By Shel Franco
Newborns nurse with such urgency. There is a demand in their feeding that wanes by the time the first birthday rolls around. It is insatiable and overwhelming — the very thing that causes some new mothers to wean in the early weeks.
When my first son was a newborn, I felt trapped by breastfeeding. On one hand, I was proud that I could provide him with nourishment. On the other hand, I was disappointed that I was the only one that could provide him with that nourishment. I wanted to succeed, but I wanted to quit. I wanted to bond with him on such a primitive level, but I wanted to sleep more than two hours at a time. I struggled with these conflicting emotions throughout the newborn stage.
Before I knew it, my son could roll over and sit up. He could laugh and grab. He had changed from that helpless, needy newborn into a curious baby. He no longer nursed with urgency. At times, it seemed as though he was more interested in the outside world than with what was inside my blouse. Still, his need for attachment and nourishment won out over his curiosity, and breastfeeding remained an important — yet more flexible — part of his days and nights.
When my first son was a newborn, I felt trapped by breastfeeding.
Babyhood stretched into toddlerhood and I entertained the weaning issue at least once a week. My son’s days were filled with less and less nursing and more and more exploration. He discovered independence and tested it with vigor, only to come toddling back to me for the reassurance of the breast. In the cover of darkness, I was able to catch a glimpse of the small baby I once knew, sleepily sliding off the breast with a stream of white running down his chin.
When my son was 2 years old, I discovered I was pregnant. Moments at the breast had diminished to nap time and bedtime. In the early days of my pregnancy, I was happy to have these moments of rest. On more than one occasion, while watching my son drift off to sleep, I entertained the idea of tandem nursing. Was I committed enough? Was I selfless enough? I remembered those early days of breastfeeding: urgent, powerful and demanding. My decision was made.
My first son was weaned by the time my second son entered the world. I never regretted my decision. This newborn was every bit as needy as my first, but this time I expected it — even prepared for it. Breastfeeding the second was more relaxed and celebrated. Because of that, I tried my best not to rush the moments. I stared deeper into his eyes. I rubbed his cheek a moment longer. I consciously tried to commit the sweet smell of his breath and sleepy breast milk grin to my memory.
All too soon, the moments had passed me by. Despite my attempts to prolong the tenderness, this second child needed the reassurance of my breast much less than the first child. Nap time and nighttime nursings were all I had left well before the second birthday. There was a time when I would have welcomed this. After all, I so desperately wanted the permission to quit breastfeeding a short week after giving birth to my first. How could it be that I was longing for my son’s dependency to continue? Why wasn’t I celebrating the recapturing of my own body and soul?
After my second son weaned, I realized the answer to those questions: Children come into the world dependent and gradually move towards independence; Mothers go into motherhood independent and, whether we like it or not, end up very dependent on our children. They are tied into our happiness, self worth, motivation, hopes and dreams.
I am now weeks from delivering my third child. My days are filled with a precocious preschooler and a trying toddler. At times, I seem unaware of the child growing inside of me. But in the dark of night, when I feel her gently move, I am reminded that all too soon I will be thrown back into the urgent world of newborn nursing, and my heart is glad.