Extended?!

The term “Extended Breastfeeding” pisses me off. Before I get into why, let me start at the beginning. Sort of…

I am a HUGE Best For Babies fan and supporter. I think that their mission of encouraging ALL women to breastfeed in their own way, on their own terms, for as long as their circumstances permit – while making honest, scientific  facts and information about breastfeeding available – AND providing young Mothers with famous “celebrity” role models to look up to – is EXACTLY what our culture needs. Their approach is VITAL if we are going to turn the tides of breastfeeding marginalization and prejudice in this culture. The other day, they outdid themselves (at least in my opinion) when they featured a story about Kelly Preston. It seems she is *still* breastfeeding her 16 month old son. And she’s talking about it with the mainstream media. The Best for Babies article lifted my spirits and soothed some of the frustration that I’ve been feeling – since I too am *STILL* nursing a baby. But wait you say – isn’t Leo almost 2? Yes. Yes he is. AND I AM STILL BREASTFEEDING HIM. There. I said it. Some of you may be scratching your heads, wondering why I’m acting like this is some kind of big deal. Some of you may understand.  Let me clarify – I live in the Southern United States. Most new Mothers around here, IF they breastfed at all, switched to formula no later than 6 months. Many didn’t make it to 6 weeks – or out of the hospital. And that is much less of a reflection on THEM individually and more of a reflection on the societal pressure and culture here in my part of the world. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked “When” I’M going to wean Leo (since it’s obviously a sign of a lack of parental discipline on my part to still have a nursing baby – and since I can obviously foretell the future) which started right around his third or fourth month – or felt twinges of embarrassment and even shame when he nursed in public or in front of others, or heard the words “He’s over *insert age here*, so he’s JUST nursing for comfort” – I’d be the world’s richest Mama. The polite and  not so polite  questions and social discomfort didn’t start at his first birthday either – oh no. They started much, much earlier. Before his birth even, on some fronts. Others were fine until he started experimenting with solids, still others began voicing opinions right around the time he hit the 9 month mark. It seemed everyone had/has an opinion on when and where I should nurse – or not nurse, and they all felt that since I was “doing it wrong” it was their place to correct me. And then there’s the biggest taboo of all – nursing in mixed company. This has been an ever-present bane to my existence. It seems that our culture has so inexorably intertwined breasts with sexuality that no man can look upon one – even one with a hungry baby attached – without feeling that he is being “flashed” or given a sexual “come on”. Now, this isn’t true for everywhere I’ve been, nor is it fair to all of the wonderful, supportive Dads out there – (FireDaddy being one of them) but still, because of these pervasive, ingrained messages and cultural awkwardness – nursing in public or around others, even family  – has been a minefield for me from day 1. Please don’t get me wrong – I’ve loved breastfeeding my son. But now, at almost 2 years of breastfeeding, I’m a bit ready for him to wean. Really. Contrary to what some people have made abundantly clear that they think I’m doing – I AM feeding him “real food”. I am not continuing to breastfeed because I’m just “too lazy” to get up and fix food for him. (Yes, I really had that passive aggressively suggested as my reason for continuing past a year)… Leo is fed three balanced meals a day, plus as many snacks as he wants. Nor am I clinging to breastfeeding – or manipulating him into continuing – for some creepy emotional or physical reason of my own. (Another passive aggressive suggestion that, while not openly talked about, seems to be a fairly common belief  – breastfeeding must be pleasurable for the Mother. As in, sexually. *gag*) News flash – breastfeeding, as wonderful and joyous as it is, isn’t always a cakewalk. Breastfeeding a toddler can be rough. Like – wrestling a python tough. Especially when the culture you live in looks at it as marginally abusive if not straight up inappropriate parenting. I’ve been asked, by people with horror in their eyes – “What if he REMEMBERS?!”  As sad as it is, the pressure has gotten to me. I’m tired of being insulted, looked down on and treated like I’m doing something horribly shameful or “wrong”. I’m tired of feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable as I try valiantly to nurse him inconspicuously while around others or “out in town”. And frankly, I’m pretty much done anyways. But Leo’s not. And since there are two people in this relationship –  we’re still breastfeeding. About a month ago, under duress from relatives who shall remain nameless, I attempted a mild “weaning”. I introduced several different “milks” (almond, soy and cow) to Leo, hoping he would take to one. I began spacing his nursing further apart, telling him to”wait” and offering him snacks and  a sippy cup of milk instead. I cuddled him more, wore him in a wrap or his Ergo more, tried to do everything I could to let him know he was still connected, still loved, without nursing. I was encouraged and cheered on by relatives, friends, casual acquaintances. By the end of week one, I wasn’t getting much sleep, as Leo methodically replaced each and every missed daytime nurse with a night nurse. Which made me seriously start questioning the theory that all he’s getting from his nursing is comfort – why would he be replacing the feedings, calorie for calorie, IN HIS SLEEP, even as I increased his solids and other liquids? I don’t doubt that some of the nursing was worry, distress over the change, but I hesitated to attribute all of it to “comfort” nursing because of what happened next. He started LOOSING weight. Not drastically, but certain clothes  fit looser, or not at all.  His allergies spiked, even though he was still being given his allergy medication and even though FireDaddy’s seasonal allergies had eased. A massive double ear infection erupted (Leo had previously been infection free long enough that we were hoping he had finally hit the “growing out of it” stage) that further robbed both of us of what little sleep we were getting. During the day, his anxiety, whining and aggressive behaviors made me wonder if I’d accidentally taken the wrong child home from the playground. And he began refusing ALL sippy cups, whether they contained milk or not. A few were actually lobbed at my head. Now, some will argue that this was all just a “stage” or possibly a result of other things we had going on – my emotional tailspin perhaps, or simply just coincidence. I didn’t think so. And that’s when I scrolled through my Facebook feed to see  Best For Babies’ Kelly Preston article. I read it, re-read it, and cried. And then promptly picked my son up and nursed him. NOT because some celebrity was doing it and had the guts to talk about it in front of the whole world – although that helped, a little. Nope. I did it because the article (written by a Certified Lactation Counselor) explained, in no uncertain terms, what I already suspected. Toddlers who nurse are NOT “just” getting comfort. Here’s an excerpt from the article, with no revisions or alterations from me. Please note the references to actual scientific studies in parentheses.

FACTS about breastfeeding after 1 year:

  • After 1 year, human milk has significantly increased fat and energy contents, compared with human milk before 1 year.  Babies’ brains are growing and NEED the extra fat & especially human cholesterol.
  • In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides (Dewey 2001):  29% of energy requirements, 43% of protein requirements,36% of calcium requirements,75% of vitamin A requirements,76% of folate requirements, 94% of vitamin B12 requirements, 60% of vitamin C requirements . Note that this is exactly what baby humans need; cow’s milk is designed to grow baby cows which have smaller brains per body mass.
  • Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers (Gulick 1986).  In other words, the longer that toddlers are allowed to nurse, the lower their risk of disease.  There is also a proportionate increase in IQ for babies and toddlers who breastfeed longer, i.e. higher IQ for breastfeeding over 1 year vs. 6-12 months.
  • Some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991).
  • In cultures where mothers and babies are not pressured to wean prematurely, babies self-wean  naturally between 2.5 and 7 years of age, with most babies self-weaning around age 3 or 4. (Dettwyler)
  • The longer babies are allowed to nurse the better socially adjusted they are. Per the researchers, ‘There are statistically significant tendencies for conduct disorder scores to decline with increasing duration of breastfeeding.’”
  • Breastfeeding toddlers (babies > 1 year), helps them learn to self-soothe and self-regulate, manage frustrations (some parents report avoiding the “terrible twos” altogether) and lessens pain from bumps and bruises (breastmilk contains analgesics, i.e. natural pain-killers).  Nursing toddlers are easier to handle in the doctor’s office, too!
  • Breastfeeding toddlers (babies > 1 year) helps them make a gradual transition to childhood, “Meeting a child’s dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable.”  Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence then children forced into independence prematurely.
  • The longer mothers breastfeed, the lower their risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart disease.
  • Older babies/toddlers nurse fewer times per day, most people are usually unaware they are nursing.
  • Babies that are old enough to “ask” to nurse are also old enough to say “thank you”, one of the sweetest experiences any mother can experience!

So, truthfully, there is no such thing as “extended” breastfeeding or “still” breastfeeding much as there is no such thing as “extended” walking or “still” walking.   Breastfeeding, like walking, is part of being human and begins and ends when it is evolutionary and developmentally advantageous.  In the case of breastfeeding, that is birth to somewhere between 2.5 and 7, end of story.   Anything other than that is premature weaning–and we all need to accept and acknowledge that.

And there you have  my explanation for disliking the term “extended breastfeeding”. I am NOT extending the breastfeeding of Leo, I am simply breastfeeding. And one last thing – even IF a toddler were “just” nursing for comfort – why would we deny the child we love so dearly the comfort he so obviously needs? Being comforted is JUST as important a need as any other, isn’t it?

Toddlerese

Now that I’m feeling a bit better, Leo and I have been having SO much fun. Things have been happening around here too, BIG things. Things that I’m afraid to talk about, because they don’t feel quite real just yet. I’ll have to keep you all in suspense a little while longer – and before you ask, no. I’m not pregnant. Anyway, back to Leo and I and the fun. We’ve planted a raised bed veggie and herb garden, that Leo is (mostly) helping with and not destroying (too badly). We have been painting a good bit (the fun, on canvas kind, not the home decorating kind –  although that needs to happen soon too), we’ve been doing an AWESOMELY fun kids yoga DVD in the morning,  AND – we’ve been talking. Now, Leo and I, we’ve talked non-stop to each other since the day we met. What’s really cool about our conversations here lately, is that we have actually been speaking the same language. I heard the phrase “Toddlerese” the other day, and I loved it. It’s perfect. Leo and I speak Toddlerese to each other, and I have actually caught myself THINKING in this imaginative, inventive language. For example – the other day, Leo picked up one of his Daddy’s duffels, stuck a few of his favorite toys inside, parked himself in front of the door (completely naked) and informed me “buh-bye Daddy Wheeoo GO!” which translates into English as”I want to go see my daddy at the fire station. NOW!” You see how this is fun… The best part is that every day there are more words, and more fun experiences to teach us more fun words. Two days ago the word was “apple”. We now have two fruit varieties in our world – Nanoos (bananas) and Ap-puls. We have two vehicles  – all motorized, wheeled contrivances are either “wheeo’s” or “choo-choo’s”. Don’t even TRY to inform him that our family car isn’t actually a “wheeoo” but is in reality, a “car”. He won’t stand for such nonsense. Our family car is a fire truck, pure and simple. The same applies to colors – ALL colors are “lalo” (yellow). I got him to say “bu” ONCE, after which he giggle, handed me the cobalt  paint and said – “no! LALO!” And that was that. We also have cows, puppies, and beebee’s in our wonderful little world. We really like puppies and beebees. I now have so very many monikers, it’s a wonder I can keep up with them all. “Mi- mi” is used when I am in his good graces, usually when there are snacks involved. “Mama” is for times of sleepiness, despair or “ouchees”. And “Mom-Mom” is used when he is in a big hurry and there is business to attend – or when I have failed to attend to him immediately. Which is currently the name I am having shouted in my ear as his favorite Eric Carle farm animal book is repeatedly shoved into my lap. And that is that. Off I go to “moo” “baa” and bray with the barnyard gang in my wonderful toddler world.

The Truth About Marriage

By nature, when my illness isn’t in control, I’m a bubbly, fairly hyper, often loud, mushy, goofball. I LOVE to laugh. I knit and craft and dance without music. I paint and create collages, read wonderful books and write little stories for Leo. We spend as much time outdoors as possible, we garden and cook and giggle, and I find the time to blog. I don’t have the energy to blog when I’m sick. And I realized that there was a possibility, since I so seldom write when I’m less than well (at least before yesterday’s post anyway) that people could think that I live in a rose-tinted bubble – or, if they’ve heard me mention that I struggle with depression,  think that I’m trying to paint this “perfect” picture my life here – OR think that I exaggerate my illness. So I’m going to try some more of my new honesty here. I love my son. I love my husband. I have a good life, and except for my battle with whatever it is that’s screwy in my brain, I have been very, very blessed. But guess what? Sometimes it’s all I can do to make it though the day with Leo. Sometimes I just want OUT. My marriage isn’t perfect. Sometimes its pure bliss. Much of the time it’s comfortable, safe and contented. Other times… it’s hell. Our marriage has had it’s fair share of bumps and bruises. It’s a work in progress. And there a days when it feels like there’s only one person in the marriage trying or even willing to try to work on it. I know FireDaddy has felt that way, and I have too. Often. Seriously – who, in a committed relationship HASN’T?!  If you’re raising your hand and smugly patting yourself on the back – go you. You have the secrets to life figured out. Now please go away. I need to feel normal here, thank you very much. See, the main problem I’ve finally concluded, is simply that FireDaddy and I have radically different emotional styles.  We both think that the other isn’t “trying” because they’re not doing what we’re doing to make the marriage work. Let me explain – I’m all about trying to understand people.  I like to get into people’s heads and connect with them.  Yeah, I’m THAT girlfriend. I need, through lots of intense conversations, deep revelations and “sharing”, to figure out what makes you tick. And I need you to put in the work to “get” me too. It’s how I feel understood, and ultimately, loved. Those crazy intense conversations are how I’ve bonded with my closest friends. They were the “make it or break it” test for any and all boyfriends. FireDaddy on the other hand, hears the word “discuss” and he runs, screaming. I’m a bit of a research junkie too, and in an effort to figure out what’s happening up in my brain, I’ve become a bit of a psychological dilettante. Which, of course, is the second thing on the list of things that drive FireDaddy screaming off of a cliff. (Oh – wait. The screaming off of a cliff thing is me, after he’s strong and sliently shut me down with his deep dark he-man cave of silence… my bad) See – FireDaddy is a tough, firefighting “man’s man”. He’s all about privacy, working really, really hard, putting on a brave face, toughing it out and beating the odds. And keeping the conversation on emotionally neutral topics. Like his truck, or cheesy jokes. Or the garden. He’s a doer, not a talker. And at 11:00 pm at night, he’s going to go to SLEEP, thank you very much, his wacky, emotional wife’s intentions to continue rambling on be damned. And when I’m doing good, this is all okay. It’s part and parcel of HIM, who I love so dearly. Some of these things are even qualities I find extremely impressive and sexy, even. I have to chuckle, as  he snores through my psychological dissection of some random event or person, and then I realize how lucky I am to have him, seeing as how I’d talk all night if he didn’t fall asleep on me. But when I’m NOT well? Ye gads. FireDaddy falling asleep on me – or not wanting to “go there” with me is tantamount to lobbing a grenade in my general direction. It probably won’t kill me, but when the dust settles, I’m going to be one PISSED OFF Mama. I don’t honestly know where I’m going with all this, I just realized that haven’t got a point to make – well, except for this:  I don’t  think there are”good” marriages and “bad” marriages. Just ones where the people are willing to hang in there and ones where they can’t, for a million different reasons . Perfect marriages? Pure myth. Happy marriages? TOTALLY possible. But not easy, and not immediate. And when you hit those horrible bumps, as hurtful and awful as they can be, if your partner sticks by you, puts up with the yelling (or stony silence) and still holds your hand –  that’s the moment when,  despite all of their flaws and all of your flaws,  you have to know it’s love. Pure and simple.

By the way – Happy Anniversary honey! Better late than never, right?

Diagnosis Needed

Lately, as I get Leo ready for bed,  wash the dishes, or drive to work at the Gallery, I’ve been writing blog posts in my head. You haven’t read them, because they aren’t about breastfeeding, or cloth diapers, or even directly about parenting.  They belong on another blog I’ve considered starting, an anonymous, possibly not even published blog.  A not very PC, probably not very clean, “scary” blog. It doesn’t exist yet, and I’m not sure it ever will. I’m going to try something else first. I’m going to  un-censor myself here. I’m challenging myself to stop editing my posts as much, and to allow more of my truth into what I write. I’m scared, I’m unsure if this is the right decision, but I’m currently on a rocky part of my life journey, and I need the therapy inherent in blogging, STAT. While I’ll still somewhat write for the “public”, I’ll first and foremost be writing for me. This has the potential to blow up in my face, and I’ll try to accept that, if it does. So folks, if you don’t want to read about my anger, my mental illness, my loves, my flaws and  frustrations, my heartbreaks and what I really, truly think about things – stop reading. Now. “Unfriend” me on Facebook, stop following this blog. It’s okay. I’ll probably get my feelings hurt, yes, but I’d rather rip the band-aid off right now. I can’t hide anymore. I’d rather be alone.

I recently discovered that I’m NOT bi-polar (also known as manic-depressive), which is what I was diagnosed as at 18, and it completely unhinged me. I took bi-polar medications for years, based on that diagnosis,  I forgave myself, judged myself, explained myself, all based on that diagnosis. I defined myself by that diagnosis. And then it turned out it was wrong. Now my therapist has yet to give me a new diagnosis, and that too has  unhinged me. How can I explain my quirks and eccentricities, my negative actions and reactions, my flakiness, my difficulty being “normal” if I don’t have a diagnosis to point to? HOW CAN I HAVE FRIENDS WITHOUT THAT DIAGNOSIS? It’s deeply embarrassing to me, the fact that I care so intensely  “what people really think” of me. It’s even more humiliating to me that there is something so broken in my brain that I cannot hide it and solider on like everyone else. It’s why I NEVER call anyone except my parents or husband when I’m finally so sick I can’t pretend anymore. It’s why my marriage has had more than it’s fair share of shaky moments. It’s why I REFUSE to cry in public. EVER. I don’t cry in front of my therapist, rarely in front of friends, and even in front of my immediate family, if I can’t control my tears, I am ashamed. I’m embarrassed of being “sick”. I’m afraid people don’t believe me, and I’m afraid that they do. I tell almost everyone I meet, pretty early in,  that I have depression or a “mental illness”, just to forestall the inevitable revelation. And I have a very hard time having, being, and keeping friends. I LOVE people, I love having friendships, there seriously isn’t an anti-social bone in my body, but it exhausts me. The sheer effort of trying to interact normally, of trying to be a “good” friend, not upset anyone, keep the person happy –  with me, or just happy in general,  the constant picking up  of nuances, innuendos, hints as to what the person REALLY thinks of me, drains me to the point that I finally retreat into my house and hide. Sometimes, if the person has enough patience, enough love that they can wait it out, I come back. I apologize, because I REALLY don’t mean to, I hate abandoning them, but always, always, I worry. Do they really understand, or do they hate me? Am I forever labeled a selfish, unbalanced, unlovable, high-needs, high maintenance  “user”? And so the cycle continues. Sometimes, for some insane reason, people stick with me through the cycles. Most of the time, I end up burying the friendship. Sometimes, the demise of the friendship turns out to have been a good thing. Usually, I hate myself for abandoning the person, no matter how unbalanced, unwell or unfair the relationship really was. The cycle has helped me become a doormat – not that I wasn’t already pre-programmed to be one – but this lifelong cycle has intensified my passive tendencies to the point of CONSTANTLY apologizing – for myself and for things beyond my control,  of being afraid to disagree, even a little bit,  of bending over backwards for people until I can bend no more,  feeling like I can never do enough for them – and then of “flaking” out, disappearing,  or simply shutting down to avoid the conflict I am convinced will inevitably follow my no longer being able to “help” or be the giver in the relationship. And if the person themselves decide that they no longer “need” me, I am rejected, wounded beyond belief, left to retreat into my pain, never to be heard from again. Co-Dependency at it’s finest folks, with a little Borderline Personality sprinkled in for kicks (See – gotta put that possible diagnosis out there, to try to explain myself). I’m fully aware of the dysfunction of my patterns, I’m highly aware of how my habits and cycles damage me and those around me – I just don’t know how to change. I try, every single day, as hard as I can, to fight it. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels in a mud pit miles long, digging myself a grave of good intentions and unbelievable, unnecessary  pain – and still, my ridiculous, co-dependent cycle continues.

 

I am convinced that I NEED a diagnosis. Just to prove to myself and everyone around me that I’m really not a bad person, that I’m not evil or selfish or doing what I do on purpose. How’s that for truth?

Lessons Learned

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what I hope Leo learns from FireDaddy and I.  I’m not talking academically – although I do hope we can teach him a bit on those subjects as well  – but what I’ve really been concerned with are the bone deep, firmly ingrained lessons we all take away from our families, for better or worse, and never, ever, completely forget (or CAN’T forget, no matter how hard we try).  I, for instance, had it impressed upon me that being kind, pleasing others, and being of use to others was of utmost importance – even to the detriment of my own comfort or well being. FireDaddy learned that working very, very hard and providing materially for his family was his primary purpose in life, and to this day, is literally the hardest working human being I have ever met. Both of these lessons have extremely beneficial and extremely detrimental sides to them – and play huge roles in making us who we are. As I watch Leo grow and change, mimic us and then rebel against us in his small, independent way, I’m sometimes completely poleaxed by the fact that somehow, out of my screwed up, often malfunctioning brain, I am supposed to impart a worldview upon my son that will hopefully, somehow, help him to grow into a functional, intelligent, kind and caring human being. And then I have to squelch the urge to hide in my closet with my shoe collection until he goes to college. Usually by reminding myself of all the kisses and cuddles and bedtime snuggles I’d be missing, not to mention the fact that my boys would probably starve to death if I didn’t at least come out once in a while to cook.  So finally, in an effort to avoid this rather exhausting mental journey that I’ve been taking with more and more regularity as Leo becomes more and more an entity unto himself,  and I am forced to face more and more honestly the good and the bad in my own quirky personality – I have started trying to pin down EXACTLY what it is I hope, through changes in myself, our lifestyle and examples on the part of FireDaddy and I, that Leo ends up absorbing from our family.

I hope my son finds his calling, and follows it to the ends of the earth. Whether that be as a forest ranger (as his Daddy fervently hopes) an artist, a missionary, a doctor or a plumber – I hope he works at something that gives him satisfaction and pride. Just like his Daddy has, as a Firefighter, and just as I have, in my own small way, as an Art Gallery assistant and occasional blogger and crafter. To that end, I realize that I need to take more time out to pursue my interests, when the occasion arises, and to not give up so easily in the face of obstacles, disappointment or criticism.

I want my son to be truly kind. Not just to other people, the planet and animals –  I want him to also be kind to himself. To know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that not only does he have intrinsic value as a human being, but that he has the RIGHT to kindness – from others, and from himself. I want him to see the good in others, in himself and in the universe.

I want him to be accepting. Not just of people and ideas that resemble him or are familiar to him – but to those that do not, as well. While some form of judgement is inescapable, I want him to judge people for the RIGHT reasons, instead of simply seeing stereotypes and “boxes”.

Most of all – When the need arises, I hope he has his father’s strength, bravery and determination, and his ability to stand up for himself and his truth.

That is what I want most for my son. Which means, of course, that this is what I now have to learn and practice for myself. It’s not easy, knowing that the patterns he sees in me may very well be patterns he grows up to repeat. It’s not easy to know that I’m going to make mistakes, somehow, somewhere, that he will have to overcome on his own terms as an adult. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do the best I can to give him a healthy example to follow.

Small Victories

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When you’re the Mama of a toddler, and specifically one who  has a daily disagreement with Depression – the Depression being of the opinion that I should stay curled up in a tiny ball in my closet for the duration of the day, and my wonderful, exhausting, exasperating toddler being of the opinion that we should make the biggest amount of mess possible in said day, you just have to take it a minute at a time, and when you manage to get something “right” – you celebrate the crud out of it. So here you go folks. This is my tiny miracle of the day – Awesome sautéed Garlic, Tomato and Basil Ravioli with grilled zucchini and red peppers. ALL of which, as evidenced by the toddler plate, have passed the toddler sniff and taste tests and are currently being devoured by both FireDaddy and Leo. Now please excuse me –  I’m going to go pour myself a glass of celebratory red wine and chow down! 😀