We’re still nursing.
(An alternate title for this post could be: The Very Reluctant Extended Breastfeeding Mom.)
It’s not often, once at night and usually once when I get home from work. This wasn’t the plan, not at all how I thought it would go. My goal was to get to a year. Now she’s two.
I never had goals to be an extended nurser. Ever. I wanted the same thing all moms want — the connection, the boost to immunity, all of that. Then we had such trouble with her colic, and when I did go back to work, nursing became the way we connected upon my return. V clung to it with all of her might. I was ready to let go of it quite a long time ago, but she has never seemed to be.
I’m a tough person (ask anyone who works with me), and I don’t let things slide very easily. My hypothetical child was never going to watch TV or have a million toys or any of the stuff I now allow to go on. I am still very firm with V. Very. But something I have also learned about her is that, in some cases, I cannot force her to do something. She cannot be broken; she will not be coerced into anything.
When she screamed bloody murder as an infant when we drove long distances, I decided to stop driving long distances until she got over it.
When she projectile vomited from the force of her crying when I put her in her crib “drowsy yet awake” instead of rocking her to sleep, I decided never to sleep train her.
And as you’ll learn in a second, when I tried to wean her cord turkey and it emotionally broke her, I decided to play the long game and follow her lead.
Perhaps other children could have handled all of the above, and gotten used to it. But something intuitively always told me that V has a very delicate spirit and that I should never break that spirit. Maybe, in the end, that has made the early years of her life very inconvenient for us. But that was a price I was willing to pay.
Parenting has to be practical, my father-in-law said to me once. Maybe. Maybe with some kids, that works. But I think that comes, at some point or another, with breaking their spirit. With standing outside their bedroom door while they scream from their crib because they don’t understand why you’re not comforting them. That is a sacrifice some parents are willing to make. I was unable to make it.
Sleep be damned.
(And I am still tired.)
Anyway, I tried to wean V cold turkey a few months ago. I went to Vegas for Purpose & Practice and when I came back, we were supposed to be done. Anytime I FaceTimed V while I was away, she would take one look at my face and say, “No boob.” I wasn’t telling her, she was telling me. She was saying, Hey, you took something away from me, and we didn’t even talk about it. And then she’d pretend I wasn’t there for the rest of the call while I tried not to cry and C tried to make small talk.
When I got home that Sunday, V was very standoffish. “No boob,” she said.
“That’s right,” I said. “No boob.”
She looked at me, deciding something. Then she picked up a book and went and sat in her father’s lap.
“I didn’t know the last time I nursed her was the last time,” I said to C, suddenly getting emotional. He reminded me that it didn’t have to be the last time, that it was up to me. He also reminded me that I had been complaining a lot about how much V demanded to nurse, that it was out of hand.
I looked at our daughter who suddenly wanted nothing to do with me and felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t know what to do, truly.
That night, as I was putting her to bed, she said, “Go night night, time for boob and bottle.” And with heartbreak, I realized that she of course thought she’d get to nurse at bedtime. She had never not nursed at bedtime. She seemed to think that whatever was going on during the day was just some fluke. But surely, at bedtime, things would be right in the world.
“No honey,” I said softly. “Just bottle. No boob.”
I am not exaggerating when I say that the cry she released at that moment broke the whole house. Me, C downstairs, and even the cat. It was the cry of someone who feels so rejected that it breaks her. I had never heard her make a sound like that before.
How could I have known that she’d been waiting the whole day, thinking, It’s okay, for sure I’ll nurse at bedtime? And how could I have predicted the sadness she’d feel when I withheld it again?
Well, I obviously gave in, or I wouldn’t be here writing about this, now would I?
Some moms can deal with their kid crying like that. I learned that night, not for the first time, that I’m not one of those moms.
So, dammit, we’re still nursing.
I’m very strict about it now. I usually leave the house before V wakes up for the day, so we nurse one time when I get home, and once at bed. If this schedule gets thrown off, she’s fine. There are nights I work late and C puts her to bed, and it’s never a problem. And she knows not to push it. Sometimes she’ll ask and I always say no, and she seems to shrug it off and move on.
Except for today.
Today daylight savings time kicked in, so that was an ordeal by itself. But I also went and worked out for an hour in the early afternoon, and when I came back, V immediately asked to nurse. To which I calmly replied that no, that would not be happening.
Cue the meltdown to end all meltdowns. It was, to be frank, a twenty-minute shitstorm of a tantrum. This was not the heartbroken cry that I mentioned earlier. This was the rage of someone who was pissed.
She kept asking me; I kept saying no. I offered juice, water, a snack. I reassured her about when she would be able to nurse. I sang songs, I asked her to help me count to twenty, I offered to watch Daniel Tiger, and I rocked her in the rocking chair and said things like, “This is really hard, I know. I’m sorry you’re so upset. I’m here. My answer is still no.”
The whole time, she yelled and arched her back and released guttural screams of rage. She has never done anything like that before.
It wasn’t about the nursing. I know that. Developmentally, this happens. “Terrible twos” are called that for a reason! I remember my sister doing this at this very same age. My parents used to call it “Riverdancing” because she would pick up her legs and stomp her feet and be completely unable to communicate what she was so upset about.
(I should also add to this story that V stopped napping right before she turned two. In some kind of a cruel joke, the tiredest mom got the kid who doesn’t need a lot of sleep. I would laugh, except that I’m crying.)
Eventually, V lay in my lap, so upset, so many tears, snot everywhere, face and body sweaty, breath ragged and uncontrollable, and I gave in.
It’s not something I do usually. I have no problem saying no to her, and I say no to her a lot. But after a twenty minute meltdown, I thought, Okay, this is way out of the ordinary, something is going on with her and she really needs to feel connected to me for some reason.
C walked in trepidatiously and saw that I had relented.
He said, “You’re tough, I would have given in so long ago. If she had said she wanted a gun in that state, I would have been like, ‘Okay, fine, let’s get you a gun’.”
He sat on the floor and we talked about it. Nursing has been a wonderful journey, but it is my body and even if she is my child, I have the right to say no if I want to.
C weighed in (he has always been so supportive, I am so lucky, like beyond), and at some point during the conversation, I looked down…and V was asleep.
Asleep, in a room with the blinds wide open, with noises going on all around, was the child who needs no stimulus and pitch darkness and a sound machine and perfect temperature.
The same way I had told C that I didn’t know the last time I nursed V was the last time (even though that time didn’t turn out to be the last after all), I also didn’t know that the last nap where I got to hold her in my arms so many months ago had been the last one.
Despite the tantrum, despite the conflicted feelings about extended nursing, despite all of it…today, I felt like life handed me a gift, with a really thoughtful tag that said, A gift for you: the last time she will nap in your arms. Enjoy it. ❤️
And I did. I rocked her for seventy minutes, stroking her hair and admiring the little curve of her nose. I soaked up every precious moment of the last time that I would ever rock my baby in my arms while she slept.
As for the rest of it, and if we’ll ever be able to stop nursing…well, we can worry about it tomorrow.