I have a distinct memory of judging another mum for breastfeeding her 2-year-old.
We were sitting together in a children’s music class, and her little girl sauntered over, lifted mama’s shirt and sank into her lap for a quick cuddle and nurse. It was a sweet moment, yet I quickly decided in my mind, “Nope–not for me.” At the time, I had a little baby, and I couldn’t imagine such a “big” kid with so many teeth and words helping herself to my breasts like that.
Flash forward a couple of years, and guess what? I am now the mum in music class wrestling with a boob-crazed toddler, one who just sailed past her second birthday with no sign of weaning.
Over and over this happens to me in motherhood; I’m so sure I’ll be one kind of mum (who never co-sleeps, or yells, or uses TV as a babysitter) only to find out that I am really the opposite. In this case, it turns out I am the extended-breastfeeding/making other people vaguely uncomfortable kind of mum. Never would have called that one.
How did I get here? For starters, I am one of the lucky ladies for whom breastfeeding has been easy and mostly painless. Since I work part-time from home, I don’t need to mess with a pump. I’m also perfectly comfortable whipping my boobs out on the go, so I’ve never had to rush home from the supermarket for a feed. (Bizarro places we have breastfed include the ocean, a ferris wheel, and in the back of a moving pedicab). So from a practical standpoint, there’s been nothing slowing me down.
After the first year of breastfeeding, I introduced cow’s milk in a sippy cup, which was a huge hit, yet didn’t diminish my little one’s urge to breastfeed. So we kept going. She grew a mouthful of teeth, but never bit me, so we kept going. She got so busy and mobile that it was nice to have a few minutes every day just to slow down and snuggle, so we kept going. Even though my daughter now says “Nurse me, please” instead of “waaaah,” we are still going.
Strangely enough, what started out as food has become a ritual that I love and am having a hard time letting go of. The moments I spend breastfeeding my child are truly the most peaceful and relaxing of my day. I suppose it’s the oxytocin talking, but when I nurse, my body floods with warm feelings of safety, calm and love. I feel a deep sense of purpose and am fully in the moment, like there is nowhere else in the world I need to be. And my mind goes wonderfully blank, enabling me to shut off my fears and anxiety. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to meditating.
The baby (okay, toddler now) clearly loves it, too. When we nurse, her whole body relaxes and her breathing slows. She stares deeply into my eyes and wraps her fingers around mine, or gently pats my face as if to say, “Hello, you.” Sometimes she giggles with delight. Most of our breastfeeding sessions are just a few minutes before nap or nighttime, but in the mornings, she climbs into bed with me for marathon snuggles that can last 40 minutes, with both of us half asleep and totally content. I love connecting with her in this way, and know I will miss it terribly when it’s over.
There are times when I think it might be nice to have my body back. Breastfeeding means I’m still riding a hormonal roller coaster (why am I crying again?), and have to be careful about what I put in my body (easy on the booze, and definitely no Botox, which I could really use). Also, since my toddler likes to nurse right before bed, it’s hard to be on time for any sort of evening plans. Let’s just say I am not part of the crowd yelling “Surprise” at anyone’s surprise birthday party these days.
But there are other times when I’m so grateful to still be breastfeeding, like when we’re grappling with a double ear infection. Knowing that even when my daughter has no appetite, she’s getting nutrients and hydration from me is extremely reassuring. I also love having a foolproof way to soothe her when she’s scared or over-tired.
How old is too old to breastfeed? I don’t know anymore. But I have been feeling some subtle pressure from the outside.
When my daughter was 22-months, a preschool teacher noticed me nursing her and commented, “Wow, I didn’t know you were still doing that. That’s so great.” Yet just two months later, that same teacher asked, “So do you have a plan for weaning?” It was like I had crossed some invisible line, from pride to shame, but nobody had told the thirsty toddler.
Lately, I find myself self-conscious about breastfeeding in a way I never was before. It’s ironic that after flashing my ta-tas all over town for years, I’m now trying to keep the whole business under wraps, confining nursing to quiet times at home where I won’t have to face any scrutiny or judgment. It makes me wonder if I’m the only one, or if other mums I know are secretly breastfeeding their toddlers, too.
The truth is, I don’t have a plan for weaning right now. I’m hoping my daughter will know when it’s finally time.