Well, nay-sayers, prepare to be proven wrong. All of you snarky mamas who glared at me nursing my 3 1/2-year-old on the NYC subway, prepare to be amazed. And to all of my family and friends who wanted to chastise me about nursing a walking, talking, thinking, laughing little man named Fred, thanks for holding your tongues.
Because we did it. Fred isn’t going to nurse on his way down the wedding aisle or at his high school graduation. I didn’t need to break him of a “habit” and teach him “who’s in charge.” I didn’t need to set boundaries you thought I should have set when I didn’t want to set them.
Because we did it: Fred weaned.
Fred weaned this past Thanksgiving, exactly a year from his night-weaning Thanksgiving of 2011, which I initiated reluctantly–and as gently as I could, and days before I released the public statement that I was getting divorced.
From the time that Fred night-weaned a year ago, he was nursing about once a day, but not always once a day. Sometimes he’d go a few days without nursing. After night-weaning, he could nurse anywhere but in the bed, since it invariably made him think of nursing all night, which he did like a real champ for his entire happy milky life until he was 3. And I didn’t want to go back to that!
So just to sum up: I nursed Fred four to six times a night for three years. I pumped at work for Fred from the time I got the job on The Big Bang Theory when he was 18 months old until he was 3. I used La Leche League’s books How Weaning Happens and Mothering Your Nursing Toddler* to gently test his growth and maturity and set reasonable boundaries for him. I didn’t nurse him literally anywhere, anytime, but I made sure to meet his needs and have mine satisfied as well.
I loved nursing Fred. And Fred loved and needed nursing. It was the best nutrition, nurturing, and bonding ever. Best protection against sickness (the year we all got H1N1, nursing Fred stayed healthy for the entire two weeks when we were all sick as dogs). I had difficulty nursing both of my boys. Nursing Fred was never not painful and I battled thrush numerous times, but we did it. And we did it long. And we did it well. We were nursing pros for sure.
Over the year since Fred night-weaned, he started to go several days without nursing, and I wouldn’t offer, and I wouldn’t refuse (that’s called the “No Offer No Refuse” approach.) I made sure to see if he wanted a snack or water instead of “nummies” and he tended to not want anything but nursing when he was very very upset or very very hurt. And also sometimes when he felt very very cuddly.
When Fred night-weaned, he took on the “habit” of drinking water from a bottle. He had never had anything but breast milk in a bottle and only when I was working, but we decided that if he needed to suck and transition from nursing on demand, we would give him water in a bottle and just wean him from that when we were ready to. (As vegans, we don’t offer cow’s milk, and the high sugar content of alternative milks was not something we wanted to have him drinking.) And so it went that the bottles of water he started drinking when he night-weaned slowly stopped being asked for, until we couldn’t even remember when the last time was that he asked for one.
The week of this past Thanksgiving, my almost-ex and I knew we would be announcing our divorce and that the privacy of our struggles would become public. To our family, to our external selves, to the public, and in slow, small ways, to our children.
I was working until the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, so my almost-ex took the boys up north to his folks’ the Sunday before and I was set to meet them once I finished work. That would be four days without Fred being able to nurse. He had gone four days before, but this felt different. A huge shift was about to happen. Internally, externally. Every relationship in our home was about to change. Even that between me and the Fredlet.
Fred knew I wouldn’t see him for several days. As I sat on the couch in the very room where he was born four years and three months prior, he latched on happily and only nursed for a minute or two that day, since toddler nursings tend to not be long at all, especially when they start spreading them out by several days. He typically nursed from both sides since I was prone to clogged ducts for most of our nursing relationship, and it became our habit to make sure both sides were nursed on.
That day, though, he was distracted by his older brother shouting something, laughing, playing in the next room. His big blue eyes with the impossibly long tapered lashes darted around and settled on the next room, the source of the voice, his beloved older brother who himself had nursed two years and change. The world beyond my breast was calling, and he hopped off of my lap and ran to the world waiting for him.
That was the last time Fred nursed. I wanted to shout after him, “Choo-Choo, you forgot the other side!” But I didn’t. I held my tongue and watched him go. My big boy. In jeans. With a big boy haircut, finally, after years of golden locks begging for either an upsheren (ritual first haircut at age 3) or a Farrah Fawcett photo shoot. Fred was done nursing. Fred weaned. Sweet baby Fred who cared for me as I cared for him: we made it.
Fred did not ask about nursing for weeks after that day. And it wasn’t until much more recently–it’s been three months now since he nursed–that he asked to nurse. But now when he asks, he knows it’s funny. That he’s a big boy. That he doesn’t drink nummies anymore.
He’s done. Fred weaned.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss being able to latch him on and make it all better. We have other ways to soothe Fred now. When he’s very very upset or very very hurt, we lay on the couch where he nursed countless mornings, afternoons, and evenings, and we rock and I sing to him his favorite lullabies. And he holds me tight, and I hold him tight, and I know that there was never ever ever anything wrong with nursing Fred. Even when he was in 4T jeans. With a mouth full of teeth. Even when people laughed and sneered and accused me of horrible things no mother should ever be accused of when tending to the normal and beautiful needs of her mammal child. It was never wrong and it was always right.
Fred nursed for four years and change. And then Fred weaned because he was ready. And we were ready. I nursed him through sadness and joy and despair and exultation. His, mine, who knew? We were one for so long. For four years and change, we were our own world.
Go out into the scary wonderful crazy broken world, sweet tender Fred. Take your fear and conquer it, and come back to me when it’s too much for you. I may not have milk to give you, but I have a heart forever etched with your name, your face, your eyes, your impossibly stunning tapered lashes that hold the tears only you can cry.
Thank you, Fred, for being my nursling.
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