In honour of World Breastfeeding Week I am very lucky to share a guest post from Milli Hill who may be know to some as her blog handle The Mule. I don’t wish to give away the content in the introduction, so just enjoy!
Pregnant with my first child, I knew I was going to breastfeed, but I didn’t give the question of ‘how long’ the slightest consideration. Well, you don’t, do you? When you are waiting for baby number one, you obsess about the birth, the day you have the baby, and giving birth, in that order. Oh, and which are the best maternity jeans. That one had me googling for a few weeks. But as for projecting yourself into your future life as a mother? Maybe it is fear of the unknown that prevents this activity, or maybe it is just more than our brains can manage; suffice to say, for whatever reason, I didn’t give the question of ‘How old will my baby be when I stop nursing?’ any more attention than ‘What approach will I take to toddler discipline?’, or ‘How will I respond when they flunk their A Levels?’
However, I’m pretty sure that if, in my life before children, I had heard of a mother who was breastfeeding a child who could walk and talk, I would have muttered something mildly judgemental under my breath. If you’d told me she was nursing a toddler and a baby as well, I’d have gone all out and said she must be some kind of mung-bean-eating-commune-dwelling-razor-shy weirdo and made a sort of shuddery nose wrinkly gesture to show my distaste for such odd behaviour.
Well, I guess this is my Diana Ross moment, because, deep breath, shoulders back, say it, say it, weeeeelll…that woman, with the baby, and the toddler? That’s me. Yes folks, I’m coming out, I want the world to know, got to let it show…I nurse my one year old daughter, on demand, and I also nurse my three and a half year old, most nights at bedtime, and on rare occasions in the day if she is poorly or needing extra reassurance or comfort.
There was no plan for this, it’s just that somehow, the three year old never wanted to stop, and neither did I, and so we kept going. I thought she would wean during my pregnancy, as I had read that this often happens, but she didn’t. Then I thought she would grow out of it, or stop wanting it, but she hasn’t. In fact, quite the opposite, I think if I encouraged it, she would still nurse far more often than just once a day. She adores ‘having boobie’, and any time I mention the idea of stopping one day she looks devastated, as if I had told her that one day I would go away and stop being her mummy. And so we go on.
Sometimes I feel fed up with breastfeeding her, in particular on days when I am tired and have just nursed the one year old to sleep. And sometimes I feel uncomfortable with it, when I project myself into other people’s minds and know how they would judge me, just as a few years ago, I would have judged others. Sometimes the nursing dynamic between the three of us is the seat of enormous jealousy, as the three year old feels the injustice of her sister getting more milk, more often, than she does.
But most of the time, our choice to continue brings a great closeness. Often on those nights when I am tired and feel I can’t give any more, I snuggle up with her in bed and she says something funny or lovely, or just smiles up at me one of her magical smiles and I know I would have missed this moment if I had left her to fall asleep alone. At times when I feel worried that others might think me a weirdo I remind myself that many people around the world and throughout history have nursed their babes for longer than me, and that the people most likely to judge me are probably the ones without children. And often I notice that ‘tandem nursing’, as it is called when you feed two at once, brings a sisterly closeness to my girls, and teaches them many lessons, for example how mummy can easily love two people at once, and about sharing and enjoying a shared experience.
Breastfeeding in our culture is rare, especially beyond six months, and even more so into toddlerhood, despite WHO recommendations to continue to two years or beyond. I realise that this puts my family in a tiny minority, and that by ‘coming out’ and sharing our choices with the online world, I am – excuse the pun – exposing myself to criticism or even disapproval. But I’m ‘out and proud’, and I’m not ashamed or apologetic for my choices. And I have to say, there is nothing like inhabiting the lunatic fringe to make you become less judgemental, so whatever your choice, from formula to nursing your six year old, I can honestly say you have my full approval.
From one non mung-bean-eating-commune-dwelling-razor-shy weirdo to another thanks for sharing your story.