Friday, January 15, 2016

Down to the River to Pray - A Self Weaning Journey

My sweet babe has begun to self-wean. I have been asking my husband Wes to take pictures because very soon, any day now, I will look back and realize it was the last day I nursed him. So I am cherishing these moments. Remembering the long nights of nursing every 45 minutes during a growth spurt. Nursing to sleep every nap and every night and every wake before the sun came up (until just a few weeks ago).

For those unfamiliar with breast feeding beyond a year, it is commonly referred to as extended breastfeeding. The World Health Organization recommends "Exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond." There is no real number for when a child is ready to wean on their own, but it's generally going to be between 2 and 3 years old. 

Extended breastfeeding looks much different from the early days of nursing, but it is still very important for the toddler as well. We often see breastfeeding as purely nutritional—only nurse to feed the baby—but nursing is calming, centering, and soothing too. My child will nurse when he falls down, when he's having a tantrum, or when he is overwhelmed and just wants to be close. I am a centering figure for him to look towards to feel confident and independent and curious and adventurous. And I am blessed to be that. I know not everyone is able to breast feed, for various reasons, but if you can breast feed—do it! It is messy, it is frustrating, it is beautiful, and it is glorious. Now my child is finishing this journey. And all children do. I am so thankful that I’ve been able to wait until he is ready to wean on his own.

It is a hard journey to breast feed. It is one of the most tangible ways a mother gives of herself. It is giving your body up to nourish that precious baby who needs you to live. What a wonderful gift that is. An amazing thing to go body sustains life! I remember being pregnant and thinking "Yeah, sure I'll breastfeed. It's cheap - it's FREE." (If you know the penny-pincher I am, this shouldn't surprise you). I had no idea. I had no idea the power it would give me. The love it would trigger. The bond it held together. The sisterhood it created.

I could not have gone through this journey had it not been for the amazing women who came along side me, who told me it was okay to text them at 3am if I didn't know what to do (and I did text them!), who skyped me and watched me nurse and helped me position my baby in a more comfortable way to promote a better latch—the women who came over the week after his birth and listened to me cry because it hurt and because I didn't know if he was getting enough—and the women who told me it was okay to nurse as long as both my child and I wanted to. (Thank you. All of you. You know who you are).

A few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, my family was sitting around and singing (as we often do). My brother and Aunt and I started singing "Down to the River to Pray" and we began to sing the verse that says:

"O Mothers let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O Mothers let's go down
Down to the river to pray"

Just as I started singing the words, my sweet baby came up to me and asked to nurse. I cradled him in my arms and sang these powerful words about mothers as I looked into the eyes of my child. Love overflowed in my heart and tears welled up in my eyes. Everything else faded away as I sang about mothers while participating in a part of motherhood that is as old as they come. That ancient practice that connects child and mother to one another. It was as if the voices of those women of the past enveloped me with love and courage, swirling around me, binding us all together in beautiful harmony.

That night I felt incredible joy as I reflected on my story of breast feeding and the community of women who surrounded me in love and wisdom. I have had a beautiful breast feeding journey. Everyone's journey is different. And this is mine. 

Just a few days old

Look at those eyes!
Look at dat latch! :O
One of my favorites - a candid shot
Beautiful Photoshoot I got to be apart of for Breastfeeding Awareness
taken by the amazing Kristy Powell
(Henry and I are on the far right)
Self Portrait for World Breast Feeding Week
All the laughs
My happy boy
Early morning hammock nursing - relaxing!
I call this "Selfies and Nursies"
More Selfies and Nursies
Most recent (and probably last) picture of Henry nursing
"I'll love you forever, I'll love you for always
As long as I'm living my baby you'll be"

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