touching base
6 March 2000
Damian just went into the crib for his nap, which is technically a midday snooze but today has ended up more of a late afternoon zonk-out. He wasn’t ready till now and all the rocking and nursing in the world wasn’t going to make it happen, so when he asked to go into the crib, I let him. And he had a grand old time tossing out his stuffed animals and sliding his quilt along the railing and tugging at the miniature Radio Flyer wagon through the bars. Got huffy when I tried to give it to him; apparently the fun was in the behind-the-bars effect. Who knew?

When he decided it was time, that he’d had enough rolling around on the mattress and communing with his stuffed Tasmanian devil, when all the blankets were on the floor and no more fun was to be had, he called to me and lifted up his arms. I picked him up, brought him into the living room, set him on the Boppy -- his long legs dangling off the edge -- and nursed him to sleep in a matter of minutes, or was it seconds? Nearly instantaneous. The soporific effects of warm milk.

My friend Chris asked me on the phone this morning when I’m planning to wean him. A fair question. He is, after all, twenty two months old. Nearly two years. Walking and mostly talking. It’s beyond my imaginings, lasting this long. When I was pregnant, I said "well, a year, certainly, and then we’ll see." And meant, he’ll be a real kid after that, and one only nurses babies, right?

Now that we’re here, well past a year, still going strong, I feel a little funny about it. I feel self-conscious when we’re in the playground and he comes over and flops sideways in my lap, tugging on my shirt. All the other moms and nannies give their kids bottles and sippy cups filled with cows’ milk and formula. Me, I stand out like a hippy chickie in a sea of pinstriped suits. Not a comfortable feeling.

But... to wean...? Now?

But -- but what would I do? How would I get him to sleep so instantly, so easily? Yes, we’d find other methods; we have others now. And he’ll gradually learn to put himself to sleep. He does sometimes now lying in our bed in the middle of the night, drifts off just cuddling beside me. But why rush it? Childhood is a bumpy road as it is. I don’t want to push him into something too soon. It may not be too soon for other kids, but it feels like it is for him. Just as he walked later and talks later, I think this too will be a later transition.

The wise Dr. William Sears says there often comes a natural transition point around two and a half years. We’ll see what happens then. In the meantime, I don’t have to worry about his erratic toddler-typical eating habits -- he’s always got mommy milk to make up for the strawberries-and-rice mono fixation of yesterday or the cheese-and-corn-puffs of today.

I can also point to his health -- we can count the number of times he’s been sick on one hand, and all were mild colds except one short bout with the flu. I’m sure the breastfeeding isn’t the only reason, but it’s got to factor in (along with no daycare, few vaccinations and mostly organic food, plus heredity).

And I can point to the American Academy of Pediatricians. They recommend nursing for at least a year, but prefer two. Most other cultures take two years for granted. It’s only in the First World that we extend this hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it mentality to something as basic as the changeover from milky milk to solids.

But the truth is, my reasons are less thought out, more gut level. He reaches for me in the middle of the night, sleepy and hungry, and I like that I’m there and that it’s so simple a connection. Or he hurts himself or gets scared and I’m there and he switches from wailing to quiet and content in a heartbeat.

About a month ago, I brought Damian over to a friend’s house for the afternoon. He was freaked by my friend’s rather aggressive in-your-face child, especially when the kid kept snatching toys out of Damian’s hands. Damian cried and retreated to Mommy. But I couldn’t soothe him with a hug and soft words. He wanted more. I pulled up my shirt and let him nurse.

My friend’s husband looked disapprovingly at us. "Is he hungry?" he asked, obviously baiting me.

"He’s nursing for comfort," I replied through my teeth. Just say it, why don’t you?

He did. "Isn’t he going to associate food with comfort if you do that?"

In fact, no. I associate food with comfort and I weaned at eight months. (Nursing strike = self wean, not my mother’s choice.) Maybe it’ll be the other way around for Damian. Maybe he won’t be longing for something uncompleted. Maybe he’ll remember the connection to me, maybe instead of finding solace in chocolate he’ll seek comfort from someone he loves and who loves him. Nursing is at least partly about love and connection. We’ve had this bond since a few hours after his birth.

Scratch that. We had a rocky start. Lots of crying, both him and me. He didn’t know how to latch on, didn’t know how to suck. We both had to learn. One night it took four hours to get the latch-on right. Four HOURS with a screaming baby and a desperate, sleep deprived recovering-from-Cesarean mother and a father trying to be patient and lend support. Finally it all worked, all the parts in the right configuration, and tiny fragile Damian nursed his fill and fell asleep. It got easier, obviously. Now it’s simple, we can do it in our sleep. But maybe I want to hold onto the nursing relationship a bit longer because it was so tough to start. Maybe. And maybe I’m still so relieved I can do this, and nurture another person with something my body manufactures especially for him.

My response to my friend’s husband was, not a fist in the face (oh lucky man), but a reasonable tone: "He associates nursing with comfort. He associates me with comfort." It’s about wanting to touch base in a very primal way.

I have a shy, sweet, sensitive child. I need to give him whatever grounding in the world, whatever confidence in himself and in my availability I can give. If that means nursing a two year old, it means nursing a two year old. It’s a small thing in the grand scheme of things. It’s something I can give of myself. Damian doesn’t have a pacifier, doesn’t have a lovey (blanket, stuffed animal: comfort object). He has me. It works for us.

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