But I guess that's why it's true. When I look at this picture I'm so grateful I have a nursing relationship with my girls and that it's something they can share. Other times I want to hide in the closet.
|First time nursing the girls together in the hospital after E's Cesarean birth.|
I intended to write a post about extended breastfeeding while I was pregnant E but I never did it. Over the last six months I've sat down to write about my experience nursing during pregnancy and tandem nursing but I've struggled to get the words down.
Most of the time I feel like I'm the only person on the planet nursing a three-and-a-half-year-old, never mind tandem nursing a six-month-old as well. When I was pregnant with my first daughter I wanted to nurse for at least a year. We got off to a rough start and when we hit a year I figured we could go another year. I assumed she'd wean herself if I got pregnant again. She didn't. So we kept going. I never intended to practice extended breastfeeding (I hadn't even heard the term until we were already doing it) and I didn't even know there was such a thing as tandem nursing until I was trying to get pregnant a second time.
Every now and then I run across a blog post or a bio of a mom proudly sharing her tandem nursing story and I want to be their new best friend. It makes me realize I need to talk more about tandem nursing and extended breastfeeding. I question why I'm so reluctant to share my experience. I question why I feel the need to hide what I'm doing. I want other women to know they're not alone. I want to email them and ask questions and share strategies and hug them and cry with them. I want to talk about how amazing it is and I want to talk about how hard it is.
Because it's amazing. My girls are so happy when they nurse together. They hold hands. L will smooth E's hair down and pat her cheeks. They both smile and giggle until they unlatch themselves. And then they giggle some more. Most of the time I nurse them separately but it never fails to amaze me what a close connection they have when they nurse together. Even when they're not nursing. They snuggle together and smile and laugh. L is always wanting to make her sister happy. She's never shown any bit of anger or resentment toward her sister.*
But it's also really, incredibly hard. I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm totally touched out. I'm a little desperate for my own space. It feels like there is always someone waiting for me. There are days when I go from one cranky child to the next and then back again until I cave and nurse them at the same time. I nurse them together until I'm too overwhelmed and have to stop. Then there are days when neither of them really want to nurse at all. Then I'm engorged and sore and have to pump in order to avoid clogged ducts and mastitis (which I've managed to get twice since E was born).
But then it's good again. We cuddle and nurse and snuggle and I can't get enough of the smiles and the little noises they make.
And then it's hard again.
Most times when you are having a hard time and you share your experience you get a supportive response. In my experience people are generally encouraging when I'm going through difficult times.
It'll be okay. Keep trying. It will be worth it in the long run. You'll get through this. One day at a time.
With tandem nursing or extended breastfeeding the response is different.
The very supportive people say, I don't know how you do it, I couldn't.
Everyone else says, Why don't you quit? Cut her off. She's had enough. If she's old enough to ask, she's too old to be nursing. If she's potty trained she shouldn't be nursing anymore. She doesn't need it anymore. She needs real food.
I can't think of any other challenge I've had in my life where, when I seek out support or need to vent about how difficult it is, people suggest that I quit.
Everyone assumes that weaning L would makes things easier. And it might. Who knows? It would definitely cut back the actual amount of time I spend nursing.
But there are a million reasons I don't want to quit and a million more reasons why I think it would make things worse.
The main one being this: Every single time I've ever thought about quitting but didn't, I was glad we kept going. I've never regretted continuing to breastfeed. No matter how frustrated I might be at any given moment I'm always glad I still have a nursing relationship with both my girls.
In the grand scheme of things, nursing for a few years is a drop in the bucket. It's a very small portion of our lives. I don't think quitting would change things for the better. The moments I want to quit are when L is pulling on me and nagging and whining. In retrospect these are times when she's tired or doesn't feel good or I'm having a hard time pulling my attention away from something else much less important. These are the times when she needs my love and affection and closeness more than ever. She's still going to need those things (and more) when we're done nursing.
Not to mention she's getting all the nutrients and antibodies and everything else wonderful in breast milk (did you read this one about breast milk killing cancer cells? And this one about how it impacts infant gut health?). Nursing doesn't stop being beneficial just because she's older. When the girls were sick earlier this year I'm convinced they both got well so quickly because they were both breastfeeding. Times were rough but it could have been worse. I was so grateful I was able to comfort them and cuddle them and keep them nourished and hydrated at the same time.
And L is very, very independent for a three-year-old. Despite the tales that children will be dependent forever if you spoil them with breastfeeding, I've found the opposite to be true.
Extended breastfeeding and tandem nursing does not mean having a lack of boundaries. I'm human and sometimes I need a break. Sometimes I have to feed myself before I can feed my kids.
It is challenging? Yes. Is it hard? Yes. Do I want to quit sometimes? Yes. Do I sometimes have to stop mid-nursing session and have some time to myself? Yes! Am I forever grateful that we were able to get through the initial challenges and breastfeed successfully? Yes!
That said, I want to say this to all the nursing mamas out there (tandem, extended and otherwise):
Well done! Good job! Hang in there! Shut yourself in the bathroom for five minutes and have a cup of tea and a cookie!
I know it's hard and I know you may have days when you want your space and you want your body back and you want to wear a shirt that hasn't been stretched beyond recognition by little hands while they nurse and some days you might even want to wear a dress that is completely not nursing friendly.
But it's worth it. I promise.
I know you miss getting dressed without taking into account how accessible your boobs are but these days will pass so quickly.
Keep going! One day at a time! You can do it! You're amazing! You're so strong!
Remember the good moments. The irritating moments will pass and there will be more good moments to take their place.
Before we know it they'll be headed off to university.
And so far as I know, no kid has ever actually nursed all the way through university. Although my husband is convinced L may be the first.
I realized I had a few more things to add/clarify after I published this post. Read the post script here.
*All her anger and resentment regarding the new addition to our family has been directed at me. Lucky me.
This post is part of the Tuesday Baby Link Up.