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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Tandem Adventure

I wasn't planning on tandem nursing. I carefully reduced nursing sessions with R as my pregnancy progressed... it seemed a confusing process for him. But I was sure I wasn't built to nurse them both, sure it would be too hard. Plus there was the social stigma, the feeling I had about how I would be perceived. People had been asking me for months "isn't it time he stop doing that?" And I was responding to R out of that attitude: being short, feeling frustrated that he wanted to nurse so often etc. But my frustrated response and the reduction of nursing times created urgency in him, he asked even more and was inconsolable at times when I refused.

He had already stopped nursing to sleep at 18 months, I don't know if it was because I encouraged it or if he simply didn't need it anymore (he still has his binky for bed). But the mornings, when he climbed into bed with us, he desperately needed that time of cuddles and nursing. He would often fall back asleep (a wonderful thing for me) or at least lay with me and rest. But it was a long nursing session and I was in the throes of pregnancy induced nursing heebie-jeebies, being irritable and starting to resent his cuddling and nursing times. So I weaned him at 22months.

He didn't melt down or fall completely apart. Dan started getting up with him as soon as he woke up, no more morning snuggles with mommy for a while. I appreciated the extra sleep and starting my mornings alone. But I felt guilty. R seemed confused and hurt, he still asked to nurse; walked up to me and put his little chubby hand on my chest looked in my eyes and said "nurse?" in that beautifully sweet voice of his. It broke my heart sometimes. I felt like I had hardened myself to my sweet boy. Like I had cut this tie of understanding and communication. We were both frustrated.

There was a wonderful up-side to the new arrangement. R got some great bonding time with Dan. I saw his love and devotion to his Daddy grow each day but felt a bit of wistfulness for the loss on my part. Because of Dan's schedule and my overprotectiveness when R was little Dan didn't get the bonding he may have wished for early on. So this new preference for Daddy was a sweetness to Dan and it was a blessing to see R's needs being met so wonderfully. My dear husband developed an understanding and level of communication with R that hadn't been there before.

So I got some space. I made room for our new baby. Took deep breaths and found new ways to cuddle and console my rapidly growing toddler. But he still asked to nurse now and then and I still saw a lack of understanding and a bit of hurt in his eyes when I said no.

J was born on May 12th 2011. I will post about his birth another time. It was amazing and enjoyable (I know, you don't believe me). He nursed before the cord was cut and looked into my eyes the whole time. He continued to nurse over the next four hours. Sleeping some, then waking to nurse, then looking for his thumb. He was beautiful and perfect. I fell in love for the third time.

We brought him home, we slept in our bed the three of us. R had been at his Nanna K's the previous night and wouldn't come home until late that afternoon. I missed him, wanted my big boy to see his new brother and I wanted to hold them both. I didn't feel like I was all taken up with J, I had an empty feeling without R to hold as well. I wasn't expecting to have anything left to give. When R was born he seemed to take up everything. But God gave me more, it wasn't a replacement of babies, it was an addition and with that addition came the grace of more to give. I was surprised.

There were too many people present when R came home. He was shocked and overstimulated. He climbed into my lap to look at J nursing and was interested. But quickly got distracted by the presents Nanna had brought for him so he jumped down. A while latter when the place settled he climbed back up and snuggled with me (which was apparently a call for everyone to come see and take pictures) I had to ask people to give us some space (which offended some I'm sure). R cuddled in and touched baby J's head and hands and laid his head on my chest. I can't remember if he asked to nurse that day or not. But he did in the following weeks.

I started looking into tandem nursing but didn't feel convinced it was the right path for us. Yet I wasn't feeling great about how I interacted with R. He was struggling with the transition, we all were really. I was tired and trying to learn J's cues and re-learn how to care for a newborn so I kept expecting too much of my 2 year old toddler. Dan took a much more active roll this time. I had more confidence in him and didn't try and control everything (as much). I tried to give R lots of snuggle time. J nursed like a newborn (read: all the time) so nursing time became story time. We had bought a large leather rocking recliner just before J was born and I lived there. Seriously.

It wasn't horrible. R wasn't being neglected and I don't think he felt unloved. But he still asked. He would come up to me when J was nursing (and sometimes when he wasn't) and say "my nurse too?" or "Ryan nurse?" and the longing in his eyes kinda broke my heart. The more I said "no" the more I wondered why? What was it that I was saying "no" to really? And why did I feel like I had to say it? Because there were times when it was my deep desire to give R that connection and comfort he was asking for. I couldn't come up with a good answer.

Dan and I talked about it a lot. We were concerned about being inconsistent and confusing him more by saying yes after saying no for so long. I was concerned I would start nursing him again and then realize I really didn't want to and I was afraid of feeling trapped, stuck (which in reality are some of my worst fears besides the fear of abandonment). Dan was supportive of whatever decision I made. But was clear that the decision was up to me (they were my breasts after all).

I researched breastfeeding toddlers and the benefits. Learned a lot. I joined the Facebook page The Leaky B@@b and found a bunch of support and encouragement there. I got up the nerve to ask post the question there, asking for experience and thoughts on the subject of re-introducing nursing to a weaned toddler. Most people stated that their toddlers who asked to nurse after a sibling was born only tried it once and then stopped asking. I got hopeful that perhaps that would be the case. So I nursed R before his nap when he asked.

He kept asking

I was a bit disappointed and a bit excited. I realized I had just made the decision for myself; as long as he was asking and I was willing there was no logical reason not to nurse him. The only thing holding me back was fear of peoples' opinions of me. So I took a deep breath and said "yes" again. R was 25 months and J 5weeks. I think the fact that J and I had established our nursing relationship, my oversupply issues had settled and we had all gotten used to being a family of 4 helped.

Fast forward two months:
We are here. R is asking as much if not more when he is home. But he leaves overnight at least once a week and will go a few days without nursing. At first he only nursed once a day and I thought he was done when he went a four day stretch without asking. But he got sick with a high fever and I was so happy I could give him the comfort and antibodies he needed to get better quickly. He bounced back in a day or so but since he had nursed so often while sick it seemed to have set a new pattern. He asks more often then I say "yes" and I'm still struggling with how to move forward; how to balance his needs and desires with mine. How to give cheerfully and when to respect my limits. I've been given much grace and I strive to pass it on to my sons.

But I am confident in this: we made the right decision. R is a toddler and will act like one regardless if he is nursing or not. But I feel the bond between us has healed some; he listens better, trust me more. The decision to tandem nurse is a daily, even hourly, one. I am grateful for the support and encouragement I get from my dear husband. I am grateful for posts like this where real people share their real struggles with breastfeeding and parenting.

I don't know if we'll be tandem nursing tomorrow or next week or next month or perhaps next year. But I do know that it will be because I think we're both ready to stop and not because of some cultural expectation when we do wean.

So I'm content in the unknowing and the process. I learn more about myself and my sons every day. This is an adventure, this is my life and I will enjoy it. I anticipate R weaning sometime this year (either because of his own desire or mine) but I will continually be reevaluating our nursing relationship. I read a quote the other day about nursing being circular not linear. I don't expect J to follow the same pattern as R. For one; I'm not the same mother. I'm growing, I'm changing and I'm hoping it's all for the better.

This was longer than I expected. And I still have more to say. But we'll save it for another day!



  1. This post brought me to tears! We really do struggle with similar challenges... it's crazy! You sound just like me. I mean, exactly. Except you decided to keep nursing R and I decided to stop. Reading this makes me sad about it. Because he STILL asks. I was changing my shirt yesterday, and he said, "Is that your milk, mommy?" And I said yes. And he said, "Can I drink your milk?" When we are not nursing, I wish we were, and when we are, I wish we weren't. I'm very "wish"y-"wash"y, I guess. Anyway, I LOVED reading this and I am happy for you that you are confident in your decision. You chose what was right for you, and you are giving your babies exactly what they need. :)

  2. So glad you enjoyed my post! Your own post about deciding to stop was a huge inspiration in me writing it. I was refreshed by your honesty and encouraged to know other moms have struggled with some of the same issues. I honestly feel that if I had chosen not to start nursing R again it would have been the right choice also. Today was a good day and I enjoyed my boys. But there are still those days I feel like it may have been the craziest thing I ever decided to do! I feel bad because I really don't want to encourage him to nurse that often and so I sneak around trying to make sure he isn't reminded there is milk around (with feeding a 3mo it's kinda hard lol) It's still heartbreaking when I tell him "no" cause I don't always feel up to it or whatever.

    Hugs! you are doing an incredible job and you have given him the best and are continuing to love him so well! It's so normal for us as mother's to be wishy-washy about our kids - wanting them to stay babies, wishing they'd start sleeping longer, etc. Follow your heart and love those boys just like you are!