not a baby anymore

January 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm 13 comments

I’ve been in a walking stupor for the last few days. I am simply not getting enough sleep. I start each night with prayers and high hopes and end it each morning deeper in the pit of sleep deprivation. It is no wonder that denying prisoners sleep is used as a method of torture because it is tortuous. I can handle a night here or there of not enough sleep, usually due to staying up too late with Nathan with a movie and late night conversation, but several nights in a row is unmanageable.

Here is where I point fingers and complain…  I am currently getting less sleep nursing my almost three year old through the night than I did when she was an infant. Yes that’s right… start the gasps… Echo is 30 months old, sleeps in our bed, and has been nursing eight to nine times per night (basically the entire night). I know this is culturally unusual. I know I would get more sleep, at least at this point, if she were in her own bed. I know it is “all my fault”. I know that there are some of you reading this right now that are filling up with incredulity and anger.

I also know that I will head to bed in a little bit and make all the same decisions again.

I’m not sure what my plan is. I only know that I am unwilling to turn nursing, which has been the ultimate form of unconditional nurturing love in Echo’s life for three years, into something contentious, and negative. I just can’t do it. I want to be an unwavering pillar of strength, consistent, and loving. I do not want to suddenly (at least in her eyes) sprout spikes and leap out of the darkness, angry and self-righteous. She isn’t doing anything wrong, merely following her own interests and desires. It is only because I have changed my interest that her behavior feels inappropriate or unwanted.

I know my body can handle this. I have not forgotten the amazing capability of the human body, something I marveled at during pregnancy. I felt I could climb mountains after giving birth. My own power, strength, and stamina is real. It would be easy to simply declare that my body can no longer handle the strain of nursing any longer, but it would be a lie.

Still, I am not finding it easy. In the morning my nipples are raw, my back is tight, and my hips are sore. I am also nearly delirious, crying at the drop of a hat, and recasting every single aspect of my life in a negative light. I am mad at Nathan (for any reason I can conger) and completely bereft of any emotional stamina.

Still I am unwilling to aggressively withdraw my nursing love.

I am not stubbornly staying the course either. I talk to Echo about stopping nursing, or at the very least nursing less. I have told her outright that I do not want to nurse at night. She agrees to this, saying she is willing to just snuggle through the night and nurse again in daylight, but somehow she doesn’t remember, or care, about this deal at 4a.m.

I also arm myself with a banana, a big bottle of water, and a large glass of milk, and offer these to her each time she nuzzles up to nurse. She happily and groggily accepts these new nighttime delights, settles back in, almost nods off, and then turns to me to nurse herself all the way to sleep. Again and again.

You could say it’s not working. Maybe it isn’t. But it also kind of is too. I am being my true, most loving (of myself) self by being the kind of mother I want to be. This is my version of lifting the heavy automobile off of the baby in order to save it’s life. No, Echo isn’t actually in danger, she certainly would live if I decided to never nurse her again. But I am accomplishing an amazing physical feat every night that I nurse her longer than is comfortable. I am not resting, but I can rest assured that our relationship is not threatened by a sudden, jerky change of mind on my part. And in the end, that is what is important to me.

I can sleep later, when she is twenty and living in a grimy apartment off campus (at least a little more!). I can catch up then when getting more sleep doesn’t mean breaking her heart and causing her to wonder who her mother really is.


Entry filed under: favorites, life lessons, Nursing, parenting principles. Tags: , , .

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Hilaree  |  January 22, 2010 at 6:14 am

    I’m right there with you. I am currently nursing three children. (yes, you all read that right). My 5.5 year old daughter, my 3.5 year old son, and my 13 month old daughter. My two youngest continue to nurse at night. The three year old maybe once or twice a night, and the baby at least five times or so. My five year old daughter would LIKE to, but she and I have talked about it together and she is old enough to understand dehydration on mama’s part. We obviously do the family bed.

    I still want to continue with it as well.

    I wonder if anyone will comment on this.

    If you’d like to email me privately, maybe we can offer each other support and ideas and encouragement.

    Thank you for this honest post. I loved the strength metaphors you used – and the redefining in some ways of our role as mamas.

  • 2. Ivy  |  January 22, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Natalie — I am awed by your commitment. I know in my heart that I could not do what you are doing. But I so respect your knowing what is right for you and your child.

  • 3. Courtney  |  January 22, 2010 at 7:57 am

    You need to give yourself a break. A firm believer in toddler nursing/AP/co-sleeping myself, I also believe that being rested enough to be sane is also part of what makes you a good mama. You may disagree with this, but part of being human and growing up is struggling a little. I think there is a fine line with this type of parenting and sometimes we need to let our children learn to struggle (a little) because that is simply the way things are sometimes. I know that doesn’t line up perfectly with empathy, but parenting truly is about a blend of styles at different times of things that work. Just think how much more empathetic you could be during the day with a little more shut-eye at night. Take care.

    Remember, there is also a fine line in why we do things as parents. Do we do them for us and our own insecurities sometimes, or truly for our children. You obviously have a wonderful, close relationship with your daughter…so be confident in that.

  • 4. Christie  |  January 22, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Golly, I remember being there. It is so hard to respect our needs when they clash with the needs and desires of our little ones who we so much want to respect wholly. It feels impossible to deal with irrational beings in our rational way. And really all you want is some decent sleep. Surely, you’d all be happier if mama could get good sleep.

    We ended up shifting nighttime roles. I slept and Daddy took care of my daughter’s night time needs for a week or so. It didn’t “fix” things but it pushed the situation around a bit and over time as the pendulum swung back toward intolerable, he’d take another week long stint of night time Daddy.

  • 5. Marirose  |  January 22, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    You are so awesome, Natalie! I remember being right there when my oldest was nearly 3 AND I was pregnant! Since at that point I REALLY needed to hone in on my needs, I decided to wean. I’m not suggesting you do this, because that’s so personal. What I did, though, in order to maintain my own sanity, was establish some limits that we could both live with. I allowed Finn to nurse at night only while I was singing the “ABC song.” When he was sad about this, I empathized with him and held him and rubbed his back. It was sad for me, too! Eventually (like, a couple nights later), he came to accept it, though, and nursing went pretty smoothly until he decided to stop altogether.

    Remember that transitions are sometimes hard! You’re doing great by following your heart. But you’re not being unkind by setting a limit if that’s what you need to do.

    A very lovely woman once told me that it was important to respond kindly to your child, but that you didn’t always have to respond the way your child wanted you to.

    Best of luck to you in your quest for peaceful slumber!

  • 6. kris  |  January 22, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    thank you thank you for being the ONLY voice that I get to hear which reminds me who I truly am and what I truly want. It makes me cry. “being with” what is happening and knowing it WILL change. i love you. than you for risking so much to put yourself out there like this.

  • 7. anna  |  January 22, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Hey mama
    I’ve been there too..(4 x actually)
    I respect and admire your resolve and infinite love for little Echo.
    the sweet love that you are nursing her with now will be with her long long after the milk is dry and gone. The nursing dance is individual to each mama and baby couple (or mama and baby times 2 or 3!) in my experience body has sent me the clear message when it was time to shift the time we spent nursing to time spent snuggling,reading or otherwise. I decided that if the feelings coming to me when I was nursing my little ones were those of pain and resentment that it was time to shift. I wanted to cherish our nursing time as sweet and tender. I dont share this to suggest that this is what would work for you or anyone else, but because I was surprised in retrospect how what I feared would be a tearing away actually became a way to bond further and become even closer. Life is funny that way sometimes. Anyway, I really really empathize with the no sleep thing..i have sooo been there ( almost 9 years total of nursing and a solid 4 years twice of interrupted sleep!) I wish for you more rest. I applaud you for your strength in knowing what is best for you and your babe.

    • 8. Marirose  |  January 24, 2010 at 3:33 pm

      Anna, I love your comment!!! You expressed exactly what I wanted to say. And you said it so beautifully, without judgment or advice. Thank you.

  • 9. Marina  |  January 23, 2010 at 1:25 am

    hi natalie, i just wanted to say i can totally relate to wanting to give all of yourself to your child. it seems like the older my baby gets, the more i want to give myself. and everyday, the feeling gets stronger and stronger. i never thought i could love someone like i love my daughter. so i can understand how even when you are dead tired, you still want to give her what she needs and wants most at that moment. thank you for sharing. it means so much to read your experiences here.

  • 10. Sara  |  January 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    (((hugs))) Reading your post, I felt as though I was reading my own story 6 months ago. My daughter was 24 months, and nursed throughout the night as well, ALL NIGHT! I did not want to wean, and because she was only a night nurser, I felt such guilt and termoil. And yet I had such a desire to sleep and stop feeling back pain. Night time is supposed to be calming and soothing. But the only one being soothed was her. And that gave me even more guilt. That I was resentful towards her for getting what she wanted, while I “suffered” through the night. I dreaded going to bed at a point. I just wanted to get one, just one night of total sleep. I took the plunge and decided to wean her gently. I did a method I found online (Dr. Something, cant think of it) where you wean slowly and gently. It took about a full week. But basically I let her nurse for a few minutes, then I would prepare her by telling her “it’s almost time to stop”, and then pull her off the breast. She understood, but she was used to falling asleep at the breast, so of course she didnt like this. But I knew that was the exact solution (to our problem). If she learned how to fall asleep a different way, we would all get a lot more sleep!! I would hold her very closely, rock her, sing to her, praise her endlessly, telling her what a good job she was doing. It seemed all too condesending that I was forcing her to do something she did not want to do (stop nursing to sleep), and praising her for it. But she understood, to and extent. The first 2 nights, she cried herself to sleep. Guilt MANIA!! on my part. But she then started sleeping 6 hours straight. Which was a long time for her!! And it felt amazing for my body!!! If she woke up, we’d do it all over again. By day 3, she just whimpered a little, and then would dose off and I scratched her back. To this day, this is the way she likes to fall asleep. She still sleeps in our bed, but now I scratch and rub her back until she falls asleep. I felt that weaning was enough of a drastic change for her, and I didnt want to move her to her room. I still wanted her close to us and for her to have our comfort, something she’d had since the day she was born. We are now sleeping peacefully for 10-12 hours straight!!! And even after all the mommy-guilt, she is much more well rested, wakes up happy and tells me, “I’m so glad to see you”, and I’m a happier, more rested mommy. I hope you find a solution that fits your family. I cant tell you how good it feels to sleep, still close to my baby.

  • 11. Debbie  |  January 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Oh do I understand the lack of sleep. My son is 3 1/2…still nurses and co-sleeps. I know exactly where you are coming from…wanting to give every part of yourself to your child. It’s an amazing feeling, that kind of love.
    I am a person who needs sleep. I’m not a happy…or nice….mama when I don’t get it. So when the nursing ever hour, for half an hour every night, got to me – it was in both our best interests to figure out a different way. My husband started to sleep with our son in the spare room…and funny – my son never wanted “boobie” when I wasn’t there. It worked for us. We still nurse to sleep…but he’s fine through the night now. This really is a great post. So important to realize that we aren’t alone in this journey…that so many others have been where we are/once were. Thank you for that.

  • 12. Annie  |  January 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    love to you and the family. That’s a hard thing to put out there for others to think about. It brought about thinking over how Aila and I nightweaned. When I first read your post I wanted to write how you need to let go and make this work for you and the family as a whole. Instead I sat with it and have been thinking about your post and it maybe brought up some guilt over how we night weaned. It’s not easy hearing your chid cry fairly loudly at night and tell yourself it’s for the better. I can’t say whether or not it was… I still stay up late and she doesn’t sleep all night and I’m finding myself cursing nighttime again these days as she wakes up every time I try to leave the bed in the morning and I just want my coffee alone before work. I want to feel selfish about this. But that trick about child rearing in a safe place doesn’t give alot of space to selfishness. And that’s okay. The words “but I can rest assured that our relationship is not threatened by a sudden, jerky change of mind on my part” have made me think alot about how safe Echo must feel to have you consistently telling her you are tired and want her to make other choices, but giving her time. This isn’t a sprung on idea of ending nursing altogether some chosen night. It’s gradual. You will get there. Love you.

  • 13. Keely  |  January 24, 2010 at 7:58 am

    You are amazing. Stay with the moment. The moments pass. I am out here reading and empathizing with you, Echo, and Nathan. My daughter just stopped nursing this month..she turned 4 on Jan 4th…our nights were a rumble of movement, constant nursing, and not a lot of sleep for me. But now I find myself asking her if she wants num num again…she’ll try it, but says it tastes funny. I find myself wishing for one more night…and yet on the other hand I have not been to the chiropractor in over a month, wake feeling rested (we still co-sleep with her and often her 7 yr old brother), and spend a lot of time snuggling and talking about num num with her….she continues to nurse all her babies, kitties, doggies, and told me the other day that she can’t wait to be a mommy to nurse her baby! Ah…the moments…too fast, too slow….Peace to you!! You are not alone and very much supported here!


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