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.