Ah, the joys of extended breastfeeding. What beats a nursing session highlighted by a baseball-sized knee to the gut? Or a butt in your face during some weird, Cirque Du Soleil-esque position attempt? Or, my personal fave, the scary voice at 2am, whispering, “Turn over Mommy.” Whoa. Breastfeeding on demand requires stamina. Child-led weaning requires endurance and patience. Breastfeeding on demand and child-led weaning as a single parent requires a certain form of dissociation, an acceptance of the fact that you no longer belong to yourself, and most importantly, a sense of humor.
When I brought Logan home from the hospital (the last baby I’ll ever deliver in one), for the first two months I was, as I called myself, a Milk Zombie. “What’s a Milk Zombie?” you’re wondering. A Milk Zombie sits on a couch with an infant in a football hold in her arms, and a kindergartener at her side, who sings songs about butts and candy. The Zombie’s hair sticks straight up, and her shirt is covered in milk stains and what appears to be Nutella, but she doesn’t buy Nutella, so we know it’s not Nutella. The Zombie’s mouth is wide open and sounds may escape, but no words are being formed. Her eyes are wide open but she is not truly seeing anything, save for the light at the end of the Breastfeeding An Infant On Demand tunnel. She smells of unpleasantries, and though unpleasantries is not a true dictionarial word, to save face I’m going to leave it at that. The Milk Zombie hasn’t slept for what feels like Since I Was Ten, but she hasn’t had the infant so long, so she knows that’s an exaggeration. The Milk Zombie’s house is covered in cloth diapers, DVDs, onesies, blankets, toys, plates, glasses, unread newspapers, and other items that seem to prove that the Milk Zombie does move – though no evidence has been recorded. The Milk Zombie is exhausted but has mastered the art of resting with her eyes wide open – for she knows that if she shuts them, the infant will want to nurse. The Milk Zombie doesn’t bathe, but her kindergartener frequently spills liquid in her directions, and the Zombie counts those as wash-ups. The Milk Zombie doesn’t clean, because the infant has a breastfeeding schedule of every hour that ends with o’clock. And every half-hour in between.
This was my life as a single mom with a breastfeeding infant. I tried to incorporate Ryleigh, my eldest as much as I could, but I regrettably did not always succeed. There was friction in the beginning, as she came into my bedroom one morning, and announced, “Mom, I don’t think this is the right baby for our family.” Puh! Poor kid, I thought. I went and hugged her and told her I understood how she felt. Here she’d had me to herself for five years and this baby was here for three days and BAM! – center of attention. It did get better as time went on, but it was a struggle. And though most days are great days, it continues to be a struggle. When Logan was about 4 months old and going through a growth spurt, I sat on my couch while Ryleigh was at school, nursing and crying. Blubbering. I was seriously doubting whether I could continue, and that was making me feel guilty, and sad. I’d weaned Ryleigh as a young infant and was depressed about it for the better part of two years (I was 19, working full time, living alone, very misguided about breastfeeding). I didn’t want that to happen again. I’d taken a six-month maternity leave from work just so that I could give it my all. I’d read, and asked, and prepared myself for what it was going to be like. But no one had warned me about this. I felt as though I was chained to the floor. I had no time to do anything anymore, because I couldn’t ask a partner to hold the baby for a minute while I took a nap, or keep an eye on the baby while I took a shower, or to sit with the baby so I could just sit by myself, for five minutes. Ryleigh was such a big help, but I didn’t want to give her too much responsibility. I was starting to think that it was crazy for a single mother with another small child to breastfeed.
Then there was my baby. I’d look into her eyes, wide and dark brown, and so, so bright. Always, she was staring right up at me. So lovingly, and so at peace. Every time I looked at her, I knew I could continue. How long will she be this young, need me this much? I’d ask myself. What else, really, can I offer her that would ever come close to this? Nothing. There was nothing I could give Logan that was as physically and emotionally beneficial for her at the time. Most of my family and friends thought I was going through a phase, or out to prove something, or just weird. I didn’t care. I decided I didn’t need anyone’s support, becasue I had the facts. And the facts were that breastfeeding is the best start one can give a child, and that it was doing wonders for me as well. I felt so good after having Logan, and so connected to her. It was beautiful, and it made me feel so proud and fulfilled as a mother.
Even after that I’d feel like I couldn’t continue, especially as she reached milestones, like the 12-month mark, using the potty, and the 24-month mark. Especially because she never stopped nursing at night. Now she is almost 3 years old and still going strong, and nursing all night. Sometimes I think I’m crazy. Sometimes I think she’s crazy. But we’re both happy. I take it day by day. When I wake up every morning and she’s nursing away, and telling me to move around so she can get comfy, I remind myself of how much I’ll miss it when she’s done. I am glad I haven’t weaned her, although it would have been nearly impossible anyway because I would never let her cry it out, and there’s no one to soothe her at night as I try to wean. Logan is very stubborn and I imagine that if I ever did lay right next to her an entire night and try not to nurse, she’d be able to cry the entire night, or she’d cry herself to sleep. Wouldn’t be worth it. It is immensely exhausting at times, especially with my other duties. But that’s a part of the contract I signed when I birthed my baby. This is motherhood. It’s paid off already in that Logan has never had an ear infection, or any of the other viruses I experienced with Ry, and that Logan is a happy, confident, bubbly little girl.
I have learned to balance my time so that when I’m not nursing, my now 8-year-old Ryleigh gets more of me. I co-sleep with both girls and sometimes if Logan is nursing on one side, Ryleigh cuddles up on the other. It’s good. It works. There are plenty of times when I tell Logan, “No. Mommy cannot nurse right now. I am tired and you just nursed. You can sit on my lap if you want, but we are not nursing now.” Then Logan pimp slaps me, and we sit down and cuddle. I don’t see myself ever trying to wean her again. I love being a nursing mom, and I am so proud of myself for having stuck to it. Breastfeeding my baby was a goal I set the day I forcibly weaned my beautiful Ryleigh. Breastfeeding is what sparked my interest in finding other ways to connect so deeply with my children, and thus lead me to attachment parenting. And even though I dread the day Logan feels she no longer needs “my Momma miwk”, I know that because of attachment, there will be other ways for us to show each other our love.
To all my fellow nursing single mommas, all you sleep-deprived Milk Zombies, hang in there. It’s worth it. Much love.