May 21, 2008

tales from the milk bar

Warning: This post contains adult content. Most notably; my boobs. You are warned.

Let me start this post by saying that I never thought I would breastfeed this long. My goal was 12 months and then anything more than that would just be a bonus for everyone. In a few days it will be 19 months. There are several reasons I've kept it up- we've been selective about Gus' vaccinations, it's good for her immune system, she won't drink cow's milk, my schedule allows it with limited need to pump etc., etc., but mostly we enjoy it, her and I. At its best it's a quiet time when her and I can have a few minutes together to chill out, at second best it's a total secret weapon for an overtired-freaking-out toddler.

I'm sure Super Nanny would have some words for me and would probably introduce me to the naughty chair, but it works for us and in parenting, if everyone is warm, fed and safe, that's all that really matters.

Besides, you get to say fun things like, 'Guthrie, there's no climbing on the coffee table during nursing.'

Our choice to do prolonged breastfeeding (apparently once you cross 12 months you've prolonged it - which is almost as weirdly funny as geriatric pregnancy - you know if you get pg after the age of 35.) has presented us with some challenges. I thought it would just be easy once I got the hang of it. Oh, those tearful first weeks of frustration! But, no, like any dynamic relationship the struggles just change. I don't worry about having enough milk now, but I do worry about Guthrie's need for my entire boob to be uncovered in order for her to eat.

Once your kid crosses about 20 pounds the space in your lap doesn't seem as big. I struggled at the beginning because she seemed so small in comparison to, well, her food source. Yes, her head was smaller than my boob. I really cannot tell you what that does to one's psyche. Lucky for us, about the time she crossed the 20 pound mark I discovered that her preferred position was standing. The mother of a good friend commented that it was like a milk bar. She could just walk up to the bar and order herself a good drink and stand there and drink it. Part of me cringes. Part of me realizes it's the perfect description.

Then there's the signing. The sign for milk is basically the action one would do if one were to milk a cow. Believe me, the association is not lost on any lactating woman. Once she learned this sign it was constant. At the grocery store, at home, at dinner, at the mall, at playgroup. It has settled down now, but really, you haven't seen anything until you've seen the insistence of a hungry Guthrie madly making that sign high above her head. Astronauts know when this kid wants to nurse.

For months I begged her to grasp the knowledge that I have TWO boobs and that if I could just whip it out fast enough she wouldn’t even know she'd stopped eating. I kind of regret this. She's well aware that there are two and sometimes I question if she thinks they produce different flavors. Back and forth, back and forth. Which is fine, in the living room. In the mall not so much. Her preference is for both to be readily available because just eating from one is not enough, one must also play with the other one. Yep. I can write that with a straight face. She is not alone in this passion, but still, it can be a tad awkward.

And then there's that whole teething thing. I'm sure I don't need to go into that. A friend likened it to getting a tattoo on your nipple. I feel like that might be fairly accurate. Whatevs. As long as there are relatively few jaws-of-steel, bleeding-wounds-in-the-shape-of-a-baby-tooth incidents, we're all good. You know how head wounds bleed like crazy? Well...


This is one of those posts that has taken awhile to write and in that time Guthrie has (I think) embarked on the path of self-weaning. Really, this is every nursing mama's dream- to have a self-weaner. It takes some of the stress out of the situation and puts a good amount of the responsibility on Gus to know her needs and make choices for herself. I'm completely willing to take on the responsibility for bedtime, solid-food nutrition, and risky feats of balance, but I'm not necessarily willing to make decisions regarding what kind of comfort Guthrie needs and when, not to mention a midnight snack. I have zero desire to haul my butt out to the kitchen and get this girl some shredded cheese at 3 AM. I don't buy it that once she gets to a certain age she can always go 12 hours out of 24 without some caloric intake. I know very few adults who do that- why would I expect it of someone who thinks my boobs produce two different flavors of milk?

There will obviously still be some angsty tears, possibly on both our parts, throughout the process but I'm hoping that by her taking the lead in weaning it doesn't need to be drawn out or painful (for either of us). I will be sad when it's over though. Maybe nostalgic is a better word. I will miss the blissful feelings oxytocin produces. I will not miss my nursing bras. I will not miss the Ped Mall seeing my breasts. I will miss cuddling with my girl and knowing our relationship is stronger because of these moments.


Stephanie Ann said...

I was unable to produce enough milk for my little one. From the start, I had to supplement half. I made it 6 months...but wished it could be longer. I miss the feeling of nursing...and I cried often after I had to stop. It's hard to explain to those who have never experienced nursing what it does for a mother, as well as the child. I think that you nursing this long is fabulous. Keep your head up during the weaning period, it will be hard for both of you, but just know that because she is weaning, means she is growing and maturing. There will be SEVERAL other things in life she will need from you. Although, most will not be as comforting as nursing. :o)

Aprille said...

It's a complicated thing, isn't it? I really love nursing too, and I'm nervous about starting Miles on solids because it adds so many variables. Breastmilk is just perfect stuff--I can't screw it up and give him the wrong balance of nutrition when he's exclusively breastfed. I think it's awesome that you've had such a successful nursing relationship (despite the challenges). I admire you for it and hope to emulate you!

I would also like to thank you for the phrase "self-weaner." It sounds like an activity popular among junior-high boys.

Monica said...

What a great post! As someone who also nursed a toddler (Gabriel nursed until just past 3 years), I can totally relate to everything you're describing. I'd encourage you that self-weaning is a uniquely unfolding process, and the actual weaning can even be hard to identify. Sometimes it spaces out so much at the end that it's like "wait, last time we nursed was 4 days ago...was that the last time?"

It's hard to conceptualize any of this before you're actually doing it -- we want things to go by "the book" before we learn that the book is written anew every day with our children.

I was fortunate enough to have a La Leche League chapter where I lived with a nursing toddlers more resource we need in this neck of the woods!

Patty G said...

Beautiful account of nursing and the dependency, bonding and safety that is shared as a a part of the process; not to mention, it does alleviate all that "fixin" that has to happen if the child is bottle fed! Sadness coupled with joy are a part of every parent's experience. This is the first of many.


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