The Bliss {and Blisters} of Nursing a Toddler

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My son and I are breaking up.

Our breastfeeding relationship of 21 months is coming to an end.  This is something that seems to have happened gradually and then all of a sudden. Which means I feel both relieved and devastated at the same time.

We’ve been winding down for a couple of months now. I decided when he was about 18 months that we’d move into the “don’t offer/don’t refuse” phase of nursing. We naturally transitioned into an easy rhythm of nursing at bedtime and in the mornings, and occasionally during the day.

We fell into this easy rhythm, and it worked for a while.

And then he stopped asking as much. Or when he did ask to nurse, it would often be fitful and distracted.

Things are getting more and more physically uncomfortable when nursing my toddler. From finding a way to fit his long, energetic body onto my lap and into my arms, to his distracted nursing style.

As difficult as nursing a toddler can sometimes be, there are moments of pure bliss.

At bedtime, I ask him if he wants “num nums”, and a quick smile breaks across his round face. “Num num nums!” he agrees, ambling over to where I sit in the glider rocker. He quickly scrambles up onto my lap along with his soft red and blue blanket and a lovey so putrid and fragrant it has secretly earned the name Stinky Tofu.  He has a specific place for each of these things in our nursing setup: Blankie goes between his knees and up onto his stomach. Stinky Tofu gets draped over his shoulder and is purposefully clutched in one hand. His right arm shoots out between us, searching for the space between the side of my body and the chair. He likes to tuck it there, and it feels like he’s giving me a sweet little side hug.

Finally, we are ready to nurse.

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In the early days, breastfeeding was difficult for us. It had been long enough since my daughter nursed that I felt uncertain about how to hold his not-so-little head and how to help him latch on. His bottom lip seemed to be permanently sucked in under his upper jaw, making a wide open latch near impossible.

We spent what felt like hours working through the learning process together. My shoulders and wrists ached from holding him close for hours on ends. My skin was hot and tight under the pressure of all the new milk. And my poor nipples felt like they were permanently chapped.

But one day, it all clicked. His squirmy little newborn body found its place in my arms, the place where everything just worked. We fit together in only the way we could, filling in each other’s gaps and squishing together in an intimate embrace. His little noises, snuffly breathing and eager, regular swallows and sighs, became the soundtrack to my evenings and nights. It became a time I longed for, even when I was staggeringly tired or hotly frustrated or completely touched out. That moment we found our two selves melding into one and sighing into a familiar rhythm.

We fit together in only the way we could, filling in each other’s gaps and squishing together in an intimate embrace.

Now, as I feel the days of our breastfeeding winding down, and the frequency of those peaceful moments is less frequent, I cherish them all the more. Daily it seems I feel the hot sting of tears coming to my eyes when I watch him nurse. If I close my eyes and let my mind go quiet, it’s almost as if he’s a tiny newborn again.

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Two is still so little – hell, he’s not even really two yet, but I’m rounding up, trying to brace myself for the emotional blow when he does turn two.  He’s still so little in this big world, and yet he’s changing so very quickly.

At 21 months he is an incredibly active, sparkly-eyed little guy. He walks, jumps, runs, and climbs on everything. He is talking up a storm, and seems to be adding new words every single day. He likes to zoom toy trucks, buses, and tractors on any stationary surface. And the boy can eat.

On Halloween he went trick or treating for the first time. He walked up to the doors behind his big sister and confidently thrust his little fist into bowl after bowl of candy, choosing his favorite thing. Even though he didn’t really know what candy is, he quickly got into the routine of walking from house to house, anticipating the swift opening of a new door and the promise of a colorful treat.

In those moments I can see both the little boy he is becoming, and the baby he once was. That night he went to sleep without nursing, the stain of chocolate around his little lips.

I know that he’s doing everything he should be doing at this age, and more! And yet.The end of our nursing relationship signifies the ending of his babyhood. The thought of him not being this small forever makes my heart ache. I know how quickly these moments will pass, and I want to hold on so tightly.

We waiting so long and went through so much to have our kids. At this point we know there will not be any more babies. This is one of the reasons I want to hold on to these last nursing moments as long as possible.

Like so many moments in motherhood, this one is filled with complex and contradictory emotions.

At the end of a busy day, the nursing ritual is a touchstone for us. It’s a moment that all is still and quiet in the world, and we connect in such an intimate way. As this part of our journey winds down, I find myself knowing that we’ll find new touchstones and moments to connect. And I’m not going to lie: I am more than a little excited to have my boobs back.  Yet the idea of being finished breastfeeding is also a difficult one to wrap my head around.

How did your breastfeeding journey wrap up?  Any suggestions for new evening routines?


 

Change

When life seems to be feeling a bit stagnant, I crave change.  Small changes or large, shaking things up a bit can have an invigorating effect.  Usually this manifests itself in a spontaneous rearranging of furniture, or joining a new knit-along.  Too much change at once though, and I risk getting lost in a swirl of to-do lists, packed calendars, and feeling uncertain of everything.

We’re walking a fine line these days.   The changes are coming swiftly now, and so we are doing our best as a family to be thoughtful, pragmatic, and proactive in our actions.  Opening a yarn shop has created waves farther out than I initially imagined, affecting people and activities in ways I hadn’t anticipated.  I have a certain level of guilt and grief about taking on my own big project outside the home and changing our lives so profoundly.

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These days, our rhythms as a family are taking on an entirely new tone.  Where once I was a stay at home mama and felt no sense of rush at the beginning of a new day, now I am a working mom and wife with a lot going on outside the home for the first time in years.  While I am thrilled to be creating my own dream job, it’s also painful to let go of another dream job.  For that is just what staying home has been for me, challenges and all.  I have loved staying home with PB, witnessing every moment of her young life in a very intimate way.  And next week, PB goes from stay at home little to an enrollee at a Montessori morning program for toddlers.  More change.

When I’m at work, I worry about what I’m missing in PB’s day, and when I’m home, I struggle to stop thinking about the shop.  Being present in the moment is taking a little more effort on my part than usual. The good news is, I have a very family friendly boss who understands all of this and is willing to make certain sacrifices to spend as much time at home as possible.

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Along with not being a being a stay at home mom anymore, I will no longer be a stay at home wife.  This means the structure of our domestic life is changing, too; job sharing, meal prep, laundry and errands will all be divvied up in a new way.  I’m sure that this will take some time to iron out as we both get used to letting go of old expectations and adjusting to our new normal.

Folks, this is a lot of change.  It keeps me up at night sometimes, worrying about what I’ve done by deciding to start my own business.  In my heart, I know it is right, that to pursue this dream is something I couldn’t not do.  I have watched my own mother pursue her dreams independently of being a mother, and I admire her for it.  And yet, in the pit of my stomach (especially late at night) I worry that this is all a huge mistake that could irrevocably damage our little family.

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Change is swirling around me, and as I reach for an anchor to hold onto, I have to remember to be patient and gentle with myself.  To find time to add rhythm and fun to all the schedule changes.  It takes time to adjust to new routines and expectations, but it will happen.

Working parents, how do you do it?  What are some coping strategies or rhythms you’ve found to be helpful in times of great change?

*Photos are from a recent shoot we did with Chris of Becerra Photography.  It was a wonderful experience!  If you’re in Oregon, check him out!

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From Soule Mama{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.