Eight months today. Happy birthday little bird.
Skin to skin under the blankets, both of us sick with a cold and fever-warm against each other. You hum while you nurse, and stare into my eyes from behind your crazy-curly hair. You kick your feet against the bed next to us and you jump while you nurse, popping off sometimes to babble to me and to stick out your pointy little anteater tongue. You raise your eyebrows and shriek that high-pitched shriek of yours, then smile at the sound and gobble back down at double-speed to make up for the moments you just spent not nursing.
How you have changed in the eight months that I’ve known you. And how many times you will change again before you wean. How different you are from your brothers, even with all similarities that come from being siblings.
Today I can’t foresee the future, I can only know the past and experience the now.
Weaning is on my mind today. Not because of plans that I have for your weaning as you approach a year, but because the world is full of people with many opinions. People that have never met you or I, that have never breastfed, or that weaned for their own reasons on their own timelines after they met their own goals or after their own lives caused them to make their own wise decisions about their “when” and their “how”.
Their words make me wonder, sometimes. And I go off on a reading binge as I try to make certain of the truth of my beliefs that you should choose your own weaning time based on your own inner clock that determined when you were to be born, that determines when you will speak, when you will walk, and that God-willing will one day determine when you are to die at the end of the longest of lives that your body can live.
People have so many opinions about the lives of others, even others that they have never met. And as opinions go, the less informed the opinion is the stronger it tends to be worded. I guess that’s something that people do sometimes to make up for a lack of information. If they say it strongly enough, perhaps it will come true. Your oldest brother does that sometimes, when he disagrees with how reality plays out in his six-year-old life.
I don’t need to use strong words because I’m building a relationship not an argument. We’re building your body from the nutrients that your body accepts more readily from human milk than from any other source. You’re building your immune system, and mine is standing by in the meantime to make sure that you have all the time you need to build it strong. We’re building trust through your trust that I will provide the things that you need for as long as you need them, and through my trust that your needs are just that- needs. I don’t need to use strong words because I have strong reasons that can be spoken in a quiet voice.
Some day you may have a child of your own, and be faced with the same onslaught of comments that many mothers face today if you choose to allow your child to wean on their own timeline, as I choose to allow you to wean on yours.
It will be hard to not feel attacked, as people tend to imply many terrible things about mothers who nurse past a certain arbitrary age that varies from person to person. Six weeks, three months, six months, teeth, talking, walking, one year, two years, certainly never five but after two or maybe just about six months and ten days but never eleven days if they can take a sippy cup even one hour sooner because breastmilk turns into water at some magical point that no one seems to be able to agree upon. It will all be tied up in a magical bow of horrid implications about codependence and abuse that somehow manage to ignore the fact that children are most definitely dependent on their parents on at least some level for at least the first eighteen years of life, and the fact that mammary glands exist to feed infant mammals. If immediate independence was a given for our species we’d hatch independently from eggs laid in a nest long ago abandoned. If we were not meant to nurse our young, we would not be mammals. We are mammals who give birth to babies that grow into children, and that slowly learn independence and peel off from us as they grow.
Most of these people who have strong opinons on weaning have never seen breastfeeding. Most of these people have never seen a toddler breastfeed. Most of these people have never seen real life with a child weaning on their own schedule. They know nothing of nursing manners, of how solids take over the majority of the child’s diet on a schedule determined by the child’s developmental pace. They know nothing of the inevitable disappearance of the suckling reflex and how it causes children to wean whether they have made the conscious choice to do so or not. There is a timeline for breastfeeding that varies from child to child and from woman to woman and from life to life. There are so many variables that come into play that no one can predict when a particular child will wean until that weaning time comes near. Just as no one can say with absolute certainty when the child will learn to crawl, to walk, cut their first tooth, learn their first word, learn how to jump, or truly understand how to read.
Today as you are eight months old, I find myself answering many questions about your someday-weaning-time. I tell people pretty much what I tell your brother when he is emotionally worked up about something. “If you want to have a conversation we both need to talk and we both need to listen. You’re using a lot of very angry and hurtful words right now, and I’m sorry that you’re upset. If you can please explain to me CALMLY what you’re upset about then maybe we can both learn something new.”
Maybe someday in the course of listening I will learn something new about weaning.
Right now I’ve mostly learned that people have many reasons why they would not want to nurse a child older than a certain age. And I’ve come to understand their reasons. Understanding the reasons that another person does something or believes something doesn’t mean that you have to adopt their reasons as your own.
You do not have to nurse a two year old just because you understand why another woman might choose to do so. You do not have to formula feed your baby just because you understand why another woman might choose to do so. You do not have to do any of the things that I do as a mother just because I chose to do them. You need to understand that their reasons apply so very deeply to their lives, just as your reasons will apply so very deeply to your own.
Your life, your reasons, your information, your preferences, your beliefs, your motherhood…
Is blissfully your own.
So when someone else asks you why and then tries to tell you so many different reasons that simply don’t apply… Don’t fret. Don’t worry. Don’t respond in anger or feel that you need to be defensive. They are talking about themselves and not you. Their feelings and not yours. Their worries and their concerns and their beliefs. You can listen quietly, and when they are done you can try and have your say if they choose to listen.
Some people may not, as they feel that others need to be told exactly what to think and do.
I’ve never thought that about you, even in your infancy our relationship is a give and take. A conversation. And I choose to listen to you when you tell me that you need to nurse, just as I will listen to you when you are ready to wean.