Our Weaning Story

flowers

Picking flowers on her 4th birthday

It looks like we’re here. At four years old, my baby girl has decided she’s a big girl and won’t be nursing anymore. She made the choice all on her own, with no prompting or influencing from me. It’s not as bittersweet as I had imagined it would be. Maybe it’s because I know her needs were fully met or maybe it’s because I was ready, too. Or maybe I was ready, because she was ready. Whatever the reason, I’m very at peace and happy for my daughter. Because full-term nursing is not nearly the norm in our society and because I want to remember this experience, I would like to share our weaning story.

I committed to full-term nursing somewhere during Ava’s second year. You can read about that HERE and HERE. By then, I’d learned enough of the benefits to know it was what I wanted for her. As long as she needed it, nursing would be there. Ava’s food allergies also helped me in my decision. With the nutrition and calories she was missing from foods she couldn’t have (Eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, banana, and coconut for 1 year. Just dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts after that.), my milk was the perfect supplement. I even pumped until she was almost three to help her as much as I could.

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“Her eye is a little red, so I need to put some milk in it.”

Around age 3 is when our nursing sessions got shorter and shorter. First, they decreased to only nap time and bedtime nursing. Then, it was just bedtime. Then, only sometimes at bedtime. I always offered and let her make the decision. It was really beautiful to see her ponder and decide…to see her really thinking about whether or not she needed it. And she always knew. Most of the time it was, “yes, please.” And a few times, “no, thank you,” as she plopped into bed. Letting her make those decisions has helped her learn to pay attention to her needs and make other choices. At some point after age 3 1/2, Ava really started to spread out her bedtime nursing sessions and they kept getting shorter. “Could she be weaning?” I thought multiple times. “Will I be eating real pizza soon?!” Because of Ava’s allergies, I couldn’t eat what she couldn’t eat and I kept a “dream food” list in my phone of all the horrible things I was going to consume as soon as I was able.

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Allergen-free pizza! It’s pretty good!

Eventually, I was pretty sure she wasn’t getting any milk, but Ava still chose her bedtime nursing sessions at times. It was for comfort and I was ok with that. Those needs are just important as the nutritional ones to me. Suspecting that weaning was near, I tried really hard to remember each time we nursed. It’s funny. With the countless times she’s nursed, the last one seems so important to me. Sometimes I would forget and panic…What was she wearing? Did she say anything funny? Did she hum Star Wars?…until she decided to nurse again. Then, I would commit the scene to memory, not knowing if that time was the last. Well, the last time finally came and I’m happy to say I remember it! The last time my little Ava decided to nurse, she wore her Wonder Woman jammies and stroked my face, as she looked into my eyes. (Yes, I realize how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true!) It’s been several weeks since that last time. I wonder what she was thinking? What she was feeling? Whatever it was, I can rest assured that it was what she needed and now…we move on.

Farewell to breastfeeding – This perfect gift from God that provided my children with unparalleled nutrition and physiological development. The gift that helped us bond in infancy, carried us through the emotional roller coaster of toddlerhood, and re-centered us during the preschool years. The gift that taught me more about myself and what I’m capable of than anything else in my life. I will forever be humbled and grateful for this experience.

 My thoughts from a previous piece echo in my mind.

“She will know when she’s ready and I will follow her lead. She will know when she no longer needs the security of nursing, after hurting herself or to settle in at night. She will know when she no longer wants to hold my hand in the store. Every step of her developmental journey, with God’s will, I’ll be right there – cheering her on. From birth, through toddlerhood, and until she’s ready to stop – I will not give up on her. I will be everything she needs me to be – always.”

P.S. And in a bizarre twist, that dream food list I kept…yeah, I don’t even care about it. With the exception of tasting some real pizza, I’m good. My girl and I are in this together!

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Fighting Cancer with Breast Milk: Baby Clay’s Story

Breastfeeding. The benefits are enormous to both mother and child and we’re learning more about those benefits with each passing year. One claim that really interested me was how human milk interacts with cancer cells. In recent studies, a substance called Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made LEthal to Tumour cells (HAMLET) has been proven to kill cancer cells. You can read more about that here. The idea of that is incredibly exciting…even chilling to think about. But, just a few weeks ago, I had more than a scientific study. I had a story from a mom…a mom with a little boy fighting cancer.
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Alayna is my cousin and her baby boy, Clay, was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of just 15 months. I asked Alayna to share a bit about this journey, so we can spread the word to whomever it might help.

“There are many people that say they loved everything about breastfeeding. However, I was not one of those people. I have a medical background, so I was always fully aware of the health benefits of nursing. Plus, my pro-breastfeeding sister constantly encouraged me to not use formula; and I didn’t. I had a beautiful, little boy that we named Clay. He loved his mommy milk; and when I returned to work, I had to pump several times a day. It was a lot of work, but I was more than happy to do whatever was best for my baby boy. I set a goal of one year, and I actually went past it! The older Clay got, the easier it was. When he finally weaned himself off at 14 months, I actually missed it a little.

Clay was always a happy and healthy boy who was full of energy. He definitely stole our hearts. When he was 15 months old, a little bruise popped up on Clay’s forehead. He had fallen the previous day, so we assumed the bruise was from that. However, we took him to several doctors and had a few tests run. No one was concerned (at first). What they said was a “hematoma” had began to grow rapidly and we had decided to see a specialist in St.Louis. After five weeks of seeing about eight different doctors and running every test, they decided to do an incisional biopsy.

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Ten long days later, we got the call that changed our lives forever. “Your baby has leukemia.” So we packed up and headed to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. We soon found out that Clay had a MLL chromosomal rearrangement (Mixed-Lineage Leukemia), which makes his cancer more aggressive and harder to treat.

Clay has an awesome team working with him. His doctors told us that we are going to fight it and fight it hard, and that is what we have been doing. Clay has steroids and chemotherapy, via port, spinal injections, bone marrow procedures, or by mouth. All these things kill the cancer, but they are so hard on his little body. Clay’s immune system was practically nonexistent. His doctors are constantly looking at his absolute neutrophil count (ANC), which is the type of white blood cell that fights infection, and Clay’s was zero. Every fever or virus not only sets Clay’s treatment schedule back, but it could be life-threatening.
Clay4My sister, who is a breastfeeding advocate, helped me get some donated breast milk from a friend of ours. Within a few weeks, Clay’s ANC went from 0 to 1800 (normal is 1500-8500) and things were going pretty well for Clay. However, I began to worry about flu and virus season, so I tried to ration the breast milk and gave him less. A week later, Clay had caught two viruses and croup. It was at that point that I realized just how important this breast milk is to Clay. So I give Clay a couple of ounces nearly every day, and it has made a huge difference in Clay’s levels. His ANC has actually gotten up to 4300, which is almost unheard of for a chemotherapy patient!

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I now have two very sweet mommies help to keep me stocked up, and I am so very thankful! I wish I could go back in time…I would breast feed Clay till he was 5 if it would help. Although I do regret stopping when I did, I am happy I made it so far. Clay was born with this chromosomal rearrangement. I do not think we could have prevented him getting cancer. (The doctor said he was predisposed to the leukemia.) However, I cannot help but wonder why Clay’s tumors didn’t pop up until after I had stopped breastfeeding. It may have prolonged his diagnosis; and with MLL, prognosis for an infant is worse than someone who is over one year old. So, with a lot of prayer and a little bit of donated breast milk, we are hoping to get Clay through this tough time. I do know that I will always encourage new moms to give breastfeeding a try. The benefits may be more than you know.”

Clay’s family and friends are all SO thankful for the prayers, the generosity of these donor moms, and the out-of-the-box thinking of Alayna (and her sister)! I am so grateful that Alayna and her family were willing to share this remarkable story. We want it to reach others, who have considered using human milk along with their treatments, but maybe weren’t sure. We also want to encourage moms to breastfeed and donate milk if they can. There are so many babies, healthy and sick, who need it. There is much we have yet to discover about nature’s most powerful superfood!

We’re just beginning!

If you’re considering breastfeeding or having issues with breastfeeding, there are many resources available!

KellyMomLa Leche League, and Breastfeeding USA just to name a few! You can also get support on Facebook from these same groups, as well as mother-to-mother support.

World Breastfeeding Week – Another Year Nursing!

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Happy World Breastfeeding Week to all the breastfeeding moms, the pumpers, the moms who have tried to breastfeed, and of course the awesome supportive dads!

I love World Breastfeeding Week, because I pause to reflect on my own breastfeeding journey. My nursling is now three years old, so reflecting on it while she’s twisting my hair and trying to throw her legs over my shoulder just isn’t happening.

I smile, remembering my last blog post about The Golden Age of Breastfeeding. Why? Because we are SO far past the “golden age” it’s almost like it was a dream. It’s not bad. It’s very good, in fact. It’s just no longer the magical place it was. Breastfeeding has changed so much in such a short amount of time.

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Who needs nursing, when there are cupcakes?

I’m not going to lie. Nursing my three year old has become a bit of a love/hate relationship. When your child starts to behave more like a child and less like a baby, it seems easy to forget that weaning is a gradual process. I’ve noticed myself getting irritated when my little girl has asked to nurse, because I’ve gotten so used to her declining at our regular nursing times.
Then, she does something that reminds me of what it’s all about.
When my darling girl pulls me as close as she can, so she can wrap her still-chubby arms as far around me as she can, I get it.
As independent and confident as she has become, there are still times – precious, fleeting times – when she needs to feel that connection to me.

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Image Credit: JennV Photography

It’s a connection unlike any other and it is a true emotional need. It’s the calm at the end of her day and it’s as if she’s trying to tell me,

“Not yet, mama…not yet. I’m getting things figured out in this big world with all these big words and big emotions, but I still need that one place where I can be your baby again. Let me run, play, and explore.
Then, when it’s all a little much for me…when I’ve pushed myself further from my comfort zone than I did the day before, let me come back to you and have the comfort that brings me peace. Just for a little while longer, mama.”

Now, if you’re anti-full term breastfeeding and actually reading this:
1. Thank you!
2. I’m reading your thoughts. “Children need to learn to connect in other ways!”

You’re right! They should…and they do.

What I’ve realized and embraced is that they do it when they are ready. Nursing is the comfort my child is used to. Absolutely nothing provides the same level of comfort and nor should it. Just as she has already started declining her regular nursing sessions, she will eventually turn them all down.
As my little girl’s confidence continues to climb, her need to nurse steadily decreases. At first, it was a little scary. (Ok…I completely panicked.) But I know that she will know when she’s ready. I know people question full-term nursing and it’s why I share. I want to help other moms feel good about this perfect design, if it’s something they choose for themselves and their child.

As for me, I know God knew what he was doing. Learning the biology behind it has helped my understanding, but even more so is what my personal experience has shown me. This process will see itself through, with no help needed from me.

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The Big Latch On 2015!

She will know when she’s ready and I will follow her lead. She will know when she no longer needs the security of nursing, after hurting herself or to settle in at night. She will know when she no longer wants to hold my hand in the store. Every step of her developmental journey, with God’s will, I’ll be right there – cheering her on.

To quote myself from a past WBW , “From birth, through toddler-hood, and until she’s ready to stop – I will not give up on her. I will be everything she needs me to be – always.”

The Golden Age of Breastfeeding

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If you’ve been a breastfeeding mother (or the spouse of one), you’re probably well aware of the dedication involved; the long hours, lack of sleep, the insecurities, the worries…the pure exhaustion of it all.  Yet, you do it.  You do it because for you, there is no other option.  You made a commitment and you’re seeing it through to whatever goal you set for yourself.  For me, that goal was six months.  That quickly turned into a year.  Then I decided to go all the way and allow my child to self-wean.  A lot of faith, information, and science went into my decision, but that’s a topic for another post.  For now, I want to share the beauty that is breastfeeding a toddler.

Neal_092014_004My baby girl and I have been through SO much on this journey.  It started with the all-too-common worry over milk supply, followed by diaper “output” drama (I seriously had pics of baby poo saved on my phone).  From there, we had food allergies, slow weight gain, a two week nursing strike, elimination diets, thrush, clogged ducts…  You name it, we dealt with it.

But on top of it all, there was

Immense

Immeasurable

Indescribable

joy.

Breastfeeding has gotten us through the good, the bad, and the teething.  Through wonder weeks, sleep regressions, illness, and more.  I won’t lie, though. There have been many times when I have been “touched out” and exhausted, but quitting was never an option.  There are lots of very important reasons why, but the bottom line is this:  Most of the doubts moms have about natural feeding have been planted in our heads for a reason. (There’s an entire history behind that, but again – another topic for another time!)  These doubts and hurdles didn’t make my child any less deserving of the food she was meant to have – the food that was made for her and these doubts certainly were not going to beat us.  So, on we went!  Through everything, breastfeeding has been our baby girl’s comfort, nourishment, stability, and protection.

And now we’re here.

The Golden Age of our breastfeeding journey.

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Our baby is 28 months old and we’re in a magical stage of nursing. The toddler years. We have made it past the developmental superhighway and nursing is just comfortable and absolutely lovely. Gone are the worries about diapers, weight checks, and latch issues.  Nursing still has incredible nutritional value, but now it’s mainly about connecting. We just kick back, snuggle up, read a book, sing (she hums), and if I’m lucky I might get a chubby foot in my mouth.  Sometimes, I don’t want to nurse when she does and that’s alright, too.  I can tell her “not right now.”   More often than not, she replies with, “Ok,” and comes back to ask me later (and a toddler’s “later,” is 3-5 minutes, but still….)  It really is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day.  We get to connect in a way that she still needs, yet she’s developed enough to understand the concept of waiting.

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I had no plans on nursing this long, but I am SO glad I did.  No one told me how wonderful this was going to be, so I’m telling you, now.  If you’re considering nursing your child into toddler-hood, go ahead.  There are some rough milestones and breastfeeding is a great tool to get baby through them.  Once you’re past them, though, you’re in for a new and beautiful experience.

I’m so happy with how far my child and I have come and where we are now.  I love that I didn’t force her to get to this place before she was ready and that I get to go through the weaning experience with her, when the time comes.  Full-term breastfeeding may not be for everyone, but this mom has no regrets!  I know that God had this planned out long before I existed and I find absolute beauty and joy in what he’s given us.  I look forward to the next stage in our breastfeeding journey – wherever it takes us!

Photos by Jenn V Photography ~~ www.jennvphotography.com

A note about these gorgeous photos:  Well, the images speak for themselves.  I had a hard time even selecting a few for this article!  Jennifer was simply amazing during our session.  She was patient, made us comfortable, and completely captured the bond that Ava and I share.  Thank you, Jennifer!

Tiny Steps

I bustle around your room, going through our “getting for bed” routine:  jammies, socks, humidifier, fan… I hear your tiny voice. “Payers,”  I look over to see you kneeling against your settee, hands clasped, “praying” in your adorable 2-year-old gibberish.

No, you don’t know what prayer is yet, but one day you will. You don’t understand the importance of it or the privilege it is, but you will.  It warms my heart that our babies are learning these positive lessons early, from the positive examples we provide.

Tiny steps, little ones. Tiny steps that lead to big understanding. What a remarkable gift we have to be able to teach you how to live your lives loving God.  I am blessed, humbled, and honored.

Love, Mommy

Tiny Steps

 

My Child

I’m thinking of you again.  I can honestly say, I thought the pain would be less by now but it’s still the same.  When I think of the baby I only knew a couple of months, my stomach knots, my breathing becomes shallow, and I cry.  Around this time each year, I cry more than I usually do.  I wonder if you know how much I love you.
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It’s only something those closest to me know…that I once carried you inside me and had a miscarriage at just 10 weeks.  That’s over two months of loving and growing you inside me before you left us.  And why do people not know?  It’s because I don’t ever mention you.  You’ve always been a secret because  I felt so ashamed…like a failure and I couldn’t bring myself to talk about what happened.  There was just too much pain.  What was I supposed to say?  Who wanted to hear it?  And why did openly grieving a miscarriage seem so taboo?  I had never heard anyone talk about their miscarriages.  Why?  When we lose someone, we’re expected to grieve.  Yet when I lost you, I was expected to go on as if nothing had happened.  I was told that approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies result in first trimester miscarriages (as if that would lessen the pain).  I was told that I did nothing to cause it (as if that would relieve the guilt I feel from having sinus surgery while I was unknowingly pregnant).  I was told all the things I needed to do and what to expect and I walked through the slow, terrifying, heart wrenching process of “completing” the miscarriage.  It took days and days.  It was surreal.  It was physically painful and emotionally murderous.  And then it was over.

So, this is me now.  A mother who has lost a baby and never really knew where to go from there.  I tried to set the heartbreaking experience aside and move on, but it’s part of me…just as you are part of me and I’m on a quest to be OK with that.  Although the pain will never leave me, I know something now that I didn’t know three years ago.  I know that I must acknowledge you and your life so that I can properly mourn your passing.  I must speak of you because you were a person – my person.  You were my beautiful baby, who I carried inside me and protected as much as I could.  You brought me joy and were a part of my life…part of my body.  From the moment I knew about you, I started living for you.  I ate for you, slept for you, and prayed for you.  You were every bit as much my child as your living siblings and you shouldn’t be a secret.  I think of you each day and wonder, “what if?”  Would you have looked more like daddy or mommy?  Would you have inherited his easygoing demeanor or my need to plan?  Would you have been as energetic as your impossible-to-keep-up-with brother and sister?  And of course I wonder – would you have been healthy?  I trust in God and have no way of understanding why things like this happen, but I want you to know I love you and no matter what, I would have fought for you.  I would have fought so hard for you!

My sweet child, losing you changed me forever.  I’m still surprised at how I see that experience impacting my life.  I see it in my choices, the way I view motherhood, how I parent, and my life in general.  My patience has increased and I’m much more aware of the delicacy of life.  These are the things I will celebrate when I think of you and the positive effect you had on my life.

For other parents who have suffered miscarriages, I want you to know it’s OK to talk about.  You’re allowed to grieve and you SHOULD grieve.  You should do whatever you need to do to heal.  Losing your child is not something you will ever “get past,” no matter the child’s age or gestation but there is a natural grieving process you need to allow yourself.

My husband and I will be choosing a name for our sweet baby and properly honoring her memory.  For the first time since losing her, I have something about her to look forward to.  From that point on, I’ll have a name to accompany my thoughts of her and maybe even a special time set aside each year to remember her.  Even thinking of it makes me smile.  One day I will see her again and that makes me smile, too.