I don’t fancy myself some hippie chick, though I really wish I was. I wish I made granola from scratch and mixed up my own organic deodorant. I wish I composted my garbage and my closet was filled with stylishly chic, long, flowing, flowery skirts. But alas, my cabinets are filled with canned soups, boxed cereals (probably filled with GMO corn though I’m afraid to check) and I create a frightening amount of trash I hope actually gets recycled. I put God knows what chemicals on my skin and countertops to “clean” and my wardrobe consists of short and t-shirts from Old Navy. I have vinegar to clean but my use of it is spotty at best. My spirit is hippie. My person is not.
So conceptually, I knew I wanted to nurse my children. But no pressure. I have sisters and friends who made it clear, nursing is not as natural as it may seem. I was formula fed and I turned out ok. Lucky for me, my oldest was an “easy” baby. He liked to sleep. After some initial hurdles, including mastitis and a healthy dose of new mom paranoia, we figured out nursing relatively quickly. I was lucky enough to stay home with him until he turned 6 months. Then I went back to work. I made every effort to pump, learning how to do so in some pretty ridiculous circumstances (driving in the car, huddled in a public bathroom, trying to make dinner). But pumping and working and day care was difficult. As we limped to the 12 month mark, I seriously considered ceremoniously bashing the pump. Popular opinion suggested that nursing for one year is ideal and when we reached that milestone, it felt like both my son and I were more than ready to move on (my hippie spirit slightly sad).
I knew there was a growing number of women who nursed for longer but they were eccentric Hollywood moms and fringe moms who were testing societal norms. These were the real hippie moms who never used a stroller but effortlessly swaddled their babies in wraps and quoted books about African tribes where kids never cry. These were the moms who never gave their kids sugar, never said no and were horrified if you didn’t co-sleep. (They seemed judge-y even though many probably were not.)
I didn’t really care if I saw a toddler breastfeeding, but with my own toddler happily running, jumping and drinking independently, it just seemed strange to me. I saw the cover of Time magazine with the little boy standing next to his mother breastfeeding. I didn’t find it offensive. I just couldn’t see myself nursing someone who was more like a little boy than a little baby. I knew moms who were breastfeeding their 18 and 24 month olds and I was the epitome of “great for you, just not for us.” Until it was.
My second was born a mere 18 months after our first and just a couple of months before we relocated to Shanghai, China. My second didn’t take to a bottle the way my first did and since I knew I wasn’t going back to work in the immediate future, I thankfully, gloriously, didn’t pump. (And reconsidered my pump-destroying ceremony.) My second was more fidgety, less sleepy and less mild mannered than my first. Nursing became my go to soothing technique. He plumped up and chilled out. We survived flights around the world by nursing. We slept through the night nursing. We found quiet in nursing.
He kept growing and we kept nursing. Faced with other upcoming 15 hour flights, neither of us were ready to wean. He was reaching the 12 month mark but still nursing regularly. He’d drink out of sippy cup but still wanted to nurse. Maybe it was because I was home with him. Maybe it was because I had never pumped with him but nursing seemed natural and normal. It kept him happy which made me happy.
He started walking but we kept nursing. It was the easiest way to get him to sleep and still the easiest way to calm him when he’d get upset. We were down to three times a day and that felt normal. “When are you going to stop,” family and friends would ask with a just a hint of “this is weird” laced into the question. I didn’t know. It didn’t seem strange to me. I completely understood it was weird to others but when it’s your own child and your own body, it’s not weird. Just as wiping anyone’s else bum, cleaning their nose with your bare hand, and drinking water that clearly has bits of someone else’s leftovers is weird…until it’s your own child.
My son started talking more, and more clearly, but still wanted to nurse, not always and he didn’t always need it to calm down. He started drinking cow’s milk and eagerly drank from a sippy cup. But still, he wanted to nurse. Trying to wean him when he clearly didn’t want to started to seem the strange thing to do.
He’s two and a half now. He goes to school. He runs and jumps and speaks in full sentences. We still nurse. Mostly just before bed and in the early morning when he wakes up cranky and too early. I know we are at the point where it is strange to people who feel just as I used to feel. But I can’t see it that way anymore. The reflection back is not the mother/son duo on the cover of Time magazine, it’s just me and my baby.
People say women who breastfeed toddlers are doing it for selfish reasons. That somehow we want to keep our babies babies, or that it is filling some desire to still feel maternally needed. Somehow, after the AAP’s recommended 12 months, people have concluded that breastfeeding then becomes more about my needs, not my child’s. Those arguments seem ridiculous to this mother who is breastfeeding her toddler.
I’m ready to give it up when he is. I know he is getting older, he needs are changing and at some point we will stop. I don’t know when that is. I have tried to push him to stop but really, what’s the point? So I don’t have to make other people uncomfortable? He’s going to go off to college independently. He is going to go off to second grade independently. He is not currently traumatized nor will he end up with deep-seeded mommy-issues. (Ok, he might, but probably not because of this. He’s not yet 3. I have plenty more time to screw him up.) In fact, I’m giving him all sorts of physical and emotional benefits by continuing.
I am not practicing Attachment Parenting or Baby Wise or Dr. Sears or Dr. Ferber or any other parenting style or theory as outlined in some book. I’m not trying to make some political statement about women’s rights and modern-motherhood. Like everyone else, I’m just doing what feels best for my kid. And so, here I am – just a regular, normal, pro-vaccination, semi-organic, non-hippie, not eccentric Hollywood mother who is breastfeeding her toddler. (Also maybe hoping to normalize and de-stigmatize a practice that really should become more mainstream.)