Monday, November 23, 2009

Mommy Wars

Being a mother is both the hardest and the easiest thing I have ever done. I love it. I love all parts of it.

For me, it is the easiest because I follow my gut instinct - I call it the Mommy Instinct. I follow the lead and listen to the needs of my children and respond the best I can. The hardest is the self doubt, particularly when it is coupled with unsolicited and unwanted "advice" from people who want to help*. But the real struggle is to know the difference - Am I doubting myself, or is this someone else's doubt that I have internalized?

I breastfed both my babies, and I am still nursing my youngest, who is almost 15 months. I nursed my oldest until she was not quite two and a half. I wanted her weaning to be led by her, but unfortunately, circumstance did not allow; I was pregnant with Lucas, and had no milk left. It was frustrating for her, and excruciating for me, both physically and emotionally not being able to give her what she needed and wanted.

Very few people oppose nursing an infant. Actually, most people are thrilled when they find out that you exclusively nurse a very small baby. By very small, I mean under three months of age. "That's wonderful!" they exclaim. "It's such a great benefit to baby and mother!" Indeed, it is.

But as the child grows older, six months, eight months, a year, *gasp* a year and a half and on, the question and the reaction shift radically. "Are you still nursing?" they ask, as if it was something that should have been over with months ago. I am proud of the fact that I am still nursing, and usually bluntly point out that both the AAP and the WHO both recommend breastfeeding up at least age two.

My mother made had no qualms about bringing up weaning Cecilia once her first tooth popped through at 5 months. From there, it only got progressively worse, finally reaching an apex when she turned one. I was sort of shocked to hear her so adamant about weaning, when she was one of my biggest supporters, giving advice and encouragement in the early days when I cried with engorged breasts full of milk, and a newborn baby who was unable to latch. We, of course, worked things out, as mothers and daughters are known to do. Though I have a feeling she silently steeps about Lucas still nursing, but it's not really even on my radar anymore.

But nursing is something that has been proven beneficial by medical science. The rest of it all is grey area.

Both of my kids also shared a bed with my husband and I. I didn't intend for it to be that way. We brought Cecilia home from the hospital, all six and a half pounds of her, and everything was set up. She had a beautiful nursery of her own, she had a beautiful antique bassinet that had been refinished that was sitting in my bedroom, patiently waiting for an occupant. But I quickly learned that things like cribs and bassinets are merely for decorative purposes. My newborn wanted nothing to do with them. She wanted to be close. So close, infact, that she spent the first three months of her life sleeping on my chest like a koala.

I thought I would be too afraid to co-sleep. Too worried I'd roll over onto her, too worried that I'd somehow spoil my infant (which, by the way, is impossible...just in case you were wondering), too worried that I was doing something wrong. But when it came down to it, and I had my baby in my arms, I knew exactly what I was doing, and it was exactly the right thing for us.

I have often equated the first three months of an infants life to being like the fourth trimester of pregnancy. You literally do not put the baby down. I learned to do amazing things with a baby tied onto my chest. Being attached to their mother is the only thing a new baby has known from the time of conception. The baby equates Mommy with warmth, comfort and nourishment. And from that perspective, sticking the baby in a room down the hall really doesn't make much sense.

But again, society as a whole seems to frown on co-sleeping.
"How does the baby sleep?"**
- Great! We're both very well rested!
"Is s/he still in the bassinet, or moved to their new room?"
- Uh, neither actually, the baby sleeps in bed with me.
". . ."
- . . .
"Aren't you afraid tha--"
- No.
"But what if --"
- It won't
"But I heard that--"
- Yeah, no.

Cecilia transitioned to her own room just before Lucas was born. He was taking over her old room, and she was moving into the new, bigger room. We picked our her furniture with her, painted her walls, hung her new stuff up, and to be honest, we probably couldn't have convinced her to sleep anywhere else. She still comes into our bed occasionally if she sick, or had a bad dream, or sometimes just to snuggle. But for the most part, it was a seamless transition.

Lucas isn't quite the barnacle his sister was. Though he spends a portion of the night in bed with us, he sleeps in his own room the whole night through once or twice a week. He generally sleeps better in his room, when he's in the mood to do it. He has a regular body temperature something like the inner core of the Earth, so he gets hot, and stuffy and uncomfortable when we share a bed. He generally starts out in his room, then comes into mine when he gets lonely.

And I'm okay with that. We have followed his cues, and the whole arrangement just works. Happy baby = Happy mommy = happy household.

I do need to confess, though: My favorite weekend mornings are when I wake up with the three people I love most in this world all snuggled in bed with me. It's fantastic, and makes my heart swell.

* Read: Intrude

** Once, just once, I'd really like to "Oh, you know, we hang him upside down by his feet under the basement steps. He didn't really like it at first, but he hardly cries now."

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