Before I had my son, I fully intended on breastfeeding. My mother breastfed three children at a time where breastfeeding wasn’t the norm and in a family where feeding from your breasts was (and is) seen as disgusting. I went into nursing with the goal of one year because that seemed to be what was socially acceptable and by many people’s standards, “once he’s old enough to ask for it, he’s old enough to stop.”
Around 8 months old my son was biting me when he wanted to nurse. This wasn’t an acceptable way for him to communicate his needs so I taught him the sign for “milk” and used it every time we nursed. I felt like a raging idiot for two months pumping my hand at him and saying in my dumbest Mama voice, “Do you want baby milk?” (pumping fist) “Do you want to nurse?” (pumping fist). And then one day out of the blue we saw our little guy ever-so-slightly pumping his fist at me, asking for baby milk.
That little fist pump was kryptonite to my Mama-heart. With one silent gesture I heard, “I’m hungry, Mama” or “I’m overwhelmed and need to reconnect, Mama.” That simple sign allowed me to meet my child’s needs anywhere, anytime. It was empowering for both of us.
My son is very verbal and by 18 months he could count to ten, say his name, imitate farm animals and say a good portion of the alphabet. But the one thing he didn’t say was milk. He had long dropped his signs for “more” and “eat” in exchange for telling me very pointedly if he was hungry or if he wanted additional food but still pumped his little fist when he wanted to nurse.
A few weeks ago, my son dropped his sign for nursing and replaced it with this,
“I WANT SOME MAMA’S BAAAAABY MILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLK!!!”
There was no cute transition, “milky!” or “want milk!” Nope. Our sweet, silent gesture turned into a yelling dictatorship overnight. His first full sentence was shouted at me over and over again. I wish I could tell you that I thought it was cute or endearing, or that I was so proud of the completeness of his words. But to be honest–I cringed. I thought back to the “once they can ask for it…” mentality and surely, if naysayers could hear him ask for it like this they’d pound their chests in righteous glory because, this is a child who is clearly old enough to be weaned from his mother’s breast!
And then we went out of town for four days. My son was sleeping in a strange place and conveniently came down with a nasty cold. He was tired, sick and scared and his calls for “I WANT SOME MAMA’S BAAAAABY MILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLK!!!” were never ending. At the height of my exhaustion I looked down at my baby nursing and realized that nothing had changed. Nursing was still our love language and he still needs his Mama anywhere, anytime. It wasn’t the nursing that was making me cringe; it was the entitlement in his request. So I had a talk with him. I told him that we need to ask politely for things and I told him to ask for baby milk in a nicer way, to which he replied:
“I want some Mama’s baby milk, Pweeese?”
I truly believe that my son will wean when he is ready, but to all of the people who say that a baby needs to be weaned when he can ask for it, I shake my head at you. Because you are missing out on the fist pumping, on the sweet words that can be tacked on to the end of a sentence to make it perfect and all of the lessons learned through this language of love. A growing, evolving language of love between a mother and her child.