“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” – Art Williams
I never set out to nurse a five year old.
I never ever thought I would tandem nurse.
And I NEVER thought I’d still be nursing my oldest AND my second when we were surprised and delighted by a third pregnancy.
Breastfeeding hasn’t always been easy. When my oldest was a newborn, my husband would get up with me in the middle of the night to help me latch. Sometimes it took 20-40 minutes to get him to latch properly. I’d try on the ‘hard’ side first, pulling him off and putting him back on, over and over again, just to get the right latch. It felt so discouraging, and so daunting, trying to teach him while learning myself how to nurse. I’d get hot and sweaty with the effort and frustration, wondering when it would click for both of us, wondering if I could even make it to the next feeding with nipples that burned from his poor latch.
Eventually I’d have to use a nipple shield that was given to me in the hospital, both grateful and abashed for this tool. At around six weeks, something made me think to google nipple shield, and my heart sank as I read person after person talk about how nipple shields shouldn’t be used and they can affect milk supply. Tears poured down my face as I cried at my computer, my husband confused while I blubbered about the nipple shield and milk supply. I felt like a failure for needing this crutch and I was angry at myself for not googling this sooner. Fortunately, the broad brush predictions of nipple shields didn’t thwart our journey.
When my oldest was 18 months, I thought I’d ruined him for sleeping, because he only wanted to nurse all night long. I didn’t know any other moms who had children who nursed as much as mine. Why were our nights so hard? Sometimes I would yell at him in the middle of the night as he asked to nurse for the tenth time, asking why he wanted to nurse so much. I persisted on because the beauty of it still overshadowed my wish for it to end. He would blow raspberries on my tummy before every nursing session; he would caress my chest while nursing, a love message to my body that it’s perfect the way it is; when he was three he would tell me that “nini” (breastfeeding) makes him big and strong, and he needed to breastfeed because, “I not big and strong yet.” At other times it was the calm that would wash over both of us after an epic meltdown. I could feel our errors: my frustrations and impatience, his maddening age-appropriate behavior, melt away while he nursed.
While I was pregnant with my second, I thought my oldest would wean, but he never did. Through nursing aversion and a lack of milk, we stumbled through that time with as much grace as I could muster (which, when you’re pregnant, isn’t much). The hardest part about adding our second child was realizing how much my oldest still needed me. He needed to nurse as much as the new baby. He needed the comfort and connection he found in nursing. But nursing two children was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. I was stuck on the couch much of the time, and would feel a physical weight on my shoulders when my oldest would ask to nurse. Yet, as much as tandem nursing would sap my reserves, it would also fill me up. As they were nursing, I was filled with contentment, secure with the knowledge that I could handle both of their needs, whatever they may be. I felt like I could do anything.
I’ve wondered how I ended up here. A somewhat-crunchy mom, passionate about natural-term breastfeeding and who has been tandem nursing, often literally tandem nursing, for the past four years. Before I got here, I wondered who are these moms who nurse a four, five, or six year old? Or what crazy mom is letting a toddler and infant nurse at the same time? Turns out, it’s me. It’s because I want to do the best that I can for my children. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I’m impatient. Sometimes I wish I could leave this all behind and start over, childless. (Okay, maybe I think about that more often.)
But in all of that, I can always offer the comfort of nursing. I can offer my boys that safe place that they’ve known since they were born. I might not always be a great mom; some days I struggle to feel like I’m even an okay mom. But nursing until they self-wean (or they turn five years, one month, and 19 days, which I’ve found is about my limit for nursing) reminds me on a daily basis that I can do this, and I can do it well. I’ve got all the resources at hand to raise my boys; sometimes my resources are funny songs and a lot of patience, other times it’s offering to nurse. It has helped me build a foundation for our family that I’ve always dreamed of: a foundation made up of love and respect and comfort and reassurance and warmth and tenderness and generosity and laughter and helpfulness.