I was!

In retrospect, I realize that Atara had begun the slow weaning process around the time she started walking at nearly 10 months of age. A precocious and nimble toddler, Atara took interest in a variety of foods and new activities and nursed less and less. I had never measured or timed our nursing and paid little attention to the gradual changes.

Atara continued to develop and grow, as did our unborn baby and my tummy. Suddenly, right after Atara's first birthday, she refused to nurse. I was shocked and devastated. As far as I was concerned, 12 months was not enough! How would my precious baby continue to bloom into a strong, healthy, secure child without my milk? I tried every way I knew to persuade Atara back to the breast, but she wanted nothing to do with nursing and that was the sudden conclusion of our breastfeeding relationship. My husband and my family certainly supported the plan to continue breastfeeding and they shared my disappointment. I was so saddened that Atara would never enjoy the experience of tandem nursing with the new baby. My dreams of easing Atara's transition from only child to big sister through nursing were shattered.

Over the years I have learned that no two experiences are ever quite the same. Nothing is as special as becoming a mother for the first time; however, nothing is as wonderful as becoming a mother again. Our second daughter, Maya, was born in March 2003. Like Atara, Maya latched on with vigor on the birthing bed and joined my bed between the mesh bedrail and me. Maya's greatest joy has always been snuggling up for long nursing sessions. She didn't begin to explore eating solid foods until she was about one year old. My two daughters were exclusively nourished with my milk, yet they each had very different needs. When Atara decided to stop nursing, she never looked back. I know that the 12 months we spent nursing were exactly what Atara needed. I can continue fulfilling her individual needs in other ways. Atara is now three-and-a-half and Maya is two. We are expecting our third child in November. Maya is still nursing and doesn't show any signs of stopping. Maybe this time around we'll experience tandem nursing. One thing is definite, though. My third experience giving birth and breastfeeding a newborn will be different from the first two, but still special and memorable.

Children receive their life's foundation from their parents. Being a mother has heightened my appreciation for being nurtured and having my physical and emotional needs met as a child. My mother helped me be the mother that I am today.

Last updated Wednesday, October 25, 2006 by njb.
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