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    Entries in breastfeeding (8)


    dental touches

    Dear Zelda,

    Tonight while nursing you, before you signaled that you were ready to sleep by unlatching and looking for Papa (who slings you to dreamland as he does the dishes), I was finger-combing your hair. It's getting longer. Long enough to "do." This makes me very happy. Anyway, I was finger-combing your hair while you nursed, and when I stopped, and rested my hand on your little belly, you reached down. You grabbed my hand and brought it back to your head, making me pet you with your fat fingers tight around mine, puppeteering. Looking at me, satisfied, you stopped nursing to say, with a sleepy smile, "den-tal." Gentle. Yes.



    my son, the weaner

    Oh, this poor, neglected blog. The winter of 2013 will forever be remembered as The Great Nose-Wiping, I'm afraid. Alternate titles: Downton Crabby; The Winter of Our Discontent (With Rhinovirus). We are all sick all the time, and George has been afflicted with the worst of it, thanks in no small part, I'm sure, to his relatively recent weaning. Something I've been meaning to talk about here. Now -- while the boy coughs and watches Shaun the Sheep and the rest of the family buys logs at the farm store -- is as good a time as any. 

    When I was pregnant with Zelda, put off breastfeeding by a serious case of the nursing heebie jeebies, I was determined to make it to George's second birthday before I cut him off. This turned out to be an unnecessary goal, since the return of my milk in the third trimester marked the end of my discomfort, and we happily resumed our normal nursing relationship. I look back on the final month of my pregnancy so fondly, remembering George's little toddler belly pressed up against his still in-utero sister, feeling her kick as he nursed to sleep. Hindsight being what it is, I can see that was the first real, tangible bonding they did, and I was so glad that my body did us all the solid of letting nursing happen pleasantly, as it had before. Our nursing relationship enabled him to experience my pregnancy from my side, not the opposing side to which most siblings are relegated, feeling mama's belly when invited and perhaps thinking about the time when they had unrestricted access, too. 

    When, right after Zelda was born, we were spending a majority of our days in the house, often on the couch, nursing, George was free to nurse as he needed to, also, rather than being put off in favor of the new addition. We didn't suffer from any sibling rivalry until much later, and I attribute some of that to the fact that he didn't feel entirely usurped by the baby. At a time when my toolbox was running low, nursing was still my cure-all for sadness, a late nap, a fall, or need for reconnection. When your sleep is interrupted, you've just experienced a pretty big blood loss and you're trying to remember how to take care of a newborn, you don't necessarily have the resources available to think up creative new techniques for dealing with toddler behavior. Thanks, term breastfeeding, for keeping the peace when I didn't have the energy to respond as sensitively as I should, or playfully parent through adversity. 

    I wish I had a better weaning story. Or, I guess I should say: I wish I had a more riveting weaning story. But, I don't. One day, George just stopped asking. He was 34 months old (nine months after his sister was born), and I waited a week before I brought it up. Are you all done with nummas? I asked him, and his response is forever etched into the mama part of my brain. The part that stores photographic memories of first steps and the first time he said I love you, unprompted. 

    Nummas made me so happy, he said, but now they're for Zelda, and now they're called na-na. 

    Na-na, what his sister has called mama's milk all her life. 

    As simple as that, with no tears or strife. I never suggested he stop, and yet: he did, when his body told him it was time. When his heart told him he was ready. I didn't directly experience a terrible lot in the way of criticism about our term breastfeeding, but, nevertheless, ours is a story for the critics of child-led weaning. For those who argue that it creates whiny weirdos who suckle until pried off the boob sometime before middle school. For those who think it makes unhealthily dependent kids. For those who caution that weaning will be arduous when the child is old enough to articulate his need and the hurt that comes with refusal to meet that need. For those who think children are born manipulators. 

    There are times, like now, in the midst of a slog through illness, when I am trying to find ways to boost my poor little guy's immune system as it struggles, and I wish breastmilk served as the cure-all it once did. There are times when my toolbox is as empty as it was when I was newly post-partum and I wish I could pull him close for a nurse instead of trying to comfort him with words or hugs that fall short. Our relationship is different now, and that change is natural, healthy, developmentally appropriate, but difficult all the same. When I'm lonely for the fat little baby in old pictures, I look at the goofy, gangly preschooler in front of me and am comforted that I didn't force him out of his sweet babyhood too soon. I'm glad that he shared a bit of that babyhood with his sister instead of being metaphorically dumped out of my lap in her favor.  

    Though it was not always fun, I don't regret a single second of our term breastfeeding, and its effects are still making themselves known. When I find myself telling the doctor I'm not sure if George has ever been on antibiotics before. When I see him guilelessly look on at our friends' children as they nurse. When he nurtures his own sister or plays the role of caretaker with his toys. When he suggests that crying toddlers and children his own age might need some nummas. I'm proud of myself for those 34 months, and the 12 and a half I've spent breastfeeding Zelda. We've nursed on lawn furniture for sale in the middle of Target, at the zoo and at the park, in bed, all night, at strangers' houses and on walks, while I looked at the internet with one hand and he slept in my arms, for hours and hours and hours - an unquantifiable amount of time, of such enormous quality. I hope that, should he choose to have children, he carries these memories with him, whichever ones (if any) last to adulthood, and they influence the way he parents. Regardless of whether or not he winds up with kids of his own, I hope he remains a nurturer. And, I hope that this, among all my failings as a mother, serves as a reminder that I was -- and am -- in it for the long haul. 


    our journey to dreamland


    That kid right there, he started out as a 12 hour a night sleeper. Does he sleep through the night? people would ask me. Yes! I could say, without lying. Well, without telling untruths, that is, because I was definitely lying. Next to him. All night. And all morning. Because that kid, right there, he slept from midnight until noon as long as he had a bosom for a pillow. Well-meaning folks suggested that I try waiting until he was deeply asleep, then rolling away from him to go about my day. As though I hadn't tried that. Have you ever forcibly waited until noon to get out of bed? If you had, you'd know that the urge to pee strikes around 9:30 and that scenario probably doesn't need further explanation. 

    He woke up if I even thought too hard about scootching over, and it went double for naps. The penalty for my ambition was always the same: an underslept baby with one target for his displeasure. Me. so, I got a Kindle and went with it. I was so well-read back then, you guys. 

    He slept in the sling, with his papa, too. That was nice. On weekends, I got a break from lying down with him (Let us pause for a moment, parents of more than one, to laugh and laugh. 



    Hoo boy! Yeah. Okay. Anyway.) and that continued until he was well over a year old. At fifteen months or so, he nightweaned and moved into a crib, a change prompted by his obvious need for more personal space at night. His kicking and flailing were keeping everyone, himself included, awake, and the crib gave him boundaries he seemed to enjoy, coupled with room to move and make sheet angels. But getting him to sleep at night was HARD. I'd nurse him and hand him over to Nathan, who put in one to two hours per night sitting next to the crib, singing and humming, shooshing and patting. And naptime? I, pregnant and afflicted with a bad case of the breastfeeding heebie jeebies, was unable to nap-nurse like we'd always done. So Nathan dashed home on his lunch break and made a nap happen, then drove back to work, rarely having eaten.

    George was elated to receive a hand-me-down toddler bed, but fell out of it a few times, so we reverted to the crib. It started feeling a little desperate, like this particular toddler was going to need this papa-led patting and shooshing routine well into grade school. Nathan and I had no evening time to ourselves, the lunchtime dash was kind of ridiculous, and, more than once, we both wondered aloud if this level of attention was counterproductive. We knew families who "Ferberized" their kids, and if Facebook and casual conversation were to be believed, their evenings were full of primetime television shows and cocktails. In short, they seemed to be having a lot more fun than we were. But, we persisted, because being unresponsive to our son's expressed needs felt like the wrong thing to do. 

    The funny thing about raising kids is that things gradually get better and sometimes you don't notice. I couldn't tell you the date of George's last dirty diaper (because that would be pathetic, a little), and I don't know exactly when he stopped throwing all of his food on the floor. Similarly, the sleep routine got shorter and shorter until we decided to try something new. 

    For the past month, I've been putting George to bed. We do "stories and nummas" -- books and a nurse -- and then he lies down. I turn off the light and we talk about his day. I sing Moon River and Take Me Out To The Ballgame, really slow, as per his request. And then, I leave. I leave him there, blinking at me in the hallway light, saying no, I love YOU! And I shut the door. And he goes to sleep. 

    I never thought we'd get here. Or, rather, I knew we would, but it seemed a far-off fantasy like I'd imagine when he was a baby. The patter of jammy feet on wood floors, the eating of grilled cheese and soup on blustery days: these feel like distant, hazy idyls to the mother of a six month old. What I'm most proud of, besides his accomplishments as an independent sleeper, is that we got here by honoring his needs, his wishes. We kept him feeling safe, and in that feeling of safety, he grew into what we hoped he would, what we needed. I sometimes miss the feeling of lying there next to his baby body, devouring a novel while he snored, looking down to see his eyelids flutter open that gummy good morning smile. But another funny thing about raising kids is that there's always a next thing, another thing to love. And that retort? No, I love YOU, mama. God, is it good. 


    to whom it may concern, re: breastfeeding my child

    Over the past couple of weeks, attachment parenting has gotten some serious attention. Some things that fall under the umbrella of attachment parenting -- probably most intensely, breastfeeding -- have been discussed over and over by lots of people I know, and I've been witness to and involved in those conversations both in real life and on the internet. I have cold unfriended some folks because educating them was not a high enough priority for me to deal with their ignorance in the meantime. That said, however, I'd be remiss to keep out of the fray because for all of the Psychology Today articles, the scientific studies on the nutritive benefits of breastfeeding past infancy, the anecdotal stories I can send you or post passively on Facebook, there is one point that nobody else can make, and I'm here to make it. I'm making it for you, girl with whom I attended high school, who said, "Just put it in a cup!" And for you, lady I used to work with, who said, "U know she's getting off on it, ew lol." For you, dude I don't even actually know, who instructed mothers to "save the boobs for the infants and men," and for you, guy from college who simply said, "perverted." Oh yeah, and you, lady who insisted that breastfed toddlers and preschoolers will grow up to be "creepy mama's boy"s. I'd like to have a word with allayou.

    You see, you weren't talking directly to me. You were talking about another woman, another child (both of whom exist in the real world, incidentally, and have actual feelings, FYI) or the hypothetical offspring of hypothetical women. But I'd like you to meet my 29 month old. There he is! His name is George. You probably already know him, because you know me. That's him, breastfeeding. YES! He still nurses, twice a day or more, and he is nearly two and a half. I know it doesn't matter to you, because I've seen you dismiss this statistic with frankly pretty ballsy ethnocentricity, but he is still well below the worldwide average age for weaning. 

    You say having breastmilk is fine, but why not use a cup? Well, riddle me this: when I'm out to eat and some guy in his best polo shirt is trying to impress his date by attempting, but failing, to use chopsticks, do I approach him and say, excuse me, but for god's sake just use a fork? Do I mention that eating his dinner noodle by noodle takes so long that it can't have very much nutritional value? Do I suggest he has an Asian fetish? Of course not, because the way someone else eats doesn't affect me at all

    Next up, perversion. Are you really calling me perverted? Have you ever breastfed someone? I'd like you to come over at bedtime, watch my child nurse after we read stories and then call our nightime routine perverted. To my face. To his face. Right in our real-life faces. If you can't do that, kindly STFU. 

    Benefits? Not too long ago, George had a bug. It was gross. Real gross. We called the doctor, who advised us to start giving him Pedialyte. "He still nurses, so we've been doing that..." "OH!" said the doctor. "Just do that, then. Great!" If you'd care to, please feel free to stop by her office or make an appointment to challenge our family doctor (a regular ol' allopathic physician, so don't go accusing her of being one of those dreaded hippie naturopaths). Her name is Kellie Jacobs and every time we see her, she congratulates me for still giving my children the many benefits of breastmilk (high five, Dr. Jacobs!). Where did you get your immunology/medical degree again?

    Now, as for raising someone who will turn into a lecherous cling-on, I suppose that remains to be seen. What do you think about George, though? Does he seem overly attached to you? When we ran into you at the grocery store, or the pizza place, or when we saw you at the park, did he strike you as a kid with no coping skills? Was he whiny and demanding, entitled (you know, more than a normal toddler)? Did he seem unhealthy? Or was he running around, singing Old McDonald to himself, addressing the waitstaff with pleases and thank yous, doling out hugs and pleasant conversation, eating "real food" and drinking water from a glass...? If you saw us, and felt worried for the way my son might turn out, you sure did hide it well! In fact, you (and you, and you) have commented many times on what a bright, happy, funny, beautiful, caring child he is. Thanks again; you were right!

    My son has been able to "ask for it" since he began signing 'milk' at five months old (and before that, he "asked for it" by rooting, of course). By many people's stated standards, he should've weaned then. Rather than punish my kid for newfound communication skills, however, I encouraged him. I breathed a sigh of relief: one fewer thing to guess about among the many unsureties of parenthood. If your "ask for it" rule really only applies to kids who can say some clear version of "I need to nurse" (including "I want boobies," which is just fine whether you like it or not, because they aren't your boobies to get offended over), well, I'll leave you with this: You probably aren't someone who finds it easy to say, "I need a hug." That's an assumption I'm making because you come off as uncomfortable with close, open, mutually beneficial relationships. Whether or not that's true is kind of irrelevant, but if you said to me, "I need a hug," you know what? I'd give you one. I wouldn't say, hey man, you seem pretty in touch with your needs, so you can probably come up with a coping mechanism on your own. I wouldn't question your motives or assume you were trying to manipulate me. I wouldn't try to determine if you were really and truly sad enough to deserve a hug. As such, I take my son's needs at face value as well. And when he's ready to give up this coping skill, this source of nutrition and comfort and immunity, his body and his heart will tell him so. If it becomes a chore I can't bear before then, I'll be the one responsible for explaining that to him. Until then, however, I'll be damned if I let some busybody prude try to make me feel bad for breastfeeding my child. 


    speaking of placentas

    One of my biggest worries for my first postpartum period was depression. It turned out to be unfounded -- I didn't have any "baby blues" so to speak, though I did have a few crying jags resulting from the certainty that I would somehow accidentally kill my baby, and the realization that "the parents" were never coming to pick him up and I was well and truly responsible for someone else for all eternity. This has, so far, worked out for the best, I'm glad to report, and this second postpartum time has been similarly depression-free. What I didn't bother worrying about, because it's impossible to imagine, was the crippling fatigue. It is, for those who don't know, the kind of tired that makes you a different person. A person who, partially thanks to the hormones, hates others who are sleeping or have recently slept. Add to that fatigue inherent in new parenthood a sort of big blood loss and you are, to put it plainly, screwed. A hateful, palefaced sweatpant-ed zombie. 

    Placenta encapsulation wasn't something that I'd heard too much about when I was pregnant with George. I knew people who'd kept them, buried them and planted trees which was nice, but not really for renters. It pains me a little to think that I wasted that first placenta because I didn't know better, remarking that it was cool as my midwife held it up, then okaying her to pitch it. Shortly after I became pregnant with Zelda, though, keeping in mind the blood loss I experienced at George's birth, and knowing placentas are iron-rich, I decided to have her placenta encapsulated and I contacted Doula David, Bellingham's placenta guru. 

    David showing me the different parts of Zelda's placenta and cord

    This overview of the medicinal benefits of one's own placenta covers most of the reasons I chose to consume mine: preventing anemia, increasing milk production, increasing energy, and curbing depression, but it was really just bet-hedging. I figured I'd do it because it couldn't hurt, but I didn't expect much, results-wise. I've been surprised, however, at the noticeable difference in my mood, milk supply and energy level on the days when I forget to take the pills. I'm never raring to run laps around the block or anything, but even the smallest boost counts when you're teetering on the brink of I could fall asleep while standing here brushing my teeth and it's only 9am. There have been days when I've felt downright great after sleeping for five (non-consecutive, as if that needs to be mentioned to anyone with a newborn) hours and taking a few placenta pills. My recovery this time was fantastic, though a more significant blood loss meant lightheadedness for awhile when overdoing it (hello, mallwalking at 1 week pp; bad idea for myriad reasons) and between the placenta and fenugreek I'm taking I think I could feed triplets, though the 3 month old and 2 year old are pretty happy with the bounty. 

    Unlike some women I've heard talking about their partners' disgust at the idea of placenta consumption and citing that as a deterrent, I'm happy to say that my partner (neener neener) was never anything but supportive. He looked at the placenta with me after it was delivered, and just the other day we marveled together at the dried cord. I'm guessing that, because he's... you know, not a jerk, he values the fact that my body made this crazy amazing organ that nourished a baby -- our baby -- for many months, and continues to nourish me. In fact, he nightly delivers to me my vitamins and placenta pills on a little dish, often accompanied by a bowl of ice cream. Okay, now I'm just gloating.

    Hedging my bets paid off; I'm so glad I didn't listen to the "alternative medicine" naysayers or the grossed out how-could-you?!ers. My only regret is that I didn't do it the first time. I wish George had a sweet placenta print like Zelda's, made out to him with love from our doula.