I never saw myself being able to breastfeed this long and never planned to. I honestly was one of the ones who thought it was a little odd seeing moms breastfeeding their toddlers. But then I started reading the research on nursing past infancy and learning the recommendations and realized it was actually normal in many parts of the world with so many extended benefits for baby AND mom. But I still didn't think that would ever be us. With my firstborn, I struggled a lot with milk supply barely making it to 9 months before having to supplement. I’ve done things very differently this second time around (another post on this later) and here we are, 2 years in, and still going strong! Breastfeeding at this stage is so different, and some days are harder than others, but there are a lot of things I love about breastfeeding a 2-year-old. Here is a list of 7 of them.
1) Because toddlers and germs. Enough said!
With little hands constantly exploring, picking up bugs, playing in toilet water, sticking hands in the dogs mouth, snacking on french fries off the fast-food floor, these little people need lots of extra help boosting those immune systems to fight off the endless germs they are exposing themselves to. Mama's milk is amazing in its ability to add an extra defense making them healthier and even less prone to allergies. Even when my little one does get sick, it seems to be more mild and shorter lived. And I'm "milking" the extended immunity I'm getting as well while my lactating body works harder to keep me healthy for this job.
2) Because sometimes kissing the boo-boo just isn't enough.
Everyone knows that 2-year-olds can have their share of bumps and bruises as they're still trying to figure out those new feet and awkward little bodies of theirs. My youngest is a climber and extremely fearless, but also extremely clumsy. And sometimes kissing the boo-boos after the fall just doesn't cut it. I've loved having this toddler comfort measure at my disposal (along with an endless supply of band aids) when my little guy hurts himself for the thousandth time that day, or just needs some reassurance that, no, his world is not falling apart and everything is going to be ok.
3) Because nursing through the "terrible twos" has made them not so terrible.
I've nursed two boys...my first until 9 months of age and my youngest who is still loving his milk at two years old. As soon as my firstborn started approaching those testy twos, it made almost every minute of our day as challenging as humanly possible. And to make it even harder, it was a very rare occasion for me to even get a snuggle in amidst the craziness, the tantrums, and his independence at that stage. With my youngest, even though we still have our challenging two-year-old moments, being able to reconnect with him through nursing has made this very difficult stage not so unbearable. And having that sweet bond helps so much. There is nothing like a breastfeeding-induced oxytocin boost to help mama forgive and (almost) forget that mega embarrassing grocery store tantrum that was thrown earlier that day and to make those very big 2-year-old feelings melt away.
4) Because I get to savor the baby moments a little bit longer.
I remember the hardest part about weaning my 9-month-old was feeling like he went from baby to little boy almost immediately. Part of that could have been his personality and the fact that he is very independent, but part of me struggled with the fact that he no longer needed me for his nourishment and, in that way, had “grown up” a bit. In a culture that moves so fast and often requires our kids to keep up and develop at lightning speeds, I love that breastfeeding into the toddler years forces my youngest and I on a daily basis to slow down, reconnect, rock, nurse, and snuggle a bit before getting back into go-mode. These little humans grow up so fast but I'm savoring the precious moments and the baby in him a little bit longer.
5) Because I don't have to worry as much about a wishy-washy toddler appetite.
If you've spent any time dining with a toddler, you know that many of them have horrible eating habits! Jesus once said that "Man cannot live by bread alone", but I'm pretty sure my kids could if I let them. If it was up to them, they'd have biscuits for breakfast, hamburgers WITHOUT the meat for lunch, and garlic bread for dinner. And some days, they could probably try to get by without stopping to eat anything at all if I didn't bribe something down them. But with nursing, I can rest assured knowing my finicky toddler is getting SOME source of nutrients and calories in throughout his day, even if he did refuse his broccoli that day.
6) Because, the extra birth control.
So let’s face it. I’ve got two very spirited, energizer boys under the age of four who, most days, take every ounce of my energy just to keep alive! Where I would love another baby someday, I need these two to get to a point where they’re not daily trying to kill themselves or each other. I’m thankful that breastfeeding helps add a second form of birth control security until we are in a better place to add to our family.
7) Because I never know what he'll "bring to the table" (pun intended).
There's never a dull nursing session with a 2-year-old involved. My nursling is a busy boy with way too much world to explore but when he does need to take a "milk break", he usually brings along some sort of paraphernalia from his play. He has nursed wearing an oven mitt, with puzzle pieces in hand, while driving matchbox cars all over my face, and wearing a boot on one foot and a mitten on the other. Not to mention the nursing gymnastics while he attempts to nurse upside down. And then, it's always fun to find out what's going on in that little head of his during his milk time. He'll often unlatch just long enough to tell me something that seems very important at the time (usually really random and not making a bit of sense but really cute nonetheless). I love that nursing offers moments of conversation with my busy boy where I can see the wheels turning in that head of his as he's sorting through all the new experiences, words and phrases he's learning.
Now tune in next time while I share seven things I DON'T love about breastfeeding a 2-year-old ;). In all seriousness, it isn't always easy and I could definitely come up with several items on that list. But for now, the good still outweighs the bad for both my boy and I so we will continue to press on.
So many of us enter parenthood with all of these ideas and expectations of what it's going to be like. Being a bonafide, bossy, firstborn who struggles with perfectionism and is a bit of a control freak, motherhood has been a huge, eye opening experience for me. Wonderful beyond what I ever expected but eye-opening nonetheless.
From the moment I was in labor with my first baby, my freshly typed birth plan in hand. This "plan" included no family members present besides my husband, limited checks for dilation, no AROM (artificial rupture of membranes), and a water birth like the ones I'd seen in all the birth videos. Let's just say my first birth turned out very differently than I had planned!
I'm thankful that my mom is as stubborn as I am and insisted on being in the waiting room because it wasn't long before I was begging for her to be there! And after 17 hours of labor I was begging my midwives to check me and break my dad-gum waters! And water birth? Nope! Didn't happen! My first, very real motherhood lesson in loosening my grip on MY plan and letting go of my expectations and sense of control (which is a huge key factor in managing labor that I really didn't grasp until my second time around).
Here is a list of some other difficult areas where I've had to loosen my grip in my first few years since becoming a mother...
1. Cleanliness and the Model Home
I'm convinced that I grew up with a mom who never got tired. In addition to being a mom of 3 girls, she had a full time job running our family bookstore, helped my dad manage our farm on nights and weekends, taught the children's choir at church, always had time to chat, and kept our home immaculate and always smelling like roses and laundry detergent. It was the kind of home you loved coming home to. It felt peaceful and warm and inviting.
I've worked and worked to create a home atmosphere like that. I love having a clean house. Nothing brings order and sanity to my frazzled brain like a made bed, vacuum lines in the carpet, and the smell of purple Fabuloso. But in reality, I stay home with two precious, but very high-maintenance, full-of-energy, always hungry, frog-chasing, mud-puddle-splashing little boys. And the second I attempt to bring order to some corner of my house, another corner is simultaneously destroyed! And living with all boys, I've resolved myself to the fact that there will always be weird, mysterious smells lurking about.
So how have I coped? Cue the music, Elsa: "Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door!"
My husband and I have come to the agreement that during the day, momma keeps the boys alive, fed, and engaged in some kind of learning if the day allows it. And if that means closing a door to hide the clutter, so be it! And then after their bedtime, I can regain just enough order that allows me to sleep at night which usually means toys are picked up, floors are swept and dishes are done.
2. Perfectly Behaved Children
I was an elementary teacher for seven years before I had children. It was mentioned on several of my evaluations that I had "good classroom management skills". So, of course, when we started planning for kids of our own, I had no doubt that managing my own children was going to be a piece of cake!
And then my Clay came along. He was one month old when we decided to venture out to Kohl's for our first solo shopping trip (and so I could show him off to the world) only to end up having a sweet elderly lady hugging my frazzled self in the middle of the aisle, telling me it would all get easier, while my baby screamed his head off unappeasably. First piece of humble parenting pie among so many to come!
My children are not perfectly behaved, not anywhere close. They throw fits, they tell me no, they fight with each other like crazy....It's been a whole lot of trial and error where training and discipline is concerned and every day has a new challenge to work through. And just when you think you've got something figured out another kid comes along who chunks that very thing to the curb.
But I do believe it's getting easier, like the sweet lady at Kohl's said it would, but not because my children are getting easier, but because I'm learning to let go, change my expectations, pick my battles, keep my cool, ask for forgiveness when I lose it, bribe if needed, and try not to care if others think I'm a horrible mom who can't control her kids (you know those judgy eyes in the grocery store when your kids are throwing produce out of the shopping cart or having meltdowns because you won't buy them candy).
3. Peace and Quiet
I'm letting go of my hopes for quiet morning coffee, quiet car rides, quiet conversations with my husband, quiet phone chats with friends, or quiet anything for that matter. I'm embracing the noise. The giggles, the little boy car sounds, the high-pitched singing, the noise making toys that my husband is always hiding....I know I'm going to miss all those sounds someday.
4. My Ideal Weight
This has probably been the most challenging area for me to let go. I always pictured myself as one of those #fitmommas, but turns out I'm more of a #tiredmomma. I do have a gym membership but have to admit that there have been multiple occasions where I may or may not have dropped my kids off in the kid care just so I could go take a shower in peace and watch Lifetime movies in the women's lounge. Being healthy is still a priority and I feel so much better when I'm eating well and exercising regularly but, again, #tiredmomma here, and those choices are so much harder to make when you're running on empty. And when you live with boys who love pizza and cheeseburgers. So in the meantime, I found a really good sunless spray tanner to hide all the cellulite.
5. My Expectations for Sleep
I was always the type that needed (or thought I needed) my 8 hours of sleep. I honestly didn't know how I was going to function with a newborn who had his days and nights mixed up and wanted to nurse all the time. So at first, I tried to control it by reading all of the sleep training books that I could. They all made it sound like such a piece of cake, promising my newborn would be sleeping 12 hours through the night by two weeks old (insert eye roll). All that did was make me feel like a failure if it didn't work right. That, along with people constantly asking, "Are they sleeping through the night yet?" And even when my babies did finally start sleeping better at night, momma didn't because my sleep cycles were all messed up, my boobs were engorged, and I was constantly checking to make sure they were still breathing.
But it honestly gets easier and somehow you really do just get used to living on less sleep. Moms are resilient that way. And for some, coffee and a good concealer become life essentials! I mean, even Elsa said to "conceal, don't feel, don't let them know..." that you only had 3 hours of sleep last night.
6. My Desire to be a "Better Christian"
Before I had kids I was able to be very involved in my church, contributing in any way that I could. And I loved being a part! I know that so much of the church is run on volunteer service and is so necessary. There is so much reward in serving others and living outwardly but, thankfully, I've learned that this doesn't define a person by how good of a Christian they are. And I know there will be seasons where I'm able to play a part again, and there are many moms who are able to make it work even with small children but, in this stage of life, for me, it's a miracle if I even make it to church on time (especially with a husband who works many weekends). And the few times I have tried to help out, I spent more time chasing my toddlers around or breastfeeding in a corner than actually being a help. So right now, my goal is to make Sunday mornings a priority because it's something I value (even if I'm 30 minutes late most Sundays), be involved where I can, but give myself grace where I can't. And to remind myself daily that God is "gently leading those who have young" (Isaiah 40:11). He sees me, He knows my heart and motives, and He's GENTLY leading me in this wonderful but very challenging season of life.
7. Close Friendships
I might have considered myself a good friend at one point in life. That was until I got married and had all the babies. I always get a chuckle talking to other mommy friends on the phone or during playgroup..."Oh, did I tell you about...CLAYTON! GET OFF OF YOUR BROTHER!...What was I saying? Oh yeah! The other day I....CONNOR! GET OUT OF THE FIREPLACE!..."
So, I have all of these great intentions to connect with friends at nap-time or after bedtime buuuuuut, I'm desperately just wanting some "me time" which usually consists of me pretending to fold clothes while watching Netflix. And then being intentional about time with my husband on the days that he is home.
I'm so thankful for the grace that friends extend and for those who get it but I do miss those sweet friendships and "girl time". I'm hoping that one day, when the kids are in college, we'll actually get to have that long chat over coffee without having to blow noses and break up wrestling matches.
8. A Stylish Wardrobe
I've had to let go of this for multiple reasons: 1. I stay home with my boys so we live on one income which doesn't leave tons of room for new clothes all the time, 2. Yoga pants just make life easier so that's pretty much all I wear and 3. Shopping with toddlers? No thanks! Now my clothes shopping pretty much consists of me throwing a $5 tank top in my Walmart shopping cart on my way to check out!
9. Me Time
I wish I would've gone into motherhood with less of an expectation for "me time". It just doesn't look like it did when I was single and childless (obvi). It would've saved me a lot of frustration and tons of pity parties if I would've learned sooner how to hold loosely my desire and need for alone time (see my previous post on being a mommy and an introvert) but learn to savor the rare moments that I do get to myself.
I believe very strongly in mommy needing time for self-care in order to be healthy and a blessing to her family. And it does take some planning and creativity in order to factor that in, especially with babies still on the breast and when your family doesn't live close by. But realizing that the moment you hire a babysitter and plan your first outing sans kids, someone could inevitably get a sudden stomach bug that puts a kink in your plans.
I'm getting better at shrugging my shoulders and saying "Oh well, maybe next time" (with the occasional good cry in the bathroom).
Tips for Letting Go:
What about you? What things have you struggled the most to let go of and what are ways that you have adjusted?
A friend of mine called me shortly after her 3rd birth and asked, "Can I process my birth with you?" There were some things she was feeling unsettled about and just wanted to talk through it all. Did it change her birth outcome? No. Did I have some great words of wisdom to help make it more of a positive experience? No, I wish I did.
The birth of our babies is a wonderful, miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime experience and this is true regardless of how it happens. Many people have the mindset that, if mom is healthy and baby is healthy, then that is all that matters. But in the same way we often talk about the "wedding of our dreams", it is normal for a mother to have dreams and desires about the birth of her baby. But sometimes, for varying reasons, birth can be unpredictable, for some it can even be traumatic, taking turns that weren't expected, leaving a sense of disappointment, and even a sense of loss.
Grieving often occurs after a loss and if you feel like you lost something, the opportunity to birth the way you had hoped, the ability to be more in control of your birth choices or to bond with your baby the way you had pictured, then its natural to feel a sense of grief, however small it may be.
One of the steps to healing in the grieving process is to talk about your grief with someone. I am a huge verbal processor. Sometimes I will be processing an experience and feelings will surface that I didn't even know existed. And just talking about it brings healing and closure. So I encourage you, regardless of how your birth went or whether it was your first or fifth birth, to find a trusted friend, family member, your spouse, or grab a pen and journal if that feels safer, and tell your birth story from start to finish. And it is perfectly acceptable to mention that you don't want any advice but that you're just needing a listening ear.
Here are a few questions that can guide you if you aren't the processing type (maybe have your friend read through this list with you as you respond):
On December 30th, 2015, my actual due date, I woke up with my first contraction around 4:30 am. It makes such a huge difference, in my opinion, whether you go into labor at night or in the morning after a night of sleep. I felt rested and excited! My bags were already packed and my appointment was already scheduled for that day, at our Birth Center which was two hours away (the same one I had Clay in 2 years prior). My mom was already staying with me because we had hosted Christmas at our house and she was going to hang out until baby arrived. David was coming home from working a night shift and because my contractions were mild and I had a sense it would be a while, I made him go to sleep. He would meet me in San Antonio later that day.
Labor, Shopping, and More Labor
Around 8am, my mom, my two-year-old Clayton and I headed to San Antonio for my appointment where they confirmed I was in labor and the on-site chiropractor adjusted me one last time. And then I said "see you later" to my midwives and went on my way. One of the things I often tell moms in the early stages of labor is to try and get out of your head. So often, when those first contractions hit, we tend to get worked up and over-think things, psyching and wearing ourselves out emotionally. It's so important to stay relaxed and as stress-free as possible so I attempted to do just that. We dropped Clay off with David's parents who live on the outskirts of San Antonio and Mom and I went shopping and just tried to enjoy the day. Shopping was relaxing and distracting and helped me to stay active and upright as much as possible. I didn't call anyone and I stayed off of Facebook because I didn't want people messaging me all day asking if baby was here yet. At one point we were walking around an outdoor shopping center and my mom said she noticed that baby had dropped big-time! Contractions were definitely coming on stronger and more consistently but I was still in good spirits and managing them well.
To the Birth Place We Go
At about 4pm, David arrived in San Antonio and we met at Jason's Deli for a snack, parted ways with my mom, and headed to the Birth Center because I was feeling the need to rest. David and I attempted a nap but the contractions, while they were still manageable, were intense enough that I wasn't able to sleep. But it felt good to lie down for a while and David helped me with some of the relaxation techniques we had learned in our birth class. By about 7pm, my midwife sensed that labor was slowing down a bit so she encouraged us to get up, go find some dinner and get moving again.
My Secret Weapon
We got in the car and, because it was pretty cold outside, I turned on my seat-heat as we drove to search for a place to eat (although my appetite was starting to dwindle). I still, to this day, believe that seat-heat was my secret weapon in getting things really progressing! Two speed bumps later, and my mild contractions turned into David having to stop the car through each one of them. We drove for a bit and decided to stop in Cane's to get a quick bite of chicken but our dinner date ended up with me wanting to spend the whole time in the bathroom. Transition was hitting!
Get Off the Toilet!
David scarfed down his chicken, forced me out of the bathroom and back into the car and called our midwife to tell her we were heading back. It was 9pm and I went straight to the bathroom where all I wanted to do was close the door, sit on the toilet, and labor by myself. I know it sounds weird, but it was what felt the best to me at the time. It kept me upright with my pelvis open and bladder empty, and allowed me to stand and support myself on the seat when contractions hit so that I could sway and work through them. It's so amazing to me, when left to choose for ourselves, how our bodies will tell us what to do during labor that allows for the most optimal laboring position for each individual birth. With my first, I didn't want to leave the hands and knees position, supporting myself on my birth ball for a large part of it. After about an hour of laboring on the toilet, I had a sudden urge to feel down for baby's head but I kept it to myself because I didn't want to get my hopes up (or anyone else's) if I still had a ways to go. After laboring in the bathroom for about an hour and a half, contractions were starting to feel unbearable, so David and my midwives gently encouraged me to get in the tub. Changing positions in labor is important but there comes a point where the thought of change or movement of any kind sounds overwhelming to a mom, which is where a good birth team comes into play. They can sense when a change might be necessary to help keep things moving along.
A Dreamy Water Birth
Oftentimes, when women are left to labor naturally, they will use sounds to help manage and breathe out their contractions. I made it in the water and continued "sounding out" my contractions like I had been, but almost immediately, my sounds changed (they were more throaty, pushy sounds). My midwife noticed and encouraged me to go with it and give a push. With my first birth I never felt the urge to push, nor did I enjoy anything about it, so I think, subconsciously, I was avoiding and even a little fearful of the pushing stage. But as soon as I followed her instructions and gave a good strong push, not only did it feel really good, but baby's head was crowing! It took a total of three pushes before my baby boy, all 8lbs and 22 inches of him, was born in the water as I caught him with my own hands! It's funny, my labor lasted quite a bit longer with this one than with my first (19.5 hours as opposed to 15 with the first), but it was so much more manageable. I wouldn't have changed a thing about it!
At 3:30am on New Year's Eve, we were packed up and cleared by our midwives and heading to David's parents' house. I wanted to be there when Clayton woke up so that he could meet his baby brother. Overwhelming doesn't even begin to describe the feeling I had seeing my TWO boys meeting each other for the first time! The whole experience was just incredible and I can't think of a better way to bring in the New Year!
When you think about your birth experience, does it make you smile? Do you cringe, or is it a memory that you treasure? I'm not just talking about the moment that your baby was born but the experience as a whole. From the moment you walked into your birthplace, your time laboring, your interactions with your care providers, your interactions with your significant other and family members...what would be the one word you would use to describe this memory? I love talking to mamas and hearing their birth stories. I have talked to countless women as they describe their experiences to me. Surreal. Painful. Beautiful. Scary. Quick. Long. Healing. Intense. Traumatic. Birth can be so many things.
My first birth was hard. It was tiring. There were sweet moments and then it would get hard again. It was long and even complicated at times. And it was incredible. But in the midst of all the ups and downs and roller coaster of emotions that I experienced, because my husband and I took an in-depth comprehensive childbirth class, I felt more-than-prepared for it all. I knew that birth could be hard. I knew it could be exhausting. I knew that it could be unpredictable. I knew that there would be moments that I would want to give up.
But I was prepared for those moments. I was prepared with techniques to help manage the pain naturally. I was prepared for dealing with the exhaustion. I was prepared mentally to combat the fear and doubt that I would face. I was prepared to know how to choose a care provider that would support me and my desires for my birth. I was even prepared for the possibility of needing medical intervention and how to make informed choices about those interventions should the need arise.
My husband was prepared as well. He knew what the stages of labor would basically look like, and how to support me during each stage. He was prepared to support me physically, through comfort measures, as well as emotionally, through affirming and encouraging me. And when our baby was born, we were prepared for those first precious moments of breastfeeding and bonding.
It was because of this preparation that I can also say that my birth was empowering! I googled this word and the definition I found that I loved the most was "to make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights." This is exactly what my birth experience did. Because of my childbirth education, I was more confident going into my birth, confident of my body and what it was capable of. I was empowered to make informed decisions about my pregnancy and birth instead of someone else making them for me.
This is why I became a Birth Boot Camp Instructor. I wanted other mommies and daddies to step into their birth prepared, confident, and realizing that same sense of empowerment. Knowledge is power and that especially applies to childbirth!