A Progression of Farewells

It was still dark when my son woke me up, crying.

“Shhh, shhh, honey,” I soothed, stroking his hair. “Do you want to nurse?”

“No, Mommy,” he said, “you don’t have any more milk.”

And like that, we were done nursing.

I knew his claim that I had no milk wasn’t literally true—not only did I still have milk, on nights when he slept through without nursing, I often still had to get up and express milk into the bathroom sink because my breasts were full and sore—but I also knew that he meant something beyond the literal meaning of his words. Nursing is never just about the milk.

My daughter nursed for the last time when she was three years and three months old, and I just assumed that my son would nurse even longer. I’d read about breastfeeding duration in other cultures and I’d concluded that, if I didn’t push him to stop nursing (as I had my daughter), he’d keep nursing until he was five. While it seems a little silly to think that a child who stopped nursing at three years and eight months had weaned “early,” that’s how it felt because it happened so much earlier than I expected.

Beyond this, my son’s weaning was also more emotional for me than my daughter’s because I knew that, most likely, I was done nursing babies.

He’s still a snuggly guy, which helps. When he climbs into bed with me in the middle of the night, he tucks his little arms around my neck and falls asleep with his face against mine, his breath warm against my cheek. He still wants me to hold him and snuggle with him while we read books. But I know that’s on its way out, too.

He no longer wants me to kiss his boo-boos, and has begun ignoring me when I offer to hold his hand. He follows his sister out to play with the “big kids” in the neighborhood. He’s sounding out and writing words all over the house (mostly on paper, but not always). He spends hours making up stories in his play room. He dresses himself and at bedtime folds his clothes for the next day and sets them neatly on the little blue chair next to his bed.

And it’s a good thing, really. It shows that my son is maturing and that he’s growing in his confidence and independence. But it’s sad, too, because I’m saying goodbye to him as a baby. I don’t cling to his babyhood—nor do I want to; there’s a distinct advantage to having a child who can entertain himself and wipe his own bottom—but I do feel a deep sadness that it’s over.

Each “first” is accompanied by a “last.” The glass is both half full and half empty, and just letting both of those exist simultaneously is a constant challenge.

This is what it means to be a parent, I guess. Giving birth sets the stage for separation, and in that sense, childrearing is one long series of goodbyes: goodbye to the baby, goodbye to the snuggles, goodbye to that sweet scalp smell. But it’s also a long series of hellos: hello to the little boy, hello to the amazing discoveries, and, eventually, hello to the man.

I do look forward to meeting him.

Written as part of the Remember the Time Blog Hop.

Mothers Before Me

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe’s Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to www.breastfeedingcafe.wordpress.com. For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today’s post is about how the mothers before you influenced your choice to breastfeed. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!
 


 


Breastfeeding an infant

Image via Wikipedia (photo in the public domain)

I guess the amazing thing is that my mom nursed at all. My grandma didn’t nurse any of her eight children. To my knowledge, none of my mother’s five sisters nursed their children.

After I was born, my mother had a roommate with a new little son my mom says was named “Hercules.” The (male) doctor came in and looked approvingly at my mother for nursing me, then asked the roommate if she’d be nursing her son. When the young mother said she wouldn’t, the doctor said, “What do you think those are for? To look good under a sweater?” I found the story a little coarse, and I certainly doubt it would have convinced Hercules’ mother to nurse him, but my mother found great encouragement in it.

My mom nursed me and each of my three younger siblings. She didn’t nurse for as long as I’ve nursed my children, and she introduced complementary foods much earlier than I did (there are photos of mom feeding me rice cereal at two weeks old), but apparently it was enough to make an impression.

I grew up assuming that I would nurse my children. When I encountered problems nursing my first, this feeling of certainty is part of what carried me through those rough times. It led me to seek out my local La Leche League group where I found a community of nursing moms who then became more “Mothers Before Me.” These women weren’t extraordinary. They were just like me. Seeing them mother their children through breastfeeding helped me see my way through the nursing and parenting challenges that have come up since. These women remain some of my closest friends.

I hope that through my example and that of the other moms in our community, my children will grow up with an even stronger sense than I had that breastfeeding is amazing, but it isn’t extraordinary. It’s just the natural progression from bearing and birthing to nursing. I want my children not to have to think about it but to just know what I’ve always known, thanks to my mom: that nursing is normal.


 


 


 
Here are more post by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.

Calling All Blogging Mamas!

I know that a number of my readers are current or former (or future!) nursing moms, so I thought I’d post about this here and invite you to participate in the Blog Carnival for the Salt Lake City Breastfeeding Cafe.

The Breastfeeding Cafe in Salt Lake City is an annual event by the Utah Breastfeeding Coalition to normalize breastfeeding and to bring public awareness to the issues facing nursing families. It takes place during the first two weeks of August at the Main branch of the Salt Lake Public Library.

The Blog Carnival will run from July 18th until the cafe begins. Each day there’s a new topic relating to the theme of this year’s cafe, “Mothers See, Mothers Do! In Public, In Pictures, and Online, too!”

You don’t live in Salt Lake City? No worries! Neither do I anymore!

You don’t have to live in Salt Lake City to participate in the Blog Carnival, and you don’t have to be nursing a child right now, either. You just need to check out the topics and, if one or more of them resonates with you, post about it on your blog on the designated day.

But if you are in the Salt Lake City area, I highly recommend checking out the cafe in person to see all of the awesome activities they have planned this year. I was fortunate enough to get to volunteer with the cafe for three years, and to be close friends with cafe organizers for each of those years (and this year, too!). I’m sad to be missing the cafe this year, but I’m excited that I can still participate via the Blog Carnival!

You can see the list of dates and topics for the carnival at the Breastfeeding Cafe blog (click any of the text links in this post to visit the site. For your convenience, I put six in this post). If you want to participate, contact Claire at the email address in the carnival post, send the link(s) to your post(s) to Claire in advance, and have your posts up by noon on the designated date for that topic. Claire will provide html for headers and footers for your blog posts (don’t let that scare you away if you don’t know html…it’s really easy to do. You just copy and paste!).

I’m not sure how many topics I’m going to post for, but you can expect to see at least a couple of posts about breastfeeding on my blog during the carnival. I hope to see some on your blogs, too! This is a great way to get to know other bloggers, to support one another, and to celebrate and normalize nursing!

Covering Up: It’s a Feminist Issue

Update:

This used to be a video about how women should be the ones to choose how they dress and how much they cover while nursing in public. If you would like to see the video, please visit PhD in Parenting.

It has come to my attention that some of the images used in this video were used without the permission of the women in the images or of the photographers who took the images. PhD in Parenting obtained permission from a person claiming to be the source of the photos, but this person turned out not to have permission to distribute these photos. I’ve removed the video as a show of respect to the women whose likeness was used without their permission.

As a person whose likeness (or whose children’s likenesses) could show up online without my permission and as a blogger who wants to be sure not to impinge upon anyone’s right to privacy, I would really like to know more about the legal rights one has to one’s likeness. If anyone can offer resources for learning about this issue, I would be grateful.

What I Want to be Remembered For

Surface waves of water: expansion of a disturb...

Image via Wikipedia, taken by Roger McLassus

First off, I went to aikido Monday night. I can’t decide if I like it or not. I really don’t like trying new things. And I think I may have given myself too many new things to try at once. I’m considering signing up for a second aikido class so I can have two classes a week and get more practice. This is consistent with the “just jump in the cold pool” school of thought rather than the “ease your way into the cold pool” school of thought.

I’m not a big fan of swimming.

OK, now the topic of this post. The Daily Post topic #11 is “What do you want to be remembered for?” Yes, there’s a preposition at the end of that sentence. I don’t want to be remembered for being a jerk about grammar, I know that.

But for what do I want to be remembered?

I asked my husband this question first. He said he mostly wants to be remembered as a guy who did things, rather than as a guy who just sat around watching sports all the time. He used to want to be remembered for making some big discovery or contribution that changed a lot of lives, but that’s become less important as he’s gotten older.

“Someone once said,” he said, “‘Imagine what you could accomplish if you didn’t care who got credit.’ I hope to not worry about who gets credit and just do great things even if I’m not remembered for them.”

I thought that was a pretty good answer. But what about me?

Well, the earth is billions of years old. I don’t even know the names of my great-great-grandparents, much less what they did (aside from sire/birth my great-grandparents). I’m a tiny insignificant speck and even if I became as famous as Homer (the poet, not the Simpson), I will eventually fade into nothingness.

Which is a really depressing train of thought, and clearly one I don’t readily accept (or at least one against which I fight). Otherwise, what’s the point of all of the blogging? Unless maybe it’s just a shout into the darkness hoping to get back an echo to keep me company. (See what kind of mood trying new things puts me into?)

But, taking a step back, I can look at it from my limited influence. I really just want to pass along a little nugget, not even with my name attached to it, but which can shift a person’s thinking and perhaps cause gentle ripples through the future of humanity.

I already have done a little something like that.

I’m a breastfeeding support-type person. I’m a member of a whole group of other moms who hold monthly meetings and take phone calls to help nursing women address their breastfeeding and mothering questions. There’s one little piece of encouragement that I received as a new mom that I’ve made a point of passing along to as many other moms as I can. It’s this:

You know your baby better than anyone else in the world. You know him better than your doctor, better than your mother, better even than your partner. You are the expert on your baby.

I say this a lot, and even though it had a profound influence on my own mothering, after saying it so much it starts to sound trite and a little worn.

But then I was sitting in a meeting, and I heard a mom repeat back this bit of wisdom to another mom. She told me later that my telling her this at her very first meeting was a turning point in her mothering journey, and gave her the confidence to trust her instincts in mothering her baby.

I cry when I think of this.

I won’t be remembered for this except by the mom I told directly, but it’ll carry beyond my direct influence to people I’ll never even meet. It’s only fitting that I won’t be remembered as the person who said this, because I didn’t even come up with it. It was shared with me by another mother, and I simply passed it along. I wasn’t the pebble, but merely a ripple extending out into the waters, which triggered another ripple, which, I hope, triggers another and another.

So maybe that’s what I want: to be remembered not as an individual since my individual existence is going to fade in a shockingly short period of time, but to be remembered as that little feeling of confidence and love passed from one mother to another.

A Moment of Clarity

For her book, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness, Ariel Gore interviewed hundreds of women about their experiences of and beliefs about happiness. In the end, she found that the happy women weren’t connected by any particular life circumstances. “The women who reported being the happiest,” Gore writes, “were the women who had the self-esteem, the basic resources, and the courage to question—and often reject—the scripts for female happiness they had been handed . . . The women who were happy weren’t the ones who seemed to get stuck in rebellion and postmodern commitment phobia, but rather those who were able to take it further—to write new scripts for themselves. In the spirit of curiosity and experimentation, they had freed themselves from the past and were willing to commit to new paths and new visions. The women who were happy were optimists, but they weren’t perfectionists.”

I enjoy blazing my own trail through life and remaining ever observant of the not-so-constructive patterns I may be unconsciously repeating, but I’d always felt most keenly the alienation this brings. It’s sometimes socially challenging to be the woman doing all of these odd things, like birthing at home, homeschooling, nursing past X months/years, even just not watching TV. But if Gore is right, this tendency of mine to buck the norm is potentially my secret to deep and lasting happiness. The key, then, would be letting go of the fear that lurks around being disobedient to cultural expectations and instead embracing the freedom of living authentically and imperfectly.

Gore quotes authors Hib Chickena and Kika Kat from their book Off the Map:

“This is what it means to be an adventurer in our day: to give up the creature comforts of the mind, to realize possiblities of imagination. Because everything around us says no you cannot do this, you cannot live without that, nothing is useful unless it is in service to money, to gain, to stability. The adventurer gives in to the tides of chaos, trusts the world to support her—and in doing so turns her back on the fear and obedience she has been taught. She rejects the indoctrination of impossibility. My adventure is a struggle for freedom.”

Ahh…happiness is feeling the click as disparate ideas fall into place to form a coherent picture. It’s kind of like one of those magic eye pictures.

(Can you tell I’m not as excited about Self Care as I am about mindfulness? I’m still eating my greens and taking walks and avoiding sugar and alcohol. It’s just not as fun and profound as shifts in perception.)

A New Focus for Week 2

After one week of my Happiness Project, I was feeling dejected and discouraged. I had given myself what I thought were pretty simple resolutions. Breathe. Be Aware of Judgmental Thoughts. Keep a Log of my Emotions. And here I was not keeping up with them every day. What was wrong with me? I, as you know, tried to reason through and figure out how I could get myself to keep to my resolutions. Everything I came up with was very practical, and that left me feeling even more discouraged when I still didn’t keep all of my resolutions even after all of that good reasoning through everything.

So, I despaired, worked out, and took a break to watch a movie. The exercise helped me to release some of my pent-up frustration and stress and put me in a frame of mind better suited to rational thinking. When I got home, I found my husband and daughter washing dishes at the sink while my nearly-one-year-old son sat paging through board books in the dining room, calling every animal either a “doggie” or a “kitty” using his signs. This peaceful scene didn’t last long, but seeing it on my arrival home helped facilitate a shift in my thinking.

Then after the kids were in bed, my husband and I watched the film version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins. I think taking a break to watch any movie probably would have helped give me some distance to get a more realistic perspective on my situation, but this film was particularly provocative. Its themes include the relationship between a husband and wife, the roll of a wife and mother, and what happens when our expectations of our spouse don’t match up with their reality. The facts of the story differed quite markedly from those of my life, but I found I could relate to Nora’s character. Seeing her struggles played out got me thinking about my own my roll as wife and mother and finding my identity within this roll.

I thought that since my mindfulness resolutions were simple, they would be easy to apply and allow me to reap instant benefits. But upon further reflection, I realize my mistake. The resolutions I set for myself this month are deceptive because while they seem simple, they involve changing my thought processes and peeling back the layers of awareness to expose parts of myself I don’t always confront. That’s a challenge, especially when it requires admitting unflattering things about myself.

For example, the baby woke up three times during the movie. While I nursed him back to sleep, I took that opportunity to check in with myself about my emotions. I realized I was feeling impatient because I wanted to get back to my movie. I was worried that my husband would get bored or tired and decide to go to bed before I could get back out to finish the movie, and I would feel disappointed because I wanted to watch it with him. I sat with this for a while and then realized that I felt selfish and guilty because I was wishing away this moment of quiet and closeness in my son’s fleeting babyhood. It was then that I realized a big part of why I have trouble recognizing my emotions: when I peel back the layers, I often need to admit to having feelings that don’t match my expectation of myself as a mother. This expectation may not be realistic, but that doesn’t mean it’s less disappointing to not live up to it.

Being aware of my judgmental thoughts is similarly uncomfortable. I was shocked and embarrassed to learn just how much judging—especially negative judging—I do in a day. Until I had the awareness of it, it was just background chatter. But when I put my attention on it, I have to address it and recognize it and put it somewhere.

The task I’ve set for myself is a larger one than I realized at first. I put mindfulness as the area of focus for the first month because I consider it foundational to the rest of the project. I still think it’s in the right place, but I think addressing it first and having resolutions without much concrete output gave me the false sense that this would be an easy month. Now that I realize how big an undertaking it is to raise my awareness of my inner workings, I want to try to be more gentle with myself when I don’t embrace facing up to my insides.

My friend, David, in North Carolina, gave me a chant shortly before we moved away that I am going to try to say to myself as a daily reminder:

I will be gentle with myself.

I will be gentle with myself.

I am a child of the universe

Being born in every moment.

 

Child-Led Weaning: Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival Post

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe’s Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to www.breastfeedingcafe.wordpress.com. For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today’s post is about child-led weaning. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!



I’m stepping away from my Happiness Project posts for a moment to participate in the SLC Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival by posting about Child-Led Weaning. Don’t worry, though…I’ll be posting about happiness and personal commandments again this evening!

After a rocky start nursing my first child, I grew to love nursing. As time went on, our nursing patterns changed, we dealt with food sensitivities, and got the chance to practice limit-setting around biting and twiddling and other fun nursing behaviors, but I continued to revel in our nursing relationship and the closeness it brought us. I learned more and more about the normal course of breastfeeding, and I decided that I wanted to keep nursing until my daughter was done.

When I first learned about child-led weaning, I pictured a situation in which mom continues nursing her child with no pressure one way or another until her child says, “OK, I’m done nursing,” and doesn’t nurse again. What I didn’t take into account were all the subtle ways in which a mother influences her child’s choice to nurse or to stop nursing. After my own experiences and speaking with dozens of moms, I’m fairly convinced that there’s no form of weaning that’s purely child-led.

From the moment we introduce solids to our children, we are initiating the process of weaning. Ideally, this process is gradual and is completed only when mother and child are both ready to meet their physical and emotional needs in ways other than nursing. Along the way, a mom does a variety of things that move her and her nursling along the path to complete weaning. Mom might delay nursing when her child asks, or she might stop nursing her child at night. She might leave her child with another caregiver for a longer period of time than she had before without expressing milk. She might decrease the duration of each nursing session, or stop nursing her child to sleep. She might introduce a comfort object to help her child emotionally in mother’s absence. All of these are things that mothers do to move the weaning process along, whether they intend to or not.

My daughter was about 2.5 years old when I decided to start making some dietary changes to deal with some digestive issues I was having. I lost 15 pounds within about two months. During this period of time, nursing began to feel very uncomfortable. I was convinced of the value of child-led weaning as I had imagined it, so I soldiered on, intent upon trying not to influence my daughter’s choice to nurse or not. But every time she latched on, I tensed my jaw and gritted my teeth. I started feeling angry and dreaded when she would ask to nurse. I wanted to keep nursing her, but I didn’t think that all of the negative feelings around nursing were helpful to our relationship. I sought help from La Leche League, and received some wonderful support and suggestions. I helped my daughter work on her latch. I tried adding more carbohydrates back into my diet when I learned that a low-carb diet can decrease milk supply and a decreased milk supply can lead to nursing discomfort. But nothing brought back that blissful nursing experience we had both enjoyed for so long. I began limiting the duration of our nursing sessions by singing the ABC song, slower when I was feeling OK, faster when I just needed to get through it, in order to distract myself, to let my daughter anticipate when we would stop, and to help me see there was an end to this nursing session. After a year of gently moving my daughter towards ending our nursing relationship, she was done.

I felt a lot of mixed feelings about the end of our nursing relationship. I once again received comfort from La Leche League and learning from other moms that ambivalence about weaning, and even about nursing a child past whatever age is deemed appropriate by one’s culture, is normal and common. Ambivalence seemed, actually, to be more the rule than the exception.  My daughter’s weaning was gradual enough that I experienced no engorgement or physical discomfort when she stopped nursing, and my breasts did not change size, which can often happen in situations of abrupt cessation of nursing. Even though weaning didn’t follow the course I’d expected, I was confident that we had gone about it in a way that respected both my needs and my daughter’s needs.

As my son approaches his first birthday, I wonder what path our nursing relationship will follow. I have some apprehension that I will, once again, be done before he is and guide the weaning process more than I would ideally like to. But I’ve learned a lot about weaning and about nursing, not just as a means of feeding my child, but as a relationship in and of itself. Nursing is a dance, a partnership; it must work for both parties in order to work at all. I think I’m ready for more possible paths this nursing relationship might take. I’m in it for the duration, however long that might be.


Here are more posts by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.