"To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying 'Amen' to what the world tells you you ought to prefer is to have kept your soul alive." -Robert Louis Stevenson
***This is a pretty sensitive subject, so if you comment, please be respectful. Thanks. Also, I realize I am NOT an expert on this. Plenty of people nurse way longer than I did, but for me this was kind of a big deal. Among my friends and acquaintances, I know few people who have gone this route and because of that it wasn't really a decision that came naturally for me. ***
So, a few weeks ago when I published the post about weaning Graves, I mentioned that I wanted to do a little follow-up. As is the case with most things on my blog, I'm writing this mostly for me. However, as you'll see in this post, hearing this message (i.e. that you're not a total freakazoid mom with a fetish if your nurse past a year) was so important for me. So, I kind of feel like I'd be doing other mommas a disservice if I didn't blog about it.
I knew from the get go that I probably wasn't going to let Graves self wean. I figured all along it would be directed by me and even though that stands at odds with some research, I thought that was what was best for all of us. I'm so thankful he surprised me, though! When Ann Peyton was around a year, I remember telling someone that I thought that if you weren't willing to let a child self wean, you shouldn't nurse past a year, because at that point, they got really emotionally attached to it and it was mean to cut them off after that. Clearly, my ideas on that changed a bit.
Initially, I thought I would wean him when it just became "too much" for me. I espesially had those thoughts during the throes of his dairy intolerance. [Sidenote: I always meant to do a formal post about him outgrowing it, because it was such a huge deal, but at first I was scared to say anything and be wrong like I had been before and then after months had passed, it seemed dumb to do a whole post. But he outgrew it around ten months, just like so many people told me he probably would. (Sidenote within the sidenote: we're actually experimenting with almond milk because of some other issues he's had with dairy.)]
However, once that was resolved, it really became pretty easy and it was more a matter of figuring out what I was comfortable with. This was something I really struggled with because I knew I wouldn't be comfortable, personally, with nursing an older toddler/preschooler, but I also knew I wanted to consider "extended breastfeeding" for a bit past a year for a couple of reasons. For one thing (as I said in the previous post), I remember a specific conversation with Peyton in which he said, "No, I don't think you should wean him at a year. Graves [him personally, not all babies, necessarily] needs it emotionally". I'm sure he would be fine and well adjusted had I weaned him at a year, but there quite a few situations where it's helped tremendously and I think it was a really good tool. Clearly, he gradually became less dependent on it and other things comforted him in a lot of situations. Secondly, obviously breast milk continued to help his immune system and that was a great benefit there. Finally- and this was a big one- with Graves I really didn't know how to wean him at a year, practically speaking. He wasn't into a sippy until well past a year and nor was he a big fan of whole milk. Initially when I dropped the first feeding I had to supplement with flavored PediaSure (per our pediatrician's recommendation) for him to really drink much. It was fine, though, because it helped him get more calories. But, I had to be reasonable. Y'all, I just wasn't going to start bottles with my one year old and I wasn't going to give him five chocolate milks a day, either. At the same time, given that we've had concerns over his weight in the past, I knew I couldn't simply offer a cup of milk and go with the "if he drinks it, he drinks it...if he doesn't, he doesn't" attitude. So, I figured I'd just nurse him past a year.
Seems pretty clear cut, right?
But then I wanted to figure out how long. I know for some people it would just be something they figured out as they went, but that's just not my personality. Until he was over a year, I FORCED myself not to worry about it but once he turned a year, I knew I needed to come up with a plan for my own sanity.
Backing up a bit...with Ann Peyton, we parented in a little bit of a different way. She was much more "scheduled"(which I don't mean in a bad way), she never slept in our bed, and I weaned her at exactly a year. At that point, I was really scared and really protective of mine and Peyton's marriage. I knew that realistically a baby would change a lot and for both of us (but more for his sake because I think it was harder on him) I wanted to control the things I could control. Honestly, Annie did fine with all of this and I have ZERO regrets. It may seem selfish to some people (and totally normal to others!), but we did what was right for us at the time. My mom jokes about how God gave us a "play baby" because we couldn't handle a real one and while that's quite the comical observation, as I see her now as a spirited, stubborn almost four year old, I realize it truly was God's provision in our lives at that time.
Graves came a long and he was different. Thankfully, our marriage was in a much, much better place. He just required more- he wanted to be held a lot, he didn't sleep as well, and he wanted to nurse a ton. Nursing was his thing. He took a paci and really was more attached to it than AP, but nothing soothed him like nursing. Like I said, we were at a different place and it just felt right to do things a bit differently. Early on, I began doubting I would wean him at a year. With Annie there was a lot of other stuff-- physically and emotionally nursing wore me out, my hormones were crazy and parts of mine and Peyton's ahem, relationship were effected by that. This time around those things were just much less of an issue. So I knew my decision would probably be based more on my continued comfort level than on these outside factors. A part of me was glad I had that freedom, but a part of me wished it were an easier decision. I knew I didn't want to just arbitrarily stop at a year since I didn't really have a reason to, but how long?
Like I said earlier, I also knew that nursing a three or four year old was just never going to be in my comfort zone, but I really thought I'd like to try with a younger toddler. It was hard for me, though, because I get self conscious and insecure and I didn't know anyone who was doing/had done just that. [I know that may seem surprising to some of y'all because I think on the Internet I appear way more self confident than I really am. That's a whole other post, though, that's coming one day.] When I briefly considered it with AP (VERY briefly) someone had asked me if I was comfortable with other people being uncomfortable and judgey about it. And, although the other reasons were the primary reasons for weaning her, I'd be remiss if I said my insecurity about being judged as "weird" and "gross" didn't play into it.
I want to avoid labels but I'll just say that it was hard to find someone in my exact situation. I have several friends who have nursed older babies but they are, with varying levels of passion, really dedicated to a parenting philosophy that I haven't entirely embraced. These girls are sweet as can be and I have leaned on them for advice and encouragement, but I knew my thoughts did not completely line up with theirs. I think the easiest way for me to explain this is that I had seen instances where breastfeeding past a year was the norm, but it was all within a certain subculture and I wanted to see it just as part of *the*culture. [Sidenote: I KNOW these friends share my desire to see that, too.] Anyway, shortly after I started fretting about it (meaning I was totally obsessing and worrying about all my friends thinking I was weird and disgusting for nursing my oh, 12.5 month old), I noticed two friends discussing it on Twitter. They are neither one even as "crunchy" as I am, so I was a bit shocked when they said they had nursed until fourteen and nineteen months. It was neat because, from what I understood, they neither one were doing it because of a philosophy or any research; they just had babies who liked to nurse and they didn't feel they were ready to give it up. That little interaction totally "normalized" it for me.
I decided shortly after that that I wanted to set a goal. I knew that weaning Graves would be a long process and I also wanted to be able to have some sort of idea of when we could actually leave him. Like I said, I'm the kind of person that feels better with a plan and it just seemed like it was time to make one. I still kind of struggled with feeling weird about nursing past a year, simply because I didn't have any experience with it. I knew that there was a point where I would legitimately feel uncomfortable, but I was also letting social factors influence me way too much. So I set up a little scenario in my mind. And y'all I know this is a flawed analogy in several ways, but it helped me. I asked myself if I removed myself (my boobs) from the equation, how long would I be comfortable with it? My best analogy I could think of was how long would I be comfortable giving him a paci or a bottle? I know some people are probably thinking, "well, that's different!" Well, yeah. That's kinda the point. To try to see it as something that was meeting a nutritional (bottle) or comfort (paci) need and divorce it from any weird view society had placed on it. And I know the other side will say "Um, well, breastfeeding past a year is a biological norm, whereas the substitution of an artificial plastic nipple, um, isn't". Which, yeah, that's true, too. But it helped me to make it as far as I did, so there's that.
Now, let me clarify. Like I said, I truly believe there's a level of comfort you have to listen to and that's going to look different for everyone. Some people are comfortable nursing a three year old. Some people are comfortable only nursing to one. Some people are honestly not comfortable nursing at all. I try to be respectful of all these people. That's not what I was struggling with, though. I knew I was comfortable with it in my heart, but my mind was making me think it was weird and unnatural after some arbitrary date on the calender and I think most of that was because of fear of judgement and what I had been conditioned to think.
Ultimately, I decided I would be comfortable with Graves taking a bottle or having a paci definitely until eighteen months. Probably two years. Past two, I figured it would be out of my comfort zone. [Sidenote: I very likely may be reevaluating the paci past two, ha!] I felt great about my decision and when I questioned if it was weird (or was questioned by someone else), I reminded myself of this. I know that probably makes NO sense to some people, but it was just easy for me when someone maybe made me question my decision to say to myself (and in some cases to them), "the paci is not an issue yet, why should nursing be?" Like I said, it's a flawed analogy on some levels, but it helped me in a lot of situations.
So there's the background of how I came to my decision of when I wanted to wean Graves. I wanted to share it because it was such a big deal within myself as y'all can probably tell and also simply as an encouragement to others who may be interested in parenting in a way that's, in some ways, not typical among most of their friends.