I think … my eldest nursling…. may actually have weaned !
I can barely believe I’m writing the words !
The idea that Cassie might ever EVER stop was preposterous (mainly to her) even a couple of months ago. She is 4 years and 8 months old as I type and has clung to her short nurse at bedtime with formidable tenacity for most of the last year.
I had been coaxing her to nurse less because it was causing tension at bedtime. If her younger sister (now two and a half) had nursed recently there was often no let-down and she’d get frustrated . Keen for our nursing to be a source of calm and not a reason for tears, I felt it was time to phase it out with her participation.
After some discussion the outcome was that she absolutely, UNEQUIVOCALLY still wanted bedtime nursies – but was content that often there would be very little milk.
More recently in the last couple of months I had successfully (to my shock) negotiated a cuddle/ nursies alternation where she could have nursies every other night and my darling daughter, enamoured with the organisation of it all, suggested a three night system of nursies/cuddle/ drink-of-water soon after…. and gradually…. quietly …. without fuss or effort, the nights she nursed just faded away .
After about a week or two I decided to test our new arrangement and had half expected her to gasp and insist on nursing straight away ! Instead when I casually mentioned that she doesn’t really have nursies any more, she thought for a while and said “yea cos I don’t weed nursies anymore” . I told her that was nice and we talked about all the times we had been glad to have nursies like when she was sick (with my bad cough mummy) or sad ( when I had bad dweem mummy) or tired (*giggles* it makes me sweepy mummy) . She gave my chest a cuddle …kissed them then asked if she could still have nursies when she was sick and I agreed it was a good plan. We read a story while I nursed her little sister.
My gorgeous, clever, fiercly independant big girl starts school on Tuesday and I am so proud of her. We’ve had a near perfect breastfeeding experience and I owe her so much for what our relationship taught me. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t have persevered when Tessa had such difficulty getting started if I hadn’t known what I’d be giving up. Cassie showed me the true depth of a breastfeeding relationship. I didn’t know anything about natural term feeding or child-led weaning when she was born and learned it all ‘on the job’ with the help of a true booby addict.
I remember thinking how old FOUR years old sounded when I learned it was the average age for human children to wean worldwide. I remember my eyes being opened when I was told that children will naturally outgrow the need and stop all by themselves. I was so indoctrinated into a society that puts so much time and effort into ‘weaning’ our babies onto the next thing (usually to the monetary advantage of the baby food industry) that to suddenly discover that there was no need to worry – that mother nature had a plan and it would all naturally progress when the time was right for both myself and my child, was mind blowing!! And so our journey, that I had thought would last a few months, became a relationship that has grown richer and more beautiful with every year.
Of course there were times I got frustrated by how much I was ‘needed’ and plenty of times I needed support to physically and psychologically ‘get through’ the toughest growth spurts and velcro-baby blues. Thankfully by then I had found La Leche League and looking back what I feel most is just the simple joy and love it brought us.
Just as every baby is different so too is every breastfeeding dyad unique and I have more than a few special memories from the past four and three quarter years. I remember how silly I felt standing in a dark broom cupboard with Cassie in a sling trying to entice her to nurse when she hit her infuriating distractible phase, how i thought my heart would burst the first time she sat up after a feed and clapped, and my surprise and weird pride when I discovered she could open my bra clip and help herself… and then close it again! 😀 Even her early artwork had not-so-subtle clues as to her main passion in life- see if you can tell who is who, in these portraits of ‘mummy’ and ‘granny’, by three year old Cassie .
I fed Cassie everywhere (mums of frequent feeders soon manage to feed regardless of location or occasion) I fed her through illnesses (hers and mine) and through pregnancy which had more than a few tough moments due to a nursing aversion in the first trimester and amniocentesis in the second. She dry-nursed (I wont lie- it’s not pleasant) when the milk dried to a trickle and bided her time when other, less dedicated boob-a-holics, would have stopped.
I’m glad she did ! Breastfeeding helped us reconnect when I had to spend weeks in hospital when her sister was born with a congenital condition.
Nursing Cassie helped keep my supply up when Tessa was still learning her craft and when Tessa got older and showed preference for nursing only on the side she could see from (she lost the vision in her left eye at 11 weeks old) Cassie was always on hand to ‘even things out’ 🙂
If I had known how complicated Tessa was going to be before she was born I would have thought that continuing to feed Cassie (who was then 2yo) would have just added extra work and pressure. What I found, however, was that despite my sudden absence for over a month and the inordinate amount of time I devoted to Tessa when she was home – there was no jealousy and no resentment. The tiny snippets of time I took to nurse Cassie seemed to be just enough. Enough to let her know I loved her and she was important and enough to show her that she still had a place and that *this* part of her world was still the same (if a lot creamier and more abundant judging by the weight she put on !) It was like breastfeeding enabled me to condense what I was able to give. As though it concentrated our quality time and unexpectedly made things easier for all of us.
I will be forever glad that I decided to breastfeed my children and I am grateful for the lessons I learned in the four plus years that I nursed my middle child. I honestly can’t imagine our lives without it. My milk was her comfort and my cure-all throughout. It kept her healthy and was squirted, dripped and dabbed on numerous sticky eyes, sore ears and grazed knees.
It was our normal.
It was a journey that inspired The Breast of Rhymes. A journey that helped me help others, that changed me and shaped my experience of motherhood. A journey that, just like they said it would, has now ended.
It is over because she has outgrown it, her needs were met – fully and with respect.
She was mothered at the breast just as nature intended.
The quiet tears I shed writing this are not of sadness but of awe and gratitude for having shared such a full and rich experience with a little girl I love to the ends of the world.
Thank you Cassie ❤ ❤ ❤
If you would like to learn more about natural term/ extended breastfeeding here are some excellent resources;
Katherine Dettwyler’s A Time to Wean on the natural age of weaning in human children
Dr Sears summary of weaning from an attachment point of view
And this list of myths from The Leaky Boob