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Staying the Path

Kathy L. Abbott
Beverly MA, USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 6, November-December 2000, pp. 204-206

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

Like having a child, the decision to breastfeed is as much an emotional commitment as it is physical. Nursing a baby requires a total commitment from you the mother. The demands it places on both body and mind are considerable. The decision to breastfeed can weigh heavily on mothers. Some women gladly embrace the commitment, others are more tentative. But how long should one stay the path?

That was the question I struggled with while nursing my little Anna Lee. Nursing an infant made sense to me, but I wondered how long I should continue. Role models were few and far between. A casual remark from a friend who mentioned she hoped to nurse exclusively for at least six months became my first guide. Six months seemed reasonable enough. I would try it.

All went well and before I knew it, the first six months were over. My husband reminded me that now it was his turn to feed our little one so we decided he could offer her solid foods. There seemed no need for me to discontinue nursing. Unlike the first month of round-the- clock feedings, nursing Anna was easy now. So why should I stop?

When Anna Lee turned a year old at the end of October, it seemed like a good time to wean. Birthdays are very significant so it was easy to feel swayed by an arbitrary number. Twelve months was a whole year. Shouldn't I stop now? After all, too much of a good thing is, well, too much. "But how could I stop now?" I asked myself. She was just learning how to walk. So many bumps and bruises, so many tears after each little fall. Nursing was still such a great comfort to her. How could I take that away?

Christmas seemed like another story. By then, I really felt ready to wean. The stress of the season was getting to me. I just didn't have time to nurse any more, or so I thought. The days whizzed by and, to my amazement, by mid-January I felt comfortable with breastfeeding again. With the holidays behind me, the thought of weaning just seemed silly. "What got into me?" I wondered.

After that, we coasted. Nursing was no big deal any more. In fact, I was beginning to feel a little proud for having breastfed so long. But then came another October and Anna Lee's second birthday. Once again, I began to doubt myself. So did those around me. "She's two years old now. Don't you think that's long enough?" asked my mother. I bit my lip and continued.

However, the holidays came again and the stress quickly engulfed me. By December, I was once again ready to quit. "This is ridiculous!" I told myself "I can't keep doing this! I have too much to do right now." Then came January and like magic, all feelings of wanting to wean had disappeared. It was then that I realized that I seemed to think of weaning as the answer when I was under stress. When I had many demands to meet all at once, nursing somehow seemed to be the easiest one to eliminate. Only during the calm following the storm did I realize that it wasn't the nursing that I wanted rid of. It was the stress of holiday expectations and preparations that weighed me down.

By now, the headaches of the "terrible twos" had begun to rule my life. For us, the biggest battle was getting Anna into her car seat. Safety was an issue on which I could not compromise. Anna seemed to relish the feeling of control that came with refusing to cooperate. She knew that I wouldn't start the car until she was buckled up. Without her cooperation, running a few simple errands was a total nightmare. By the time we returned home I would be angry and exhausted. But by then, it was often naptime and we would lie down together to nurse. Forgiveness was essential. I found I had to let go in order for my milk to let down. Those naptime nursings melted away the anger in both of us, allowing us both to relax and feel close to each other again. I can't imagine how I would have survived the year without them.

By the end of the following summer we were down to just two nursings a day, bedtime and morning (and, of course, during the occasional long phone call). My schedule then changed abruptly, and our leisurely mornings together were replaced by a hurried routine of getting up and out the door. It was taking a toll on Anna. Our morning nursings were sometimes forgotten in the rush. Standing by the car one morning, she looked at me sadly. Softly, she said, "Please nurse." I didn't even bother going back into the house. Instead, we walked right over to our secluded hammock and lay down together. Enjoying the warm summer morning, I let her nurse until her heart was content. She was golden after that. My sunny child had returned!

Another October and another birthday (her third), but this time there were real signs of wanting to wean, only these signs came from Anna, not from me. Her language abilities had really taken off. She was singing and telling stories and sharing secrets. Nursing was less and less important to her. She fell asleep without it. More and more, she was just going through the motions. As the holidays approached once more and all the stress that goes with that time of year, I once again found myself panicking. Only this time the thought running around my head was, "How will we ever make it through the holidays if we can't nurse?" I had finally seen the handwriting on the wall. Our nursing days were almost over, and at last I understood the truth. All those times spent nursing hadn't been an added stress. They had relieved stress, both Anna's and mine.

About this time, I gave some thought to becoming an LLL Leader. LLL had given me so much support during those three long years. Maybe it was time to give some in return. While I lay in bed one night reading THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, Anna snuggled in beside me. "Read it," she insisted, "read it!" So, I began reading aloud about a mother joyously watching her small baby nurse at her breast with big shining eyes and a smile that seemed to say, "Thanks Mom." I put the book down, and Anna looked up at me. "Please nurse!" she said, smiling gleefully. She nursed for a short time and then, looking at me with the widest of grins, she said, "Thanks, Mom!" and with that we both fell into giggling so hard that her father came in to see what all the commotion was about. I knew she would nurse again after that but for me that wonderful, "Thanks, Mom!" would be the last word. We were finished.

By March, Anna was completely weaned. One night just before bedtime, she told us that she was hungry. I laughed and said to her father, "If only we were still breastfeeding. That was such an easy way to solve that problem." Immediately Anna cried, "Breastfeed, I want to breastfeed!" I looked at her in amazement. She had always said, "Please nurse," not breastfeed.

"That's not what you used to call it," I told her. "Can you remember what you called it?" I asked. She couldn't. After three years of nursing, she no longer remembered. I could hardly believe it!

In April, I told my nurse practitioner that we had weaned. "Do you miss it?" she asked. "No," I told her. "Now I have a little girl who tells jokes, makes up songs, shares secrets, and tells me her dreams. We have other bonds. And it was so gradual, I guess we both weaned together." We had followed the path all the way to the end.

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