I’m not a particularly earthy-crunchy sort of parent. My kids had pringle potato chips for lunch, yesterday, just as an example. I yell, I do time-outs, I make my kids go to school when they really don’t want to, and I never did the cloth diaper thing. Meant to, but never actually did.
But I did nurse my babies. I never planned on nursing a toddler (or even, gasp, a four year old) but I did. And now that it’s over, I don’t regret a thing.
With Jessie, she self-weaned at eight or nine months, and we transitioned pretty easily to formula for a few months, and then onto cow’s milk. There wasn’t a lot of heartache over it, for either of us. Jessie was always a no-nonsense nurser, she did it because that’s where the food was, and once she realized that she could get nutrition in the form of applesauce and pears and sweet potato and diluted juice, she was all over that. She slowly dropped one feeding at a time, nurses less and less, and then one day we were done. She was a HUGE fan of the pacifier, and didn’t give that up until she was at least four. Maybe five.
Sam was VERY different. He just was. He was diagnosed with severe separation anxiety when he was five, but really, he came out of the womb with a strong sense that the world was dangerous and the only safe place was in my arms. Preferably nursing. He latched on right after birth and nursed all.the.damn.time. He ate solids without a problem, but still loved nursing. My two closest friends were also nursing their toddlers, so I didn’t really think much of it. He wasn’t ready at a year, or eighteen months. Or two, or two and a half (now my friend’s babies were gradually stopping)… I didn’t see an end in sight. He was so anxious and so scared, I couldn’t imagine not letting him nurse. It wasn’t about nutrition, it was comfort. It was how he fell asleep, it was how he calmed down when he’d freak out.
When I got pregnant with Julianna, he was still nursing. Not a lot, but he did. He used to follow me around the house carrying a book, knowing if I was reading, I’d be more likely to nurse him because I’d be sitting. It was a long, hard weaning – and there were a lot of tears on both sides. Because nursing while pregnant HURTS, and for Sam, he wasn’t ready to stop and having to confused the hell out of him. We accomplished it, finally, when I was about six months pregnant.
On Julie’s third day (also known as the Worst Day Ever), Julie went on a nursing strike. I had left the hospital the day after she was born (it was a ridiculously easy delivery, four hours of labor with an epidural and she was out after the second push), and the visiting nurse came to our house the following day. Jules had dropped down to below seven pounds, losing close to a pound from her birth weight. She was jaundiced, but it wasn’t too bad. Yet. The nurse told me that she’d be okay, but my job for the next 24 hours was to nurse. Nurse, nurse, nurse – we’d flush the jaundice out, and have her gain back some of the weight she’d lost. Julie was my third baby, and after Sam, I was ridiculously overconfident. I could nurse her, of course I could. Then she stopped.
After six or seven hours of trying desperately to get her to latch on, Marc finally convinced me to give her a bottle. I was devastated (post-partum hormones are no joke). I was convinced that she’d never really bond to me. How would she ever know I was her mother if I could be replaced with a bottle? I literally cried all.day.long. She got formula for close to a week, with me pumping (and not producing enough), before her weight got back up to where it should be, and the pediatrician told me that it was okay to make her nurse. Discontinue the bottle. I ended up using nipple shields (God bless whoever invented those) to trick her into nursing, and quickly developed thrush. Which turned into a staph infection… and three or four different doctors couldn’t tell me what was wrong. But I was GOING TO NURSE this child. Dammit. Eventually I ended up trying the ointment that Marc used for athlete’s foot, and that finally got rid of the thrush for good. By the time she was six or seven months old, nursing was easy and seamless.
After fighting so hard to get her to nurse, combined with how difficult it had been to wean Sam… I didn’t push weaning with Julie. And somewhere along the lines… she got big. She did everything early. She potty trained at two, was fully verbal by eighteen months, gave up the afternoon nap by the time she was two and a half or so. Nursing seemed like the last step – and because everything else came early, I was in no rush. She separated easily and happily, but loved snuggling and nursing with me. I switched to the don’t-offer-don’t-refuse method when she was about a year and a half, and then went with the don’t-offer-refuse-as-often-as-possible by the time she was two. But for the most part, it was a non-issue. She rarely nursed in public, she was happy to go without it during the day, but always nursed before going to bed. She wasn’t waking up to nurse, and whenever possible, I’d distract her with something else if she asked to nurse. But I didn’t insist on weaning for a very long time.
I didn’t really have to insist all that much. She was ready to stop. Mostly. With Sam, the last nursing session to go was the one right before bed, and he started falling asleep with Marc. I was so pregnant, I’d go to bed when Jessie did, and Sam and Marc would sit up and hang out. Watch Discovery Channel documentaries and that’s how he stopped. Julie didn’t do that. She liked hanging with Marc, but she’d always want to come and have me put her to sleep. There was a couple of rough nights, one in particular when she cried for about fifteen minutes before finally, tearfully, drifting off to sleep. Several times, she’s complained that it’s not fair, she didn’t get to decide to stop, I made the decision on my own. We list the names of her friends who don’t nurse (which is all of them), and then we talk about how none of them nurse anymore (and I wonder how much I’m instilling that whole need for peer approval into her).
She hasn’t nursed in almost a week and a half. And I’m celebrating that for the first time in nine years (if I’m doing the math right, I got pregnant with Sam in October of 2005), I’m not pregnant or nursing.
I never planned on nursing so long. I wanted to nurse Sam until he was a year old, mainly because I wanted to avoid having to buy formula again. With Julie – I just wanted to be able to nurse her. By the time she came along, so much of how I parented a baby, and a toddler was nursing. I couldn’t imagine NOT nursing her, but I certainly didn’t anticipate that she’d ever nurse as long as her brother did, let alone a full year longer. I’m grateful for this time in my life, and also grateful that it’s over. Because nine years is a REALLY long time, and I’m happy to have my body all the way back.