Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public
This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Nursing in Public hosted by Dionna and Paige at NursingFreedom.org. All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.
We're visiting family this summer, and I wonder how uncomfortable it will be for Mikko and me to still be breastfeeding at three years old.
I've written before about some of my discomfort at nursing in public with a toddler, and that discomfort only grows as he does. I've been the recipient of only one unfortunate remark, and I now know many people online and a couple in person who have nursed or are nursing past two years or more.
But most of the older nursing toddlers I hear about feed once or twice a day, and it can be more easily confined to the home. Mikko still, at three years old, is going strong. He would nurse all day if I were willing — sometimes I am, sometimes, increasingly, not. It's hard for me to untangle how much of my discomfort is internal, a natural winding down and a looking ahead (perhaps) to the next nursling, and how much is external, the influence of our culture that claims (wrongly, I know!) that breastfeeding a toddler is something approaching obscene. How much of it is "wanting my body back to myself," as I sometimes hear mamas say? It's not something I've strongly felt on a personal level. Mikko's so cuddly, so touch-intensive, that I can't imagine that denying him access to one body part is going to give me that much more personal space.
But when we're out at a restaurant, and the waiter's approaching, there is a part of me that tries to distract and unlatch him until the server's left again. When we're out with friends and Mikko proclaims — loudly! always so very loudly! — "Need nummies, Mama! Nummies!" — I cringe a little, wondering what they think of his demands. When I pick Mikko up from preschool, he always wants to nurse right there on the chairs by the door — he'll even point exactly in which one we should sit; and I try to put him off until we can get out to the car (even though I loathe nursing in the car, too), because I hardly want to be on display to every other parent walking through the door to pick up the preschoolers. Those preschoolers who probably all stopped breastfeeding long ago. I don't know this, but I've never seen any of them being nursed at school; no, that pleasure has been reserved for Mikko and me, the lone nursing dyad hanging out on the toy trunk or the comfy chairs over by the book shelves.
I try more delaying tactics now, with very limited success. He's not patient, not for a three-year-old, not as a three-year-old. He doesn't understand why I wouldn't feel comfortable feeding him anywhere, and what's a good way to explain this? How can I transmit a comprehension of my own discomfort without passing along the shame inherent in such squeamishness? How can I tell him "here, but not there" is acceptable to nurse without suggesting there is something dirty and private about a three-year-old on the breast? How can I work through my own hang-ups without making them his? I have to stop myself now from using language I hate, language of "You're a big boy now, and big boys don't [X]." Big boys don't cry; they don't hit; they don't get angry; they don't wet their pants; and they don't breastfeed. Because it's hogwash — big boys do all those things. And I never want him to feel ashamed for something that's natural and lovely and right, as breastfeeding is.
I don't, though, think it's against the long-term breastfeeding credo (if there were such a thing) to impose limitations. I understand when mothers talk about asking for courtesy ("don't stick your hand down my shirt in public"), set time limits (until the end of a song), set frequency limits (morning and night), practice "don't offer, don't refuse," or distract and delay. It's just — none of those tricks are working for me right now.
Mikko is determined, and stubborn, and needy. Oh, so needy! He doesn't just want breastmilk and Mama cuddling on a whim, a take-it-or-leave-it sort of thing; he really craves it, and he gets very upset when denied, even if for a minute.
I kind of laugh when people call "don't offer, don't refuse" a weaning tactic, because in my case, I don't think I've ever offered, not since those first couple newborn feeds or occasionally when I'm trying to trick him into winding down for the night — other than that, he's been more than happy to request, again and again and again.
Asking him not to pull my shirt up is an ongoing battle, along the same lines of fighting off twiddling. (Yes, I do see the combative language I'm using there, and that's accurately how I feel about it, though I wish I were more Zen.)
But it's asking him to please just wait that's always the biggest disaster. As soon as I do, it's full-on agitation. This ranges from whining to pleading with me to, most distressing, genuine weeping. Of course, when it's the latter, how can I not give in? When it's one of the former, we attract perhaps more attention than if I'd just nursed in the first place. When I've asked him to wait at preschool, I've had him throw tantruming fits where he won't leave and is half-crying and half-shouting, to the point that the teachers come over to us to see what the commotion is; I shamefacedly attempt to explain, but I'm not sure which I find more embarrassing to admit: that he's crying because he wants to breastfeed now and I don't, or that I'm still breastfeeding him in the first place.
And so I wonder what it will be like when we fly to see my family this summer — to bring this around to the post's title, when I'm now wondering if it's out of place — my apprehension about the trip was my instigation to write about this topic, but I see it's a much bigger issue in my mind than one family vacation. But, anyway, our mothers have been out to visit us the most recently, and there was no way to hide Mikko's breastfeeding habits, considering they're constant! But our other relatives haven't seen him as recently. Our brothers, in fact, haven't seen him since he was a small baby. I keep wondering — will there be conflict? Will it be overt (I'm thinking my older brother in particular, who's got a mouth on him) or passive-aggressive, whispering about us behind our backs? Am I overreacting even to worry about their possible reactions in advance?
I think, too, of our tentative plans to add another member to our family. Will Mikko have wound down and self-weaned by the time we decide? Do I want to breastfeed through pregnancy, considering how sore my breasts were the last time? Is it even possible, or will my milk dry up and force a weaning Mikko's not ready for? I always intended to let nature take its course and give Mikko his full measure of babyhood, including mama's milk, so I already feel guilty at the thought of cutting him off before his time.
So there are two warring desires in me: the desire to give Mikko his due, to allow him the time and comfort he needs to stop breastfeeding at his own pace, especially since I'm well aware of the benefits, both nutritional and emotional, to long-term breastfeeding — and the desire to please other people, which, you know, is kind of stupid.
I don't want to parent to people; I don't want to parent in line with others' expectations and narrow tolerances — or, more accurately, with my perception of them.
Today, I was breastfeeding Mikko in a restaurant with a visiting friend, who is the mother of two grown young women. Maybe because she's a mother herself, I felt comfortable broaching the topic with a little joking reference to how my parents will take it when they see he's still breastfeeding. She smiled back at me and said, "Well, as I always say, I don't know anyone who's still breastfeeding in college."
She hadn't been sitting there judging me for my poor ability to set limits, for the spoiling of my son, for my crunchy-granola excesses. She'd just seen a young boy who was still nursing, and she knew some in her own family, and it was fine.
I know, too, that underlying my friend's statement is an awareness that mothers (particularly been-there-done-that mothers) have about how quickly this time passes. I know every time I write about something that will! never! change! it does. It does, and more quickly than I imagined. I know in weeks, months, maybe a year, but not likely more, Mikko will wean, and this agony will all be a dim — and foolish — memory. I'll wonder why I worried so much about breastfeeding my preschooler — and why I cared what other people thought of it — when really it was such a short time that he nursed after all.
I think — I think — the more comfortable I can be with the idea of nursing an older toddler, and the more confident I can be, then the more everyone else will feel comfortable about it, too. I don't know for sure if that's true, but I know that's how I felt when Mikko was younger. When he was a baby, I would absolutely breastfeed anywhere, at any time, for however long and however often we wanted. I figured everyone else could like it or lump it. As he's grown older, that confidence has faltered, and I want it back.
And so I will say it here first: I breastfeed a preschooler in public. And that's OK.
Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public!
Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit NursingFreedom.org anytime to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.
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This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:
July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World
July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child
July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.
July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives
July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It