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Extended Nursing - the Journey and the End

(Wed Apr 25 21:26:44 2012)

The pain of forced weaning

I extended nursed both of my boys. My eldest nursed until 14.5months, my youngest until 27mo.  I even re-lactated my eldest after the second was born and carried on until 3.5yrs.  I loved nursing.  It wasn't an easy road, of course. Like anyone on a similar journey, we had mastitis and thrush, biting and clinginess at different times.  But, I would only change one thing about both journeys - how they ended.

    This is a rough topic to talk about, because most people look warily at extended nursing. They think you are holding on to babyhood, wanting a mama's boy, and even doing something medically wrong.  I was trying for the opposite!  Extended nursing creates children with stonger immune systems at LEAST through adolescence, makes children more secure of themselves and thus more independent, sooner, and produces higher IQs.  The longer nursed, the more those effects are enhanced.  I do happen to want healthy, smart, independent boys.  Those are my scientific reasons.

    Personally, I have no shame about my choice. I learned not to boldly volunteer that I nursed my toddler, only because the naysayers are only out to attack, not to understand. But, if ever a situation seemed to warrant it, I would volunteer my experience and reasoning without hesitation to show support. 

     I always loved being able to offer comfort and hydration to my sick children. when a stomach virus hits a 1 yr old, there is no explaining verbally how they feel. I could always show that I wanted them better with milk. When my girlfriends rushed out for Pedialyte to try and keep something down, and often failed, I found breastmilk was the golden cure that would stay down when NOTHING else would. I never had the fear that with fever, vomiting and diarrhea, I would need to rush my children in for IV fluids, because breastmilk NEVER failed to hydrate effectively.

     We are non-vaxers, also not a popular choice, and I know the protection offered by nursing has helped my children through illness and to avoid illness.  

     The journey was a good one, but the ends were harder than the fevers and the thrush and the mastitis and the stomach bugs.  After becoming pregnant a second time shortly after my eldest's 1st birthday, the milk became salty at around 10wks gestation.  We only nursed at nap and bedtime, or as needed for comfort, but it was a shock when my toddler would try to nurse, then pull off and cry after 10 seconds, again and again. I thought maybe he was teething? no.  He was overtired from a growth spurt? no.  So, I extracted a taste on my finger and grimaced at the saltiness. I couldn't blame him for crying and I couldn't fix the problem.  

     With a heavy heart, I explained that Mama's milk was going to have to go away, and he sadly asked to give them hugs and kisses to say goodbye.  It was then that my husband was given the task of putting my son to sleep, to distract him from the missing milk.  I didn't particularly enjoy that week. Not only was I uncomfortable as my milk dried up, but I listened each night as my son would cry and ask for "mama's milk."  during nap-time I would hug him and love on him, then intentionally scoot away (we co-slept) and sing to him to try and take his mind off of what he didn't have anymore.  

     I think that was one of the hardest parts of my pregnancy, losing my nursling.  I was ecstatic that he was interested in re-lactating when his baby brother was born at 22mo.  I didn't tell anyone, but I encouraged him.  He actually had to relearn how to suckle properly, but I think that re-lactation was instrumental in his not feeling left in the dust by his baby brother.  Sometimes I told him no, because baby brother really needed to have extra milk since he couldn't eat food like a big boy, and he understood.  But, he also knew that he wasn't shut out of my love.  By the time he was 3.5yrs old, I realized that, when he used to ask to join almost every time I nursed, he had tapered off and I honestly couldn't remember the last time he asked.  When he did, it was a bit of a whim for him, I think.  It had been nearly 2wks.  I allowed him.  When he was done, I told him that he was a very big boy now, and it was time to say goodbye to Mama Milk.  He asked me, "May I hug them bye bye, please?"  Struck that it was the same way he wanted to say goodbye over 2yrs before, I agreed.  He gave each one a hug and kiss, then looked up and gave me a hug around the neck and a kiss on the cheek and said, "I love you, Mama."  That was an end I could face.

     For months before and after his final weaning, he would tell me Mama milk was his favorite drink in the whole world.  

"Which do you like best, cow's milk or Mama milk?"  

"Mama milk!"  

"Mama milk or juice?" 

"Mama milk!"  


     water? pop? ice cream?  No, mama milk was his favorite drink ever.  When I asked him why (a difficult question for a 3yr old to answer, no matter how easy it is to ask) he was able to haltingly tell me that it was sweet, and warm and best because it was mine.  He said he wouldn't like it from anyone but me.  That was special to me, because it showed me how significant an expression of love extended nursing is.  It transcends the scientific or nutritive.  It is a two-way communication between mothers and children that can never be expressed in words.  Even if it could, mother could not make the child understand that depth with words, and the child does not possess the words to share with the mother.

     With my youngest, the end was more difficult.  Around his 2nd birthday, I contracted thrush.  From whence it came, I don't know.  My son was never symptomatic, but I knew that meant nothing.  I first tried a mixture of Jock itch cream, Vagisil and triple antibiotic.  then, we moved to Gentian Violet.  I have pictures of my son from that particular 1.5wks where we were treated together.  At least I could cover my staining!    The poor by looked as though he had had FAR too many sweets!  All of this was to no avail.  I went to a clinic and got the typical cream prescribed.  The skin improved, but the pain was deep.  I knew it was internal, but the doctor had refused to give me the anti-fungal pills while I was nursing.  Over this 5 months, I had  backed off to where I was only nursing 1x/day, and only on one side.  I knew he wasn't pleased, but I screamed every time he latched on, and cried until he fell asleep.  

     He was 27 months old.  I made a hated decision.  I weaned him.  He is my sensitive child, and he didn't cope well, no matter what I said or did.  He wouldn't go to his father like his brother had.  I held him close to me at night and sang, while he buried his head in my chest and cried, angrily trying to remove my shirt, yelling for "lolo" (the French baby term for "milk").  For weeks he was angry, and would ask intermittently throughout the day, and then burst into angry tears when I told him lolo was all gone.  I even let him try, after I'd dried up.  He looked quite betrayed by my breasts misbehaving.  However, I was able to get the anti-fungal drugs I needed and finally bested the painful infection I'd battled for nearly 6 months.

     As much as it hurt when he was angry at me, I was cut just as deeply when he stopped asking altogether about 6 weeks later.  The deepest pain still came when, as I was getting dressed in the morning, he spoke up, pointing to his once beloved "lolo" and asked, "Mama, what those?" I had to sit down and take in the depth of that change.

     I really believe that, for a mother recovering from an unwilling weaning, it is as serious as losing a loved one. Now, hear me out. This is not holding on to babyhood, or being bittersweet over how fast they grow up.  As adorable as a newborn can be, no one is sad when they learn to giggle, start to crawl, or speak their first words. Yes, it is growing up, and is nostalgic, but that sort of moving forward is universally regarded as positive.  There is usually relief for Mother and baby when they can move on their own (because they are less aggravated), when their teeth come in (because they can eat a wider variety and aren't in pain) or when they start vocalizing intelligibly (everyone's psychic levels are allowed to drop a bit because communication is clear!). But, in the long run, despite having to manage a chatterbox who only wants to eat certain foods and runs away when you call them TO you, everyone is happy with these changes.

     Ending extended nursing is different. Some children do it suddenly, of their own volition, and mom is left in the lurch with the cabbage leaves, taking a hot shower until she dries up. Some do it so gradually you barely even notice until you look back at the last week and realize they simple didn't ask to nurse.  But some relationships are forcibly aborted by circumstance. It's as though, instead of quietly passing away at the age of 94 in their sleep, a 24 yr old got pushed off the edge at the Grand Canyon, by a mule whilst on vacation.  

     Except, in the long run, with death, there are others to mourn with you, who loved the person, to remember them with the same fondness as you.  When nursing is abruptly aborted, the relationship feels as though it has been thrust irrevocably away, and in the long run, the child will forget, no one else will understand to mourn with you, and you will stand alone, grieving over a loss that you can't share with anyone else.  The child will grow up and never remember that beautiful, unique, loving communication you shared with them that can never return. Of -course- you want them to grow up and be strong independent individuals in their own right who will one day love and respect you in a new and different way. Isn't that why we chose extended nursing in the first place?

     But that end, that forced, painful end that hurts constantly as your milk dries and your darling begs for it, but even more deeply when they have entirely forgotten that you were once that warm, sweet, soft haven of pure love, just for them...that end is cruel, lonely, and only for a mother who has had the joy of nursing her toddler beyond that first year.  May God bless us all, who loved our children enough to sacrifice ourselves, our feelings and our hearts for what is the best for them.  

     We are not alone.  We would do it all again. This is a part of that strength that being "Mom" is about.



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This blag is tagged: Breastfeeding, Grief, Weaning, All