Ten Years

Crossposted from MDC

The milestone passed unnoticed, another day of nursing among many.

My son turned 18 months old a few days ago, on July 2. And that day marked 10 years of breastfeeding in my lifetime.

When my oldest was born (20 years ago as of a few weeks ago), I thought I’d nurse her for maybe 8 months, maybe a year. That stretched without effort to two, then I set some boundaries and we went on to 3, and she went on a trip for a week or two with her dad and came back wanting boob. At 4 I weaned her for 2 weeks and she urged me very eloquently to let her comfort nurse, and that went on for another 2 years. I’d ask her when she would wean, and she’d say “When I’m six.” Always, “When I’m six.” She was 5 years and 364 days old when she nursed her last, a few quick sucks and a pat on the breast and she was done. She’d come in putting blisters on my nipples and went out as gentle as could be.

Her sister, born over 8 years ago, came in like a lamb, lapping at the milk that spilled from my breasts but not sucking, and after 5 days of “easy” she was weighed and all hell broke loose and nursing became an arduous chore. I nursed more often at first, that kept her from losing but didn’t make her gain, so finger feeding and bottles followed every breastfeed, I would weigh, nurse, weigh, pump, feed until she’d had the minimum amount that would keep her gaining well enough to keep the doctor from pushing formula. She’d been gentle because she was born with no suck at all, due to a chromosome problem we didn’ t get fully diagnosed until she was 7 weeks old. Shortly after that, bottles started making her gag, so I went from the arduous pumping schedule to manually expressing milk into her mouth at every feed, and things got easier for a little while, though I could never sleep, never relax when she was at the breast. At 5 months she learned to suck, and I started to relax… but she stopped gaining weight. At 6 months old she started to chomp… oral defensiveness kicking in and teething, but with no rhyme or reason or way to predict… and at 8 months she got teeth and didn’t stop biting. There was no formula on the market she could tolerate, so I persevered. My eldest had been allergic to dairy so we held off on plain milk for a long time… and she kept biting. Every day just about, and sometimes multiple times per day, she bit me. Sometimes every feed. Finally, desperate, and fighting always the urge to push her away, fling her across the room whenever her jaw locked on my breast, I weaned her at age 2 1/2 years, just about exactly.

My youngest, my son, was born 18 months ago, and did okay but not great. My reflexes of massaging and hand expressing hid a problem… posterior tongue tie. I was sore, and it didn’t get better, kept getting worse, but he gained okay. I had PTSD type flashbacks when he’d clamp down, when it hurt, but giving up was not an option–I’d now had two children who could not have tolerated formula as infants, and I wasn’t about to find out if the third was following in their footsteps. At 2 months I asked for help… and found out he had a grade 3 tongue tie, his tongue locked tightly to the base of his mouth, couldnt’ even get a finger under it. We got it fixed and things got better…but never, ever perfect. I don’t know how long he’ll nurse, but he still nurses now, at 18 months old, and I don’t believe that weaning before age 2 is an acceptable option if I am capable of nursing him, so we’ll see how long after that we make it. He’s starting, finally, to learn better manners. He asks “please” rather than just shoving on my breast, sometimes. If he can learn to be more gentle, to be kind, I’ll let him nurse as long as we both want to.

I enjoyed nursing my first after that first horrible week with her. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed it much since. But I don’t do it for my own pleasure, and anyone who thinks I do has a screwed up notion of what pleasure is. I do it because it is the right thing to do for my babies, it is what they need. My soy and dairy-allergic eldest thrived on mother’s milk. My middle child who cannot have added citrates and who needed every single extra stem cell and IQ point I could give her is doing better than they ever let us hope. Breastmilk may well have saved her life–there are not many children with her syndrome and a significant percentage of those died very young.

My little boy, though… he loves his “boop!” and even when he’s driving me crazy and making me feel touched out and panicky…. I still manage to find moments where it is comfortable enough, where I can watch his eyes flutter closed as he drinks his “mook”.

People always say that they are sad when their last baby grows out of a phase or hits a new stage of development. For the first time as a parent I’m not wondering when he’ll hit a stage or wishing he’d develop faster, but likewise I don’t regret that he’s moving past babyhood. When he is done nursing, I will be done with nursing as well, and a good long run of it.

Posted in Breastfeeding, Extended breastfeeding.

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