Kari N. C.
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 3, May-June 2001, p. 92-94
When our first child arrived four weeks early, I had barely opened the breastfeeding book next to my bed. As Daniel and I struggled through those first awkward feedings, I could never have predicted the stages we would pass through in the next five years.
As an infant, Daniel was exceptionally needy and intense. He nursed frequently, fiercely, and at length, and he demanded almost constant holding. If his wants or needs were not immediately satisfied, he became nearly hysterical. Nothing but nursing would temper his wildly vacillating moods, comfort and nourish him when he was sick, or lull him into a tenacious slumber. Nursing was his lifeline, his postpartum umbilical cord, and I often felt as if the little one at my breast was permanently attached to me.
At the time, when some friends insisted I was letting my baby "tie me down" too much, I took solace in advice and books from LLL, including Dr. William Sears' THE FUSSY BABY. While society encouraged us, against our instincts, to wean Daniel from his dependence upon me, Dr. Sears and my LLL friends reassured us that meeting his loudly proclaimed needs would not spoil him but give him a deeper sense of security and love.
Daniel's neediness subsided gradually as he grew into toddlerhood, but his strong desire to nurse persisted. Breastfeeding continued, almost magically, to calm the stormy seas of his moods, but it drove us harder against the cultural current. I became acutely aware that, to some minds, and rather inexplicably to me, a child's walking and talking were viewed as antithetical to nursing. Our pediatrician, after acknowledging that Daniel's growth rate and health were excellent, strongly advised weaning. "Go away for a week or two and leave him with someone else, " she insisted, providing no real reason for the weaning. "It will bother you more than it bothers him." I knew my child well enough to recognize that this would not be the case; he cherished and depended on nursing too much. Again, I found reassurance in information shared with me by LLL, that nursing beyond age one has multiple health benefits and probably emotional benefits as well, and I did not attempt to disrupt the intimate bond we had so lovingly formed.
I did not comfortably don the role of cultural groundbreaker. While the choices I've made have worked out pretty well for my family, posing only minor difficulties, I have found it hard to remain immune to the judgments and misconceptions of society. In fact, cultural prejudices against nursing older children and widespread misinformation about nursing have created more problems for us than the continued nursing.
By the time Daniel turned two, I felt the need to stop nursing in public places, and I learned to be selective about the people with whom we shared our "family secret." I have not minded answering questions of the truly curious ("Doesn't it hurt when they have teeth?"), but disapproving comments based on deeper misconceptions ("I don't think I'd even want to remember breastfeeding!") have been harder to brush off gracefully. Without the support of LLL and friends committed to breastfeeding, we might have felt less secure in doing what seemed best, or even necessary, for our particularly spirited first child.
During the next two years, medical misunderstandings threatened to end our nursing relationship. When Daniel was two, a surgeon determined that I needed a breast biopsy and assumed I must wean him before the surgery. Again, I requested the counsel of LLL friends and learned that a "partial, temporary weaning" (weaning temporarily from the affected breast only) was a much less disruptive solution. That story was told in the pages of HOW WEANING HAPPENS, by Diane Bengson.
Shortly after that, when we sought treatment for secondary infertility (we had experienced primary infertility before having Daniel), our family physician told us that weaning would be our first necessary step. By then Daniel was mostly "comfort nursing," taking in very little milk. We tried to wean Daniel, unsuccessfully, but were relieved and delighted when I became pregnant just a few months later. Finally, while friends and family in the medical field warned us that nursing during pregnancy would be risky, my obstetrician and experienced friends assured me that, with proper nutrition and prenatal care, continuing to breastfeed posed no real threat to a healthy pregnancy.
As the pregnancy progressed and my milk supply dwindled, Daniel often chose to drink milk from a cup with a spout and to cuddle instead of nursing. However, he did not wean. I worried how he would respond after the birth to a nursing rival and sudden increase in my milk supply. This time I had only one or two friends (as well as LLL materials) to turn to for advice. I knew of children who had nursed during pregnancy, but most had chosen to wean during the last months because the milk became too scarce or tasted different. Those mothers who had tandem nursed provided mixed responses: some found the experience generally irritating or tiring, others felt it was invaluable in minimizing sibling rivalry and helping the children bond. After our daughter Emma was born, Daniel asked to nurse more often and showed some distress when his sister got more breastfeeding time, but it wasn't as difficult as I had feared. And while nursing an infant and preschooler in unison felt a bit strange at times, it was also one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. Frequently, as our children shared the special comfort and closeness of tandem nursing, Daniel would gently and lovingly pat his new sister on the head. People still comment on how nurturing and protective he is of Emma, and when we drive, I often catch a glimpse in the rearview mirror of Daniel holding her tiny hand.
Now that Emma is approaching age two and Daniel is five (I laugh inside when people are surprised that she is still nursing), I am glad we have "gone the distance" in fulfilling Daniel's needs. His spirited side still rears its formidable head when he is tired, sick, or emotionally overwhelmed; but he remains a normal and healthy child. He has become more independent, playing confidently with friends, enjoying solitary play, and sometimes forgetting to nurse for a day or more. But in those "meltdown" moments, I am confident that nursing provides a psychologically healthy way for him to reconnect with me, to relax, and to find contentment. Will my children later be embarrassed when they remember breastfeeding? Other mothers, as well as my own intuition, tell me it is highly unlikely. I believe my children will recall the warm and loving feelings it gave them and will have a healthier, more enlightened perspective of breastfeeding. If they have their own children someday, I believe the experience of extended nursing might even make them more caring and nurturing parents.
We have yet to reach the final milestone of weaning, and I cannot be certain how it will happen. We've tried things like promising a party when he weans, or a trip to an amusement park, but he hasn't taken us up on the offer. My guess is that, as a friend of mine describes her spirited daughter who weaned at age five, Daniel will finally decide on his own, according to his own internal timing, and that decision will be the most binding and effective for a child with a mind of his own. And who knows, as my friend believes, perhaps allowing Daniel this kind of self-determination will reap an additional benefit, encouraging him to be less concerned than I am about what other people think, and to feel less pressure to conform to society's expectations.